Jeff Oaks

The Writing Life, Writing Prompts, Essays on the Ordinary

Tag: Schedules

Maintenance: some notes

So, I’ve locked myself out of the house. Luckily I now have this person called a husband to call, who has a set of keys to the house and who will come home at five from work. Also lucky, I didn’t forget my wallet, so I could walk over to a coffeehouse nearby to wait out the time. Why not write a new blog post? I’ve been meaning to write something anyway but just never seemed to find the time to sit down. It’s been a busy fall.

At the moment, the new responsibilities I’ve taken this term as Acting Director have swallowed up the kind of free and open time I’m used to having. At first, being a Director seemed easy, almost a joke. I normally teach three classes a term, but as Director I teach only one. ONLY ONE! I thought. What will I do with all the free time? For most of September, in fact, there was little to do but attend a few meetings, speak authoritatively in a few public spaces.

Then the requests began to rise–for letters of recommendation, for teaching observation letters from colleagues, for meetings to talk about curriculum issues, about class proposals, about recruitment efforts, about preparing for a visit by the new Chancellor. Then there’s the scheduling and scheduling and scheduling one needs to do, of the tenure stream faculty, the nontenured stream faculty, the graduate students, each group with particular needs, rules, deadlines, expectations, traditions. It has helped enormously to have been trained as a poet; scheduling feels much like putting a sestina together. But at this point, it feels like I’m trying to write at least ten sestinas simultaneously.

So, I’m thinking today about the work of maintenance. A large part of the Director’s job is to keep the many threads of a program moving along, which means of course knowing about the many threads, which is itself exhausting in a large program like ours, which has undergraduate activities, graduate activities, committee activities, and faculty who are working on a wide variety of projects. You have to learn to trust and delegate, encourage some people to take risks, encourage others to restrain themselves, help yet others to articulate things they’d like to pursue. It’s a lot of listening to others’ ideas, hopes and fears. When I go home at night, I have to sit a while and let the voices of other people stop swirling around in my head. Video games have been surprisingly useful.

At first it didn’t seem too much to take home, but lately I’ve noticed how much of my own life has been put aside. I haven’t been to the gym for about two months. I need to take the car for an oil change. My hair’s gotten long. The house has become cluttered again. The laundry remains in the laundry bag, unfolded, picked through every morning instead of actually put away.

Of course, that might just be how the middle of the term always is, and I’m just not remembering it. The middle of the term is usually when it feels like everything is falling apart, when I begin to suspect that I haven’t taught anybody anything. Maybe it’s easier to blame this new responsibility I have for this feeling that my feet aren’t exactly touching the ground anymore. I don’t know. New things always suck up a lot of energy, I suppose, because we don’t know if we’ll succeed or what success even looks like. Maybe what would be helpful to do instead of feel anxious would be to think about what would count as success? What’s been accomplished so far? What needs to happen still?

I am glad to say that the prose book I’ve been working on is coming together. I am managing to give it time and space, which means revising these days rather than writing anything new. What helps is to work early in the morning on writing, give up the afternoon to teaching and administrative work, and then give the evening to the dog, the husband, and if there’s energy left, the house which is needing some repair work done.

This is, I need to remind myself, a full life. This is also, I should add, my first time having so much work entrusted to me.

I type that and wait for some feeling of happiness to flutter up, the dull ache in my back from typing this on a low coffee table ease up a little. Nope. I’m still tired. I do manage to sit up a little straighter so my vertebrae don’t have to hold up everything.

And when all else fails and I lock myself out of my own house, I can call my husband who will show up, tired from waiting on other people too, and unlock the front door, where the dog who has been expecting me back after all this time away, will begin whining with a mix of relief and happiness. I am not alone or responsible for everything, they remind me.

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It’s Taken Me

It’s taken me until this week to get some sense of my spring schedule. One thing I love about my job is that it’s hardly ever the same schedule term by term. Some terms I teach five days a week, some three days a week. Next fall it will be a two day a week schedule. It takes some time at the beginning of every term, though, to get used to the new timing of parking or taking the bus, preparing for class, commenting on papers, holding office hours, scheduling administrative meetings, and finding time to write, clean the house, do laundry, read, play with the dog, and all the other personal stuff. It really just takes patience. Since I’ve decided writing comes first, my house usually falls into a state of mild dĂ©shabillĂ© I usually don’t notice until the dog hair in the corners takes on tarantulan dimensions. That usually takes a week. Sometimes two.

Then out comes the Dyson, the lemon-scented Pledge wipes, the Windex, and Arm and Hammer Detergent.

I always think of cleaning the house as a boring chore, as something someone else is supposed to do, because my mother always did it when I was growing up, but like most of the things in my life, once I begin, I find I like it. Still, I always find it a little disheartening at the end of cleaning to think that from here on, the level of dirt can only get worse; part of me will always like better living a little shabbily but with hope for a cleaner future than living always on alert for a falling away of order. Consider yourself warned, in other words, if you come by unannounced.

So my schedule this term looks something like this:

4-6 Write (thanks Insomnia!)
7-9 The dog and I walk in the park
10–12:30 I work on papers in the cafe.
1-2 Office hours or administrative stuff
2-3 Prep for class
4-6 Teach
6-7 Dog again, this time along the river
7-9 Dinner/TV/Read

The real challenge this term has been with parking around the Cathedral. In yet another cackhanded move, the City Council decided last year to abruptly change the cost of public parking from 50 cents an hour, which (in all fairness) it was for decades, to $2 an hour this year. What used to cost $4 to park for eight hours now costs $16. The argument seems to generally be that it’s a move to keep idiots from parking and drinking too long at various establishments on the Southside and other places, thereby keeping the flow of customers in motion I guess and quietly moving people out of restaurants before they can get so drunk they piss on residents’ stoops, a well-known problem on the Southside. I still don’t understand why that argument holds around the various college campuses, where students (who are not wealthy) have to park. One of these days I’ll unleash the full rant on the city’s war on students, but not now. I bring all this up now merely to say that the new cost of parking has caused me trouble too.

Today I think I cracked the system. The sad thing is I don’t want to divulge my parking routine for fear others will adopt it. I spend my whole adult life trying to become a more open, warm, confident person, and then when it comes to this one thing, this one really insignificant thing, my inner Scrooge appears. Or maybe my inner Drama Queen or inner Sitcom writer is just saving something for another post. Roll credits. Cue theme music.

Noah Stetzer

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