Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Year Is Slowing Down...But I'm Not!

It’s a warm, hazy day, one that straddles the cusp going into late August. Outside, the air is humid; the trees sway gently in an almost too-lazy-to bother breeze. The leaves on these trees are, for the most part, still lush and green and abundant. But like a weirdo playing Where’s Waldo, I keep my eyes peeled for the rarity: a yellowing leaf here, a rusty one there. Every now and then, one falls to the ground.

"The Poplars 1914" -T.C. Steele
We’ve still got another month before summer officially ends, but in my brain, which has been craving fall since our blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spring, summer officially came to an end yesterday.

Today the fall semester of college classes at IU begins, and once more, I am a college instructor.

Currently, I am sitting in the university library, listening to the ping and chime of the elevator and the chatter of students already hard at work (I’m impressed; it’s literally the first day of class); I’m killing time before I meet up with my fantastically British co-instructor. We’re going to grab a quick coffee and rev each other up (which will probably mean I work myself into an anxious tizzy while she gives me some side-eye and humors me with very calm advice) before our fall class starts.

I enjoy teaching, even though it’s a hell of a lot of work, and students can sometimes be harsh and unkind. And good lord, I am still very new to this. But my grandparents, along with from too many hours spent reading the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, kind of instilled in me the need to do better, do more, improve, don’t quit. So here I am, once more. And now that I am in the library, surrounded by young people studying, immersing themselves in information and knowledge, I am glad I’m here.

The days are long, but the years are short. My Mondays in particular will be brutal this fall; I’ve got a lot keeping me busy. And while the minutes and hours of the next few months may drag, but the days and months themselves will fly by, and very soon I will find myself sitting at this very desk, and instead of looking out at some lush, verdant trees, I’ll be seeing bare branches, gray skies, perhaps even snow falling. The days are long, but the years are short. I’ll be exhausted, no doubt, and grateful for a slowing-down in pace, but probably reluctant, too, to relinquish this part of my life.


It’s later; our first class is over. There are nine, plus myself and my co-instructor; we are a small group, enough to cluster around the long conference table. It feels more intimate and democratic than last semester, and I find myself looking forward to the months ahead, despite the hard work that lies in store for me. “I like keeping busy,” I tell people. “That way I don't have the time to make poor life choices."

The rain that was threatening earlier is still dithering, still trying to decide if it wants to do more than spit itself down at random intervals. I’m grateful for the clouds; it helps keep the heat at bay, and I can pretend, just a little, that fall is on it’s way.

When does fall start for you? Of course, there’s the autumnal equinox, at which point fall technically begins. But there’s that moment when fall appears for each of us individually, in our own heads and imaginations. For one of my friends, fall begins with the first football game of the season. For another friend, it’s when the air finally turns chilly. For retail establishments, I suppose it’s whenever they haul out their seasonally-appropriate merch. For myself, it’s when school starts, when the kids trot back to school. Perhaps it’s because I dislike summer so much, I will mentally end it as soon as I can, seize upon whatever will terminate that wretched season.

There’s another way that I can tell that fall is here, or at least fast approaching--something that I noticed, even during my season-starved childhood in Florida and exile in California. In early September, the light changes. The sunlight may still be warm, but something about its quality changes. It’s more gentle, and the slant of it is different, particularly in the afternoon and evening. It becomes benevolent, even a bit calming, and seems to say, “The year is slowing down. So should you.”

Not sure that that’s an option for me, but doesn’t mean that I won’t lift my face up and soak up that lovely autumnal glow, once it starts. In the meantime, I reckon I can go to a local retail establishment and pretend it’s fall there. (Spoiler alert: I may have already done so.)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Month Ahead: August

Okay, folks. It's August. We are deep in the throes of the dog days of summer, but the end is getting closer. The other day, I saw a few leaves that were a rusty brown, standing out against the green of the trees surrounding them. And the day after tomorrow, school starts.

There haven't been too many lazy summer days for me this summer, but whatever leisure I enjoyed is about to become a distant memory...

Top Three Things I'm Focusing On This Month

1. Main Hustle
My boss retired yesterday. I'd only worked under her directly for a few months, and we worked hard and closely to make sure I got all the training she could impart, but the nature of our work meant that plans and schedules changed fast and often, and we didn't always have a chance to work together. She was phenomenal--and now she's gone. While I always want to be present and supportive to my team, I feel like it's very important in the weeks ahead for me to lean into those responsibilities, since my boss's replacement is not yet in place. And there's so much work to do!

2. Side Hustles 
When it rains, it pours. And right at the same time that my Main Hustle is experiencing big changes and opportunities, my side hustles of caregiving and instructing a graduate-level class are starting back up again. I'm not sure I will be able to teach again after this fall...while I am by no means long in the tooth, I am getting to a point where I need to be willing to pause and assess and focus on what's most important. But in the meantime, I'm organizing and reviewing my notes, reading pedagogical articles and books, and maaaaaaaaybe indulging in a little bot of back-to-school supply shopping. But no lie, my schedule is going to be very demanding this fall, and I've only got a couple more weeks before that schedule starts.

3. Me (Duh)
Since there's so much going on in my work life, and so many demands on my time, I know I need to be vigilant in self-care and boundaries. This means trying to be mindful about some things, like setting alarms to remind me to drink water, and saying no to other things, like extra social plans when there are too many other things still to tend to. It means forcing myself to do things that I don't wanna do, like the dreaded exercise thing, and not cancelling counseling appointments, and eating things that maybe have at least some pretentions to nutrition.

If I am not taking care of myself, I'm not going to be able to take care of others.

There is some fun stuff coming up this month, though. My North Star, Brian, is flying for a long weekend just before classes start, and we're going to have an action-packed weekend up in Indy. There's a Smashing Pumpkins concert, and a day at the State Fair (I think this is becoming an annual tradition), and another day meandering around rural Southern Indiana, and maybe something special will be happening to my tattoo. 

So, that's an overview of the the big stuff happening in my life this August. There are a lot of smaller goals and ideas that I want to tackle--getting drapes hung in my apartment, and making some meals to freeze, and getting my car detailed, and reading some books, but those are the details that will eventually, hopefully fill in the big picture. We'll see how that picture looks at the end of this month.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

When In Doubt...

Is there anything better than a day off in which it's cool and grey and cloudy outside, and quiet and cozy inside? I didn't anticipate having a day off like that in the middle of the summer, but hey, this has been a pretty frickin weird summer, weather-wise, anyway. So if I CAN have a day off like that in the middle of July, I will happily take it.

I'm a little torn, actually--like I always do at this point in the summer, I've spent the last couple of weeks fantasizing about autumn and brilliantly-colored leaves and crisp days and cold nights and comfy sweaters and not sweating off makeup within 15 minutes of application. But I am also absolutely flabberghasted by how swiftly (mercilessly, even) = the summer is sailing past. In less than a month, my second and third side-hustle will recommence, and with my newish job occupying so much of my time and energy, I'm anticipating challenges that I didn't have last year. But since I am an optimist, these aren't challenges. These are opportunities. Exciting ones at that. And these opportunities will keep me busy and useful and occupied. And busy, did I mention busy?

So, as the summer starts winding down to its inevitable end, I am jotting down ideas for how I can streamline my schedule, batten down the hatches, clear the decks, and keep things running smoothly from August to December. I'm contemplating life hacks and basic self-care regimens and freeze-ahead meals and a simple once-a-day housecleaning routine, and jotting down ideas about how I can best support my reports at work during a time of transition. I'm looking forward to seeing my colleague-mentor-friend-boss from my second side-hustle, and trying to mentally prepare for teaching another semester of graduate students. It's exciting! It's exhausting! It's life!

It's going to involve discipline, and that's the thing that I lack. I can have my skin care regimen planned out, with all the attendant lotions and potions and cleansers; I can have my daily schedule jotted down in 15 minute increments; I can have a refrigerator full of food waiting to be cooked up or made into packed lunches. But if I don't want to put down that book that I'm reading, if I hit that snooze button another time, if I buy that bag of cheetos or give in to that craving for takeout...the dominos start to fall. I can't afford that this autumn.

Of course, whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, I try to fall back on my tried-and-true approach of "When in doubt, plan it out."  So that's what I am up to on this evening...contemplating my pile o' planners, and looking forward to figuring out how better to move through this life. The plans I make today may not hold up tomorrow, and my coping stategies may not either, but I still have to forge ahead into the coming months. Any pointers?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Brilliance of Books, Late June 2018 Edition

The year marches on, and here we are, almost halfway through. I'm behind in my reading goals for the year--the first few months, being the chaotic, delightful adventure that they were, didn't leave me much spare time for literary ...

I can't say that life has settled down much--that's not really what life does, after all--but I have been going about one of my favorite pasttimes with a bit more purpose. Some of the goals I tackled in May and June were:

The Cafe By the Sea-Chicklit isn't really chicklit anymore. The Great Recession put the finals nails in the coffin of that sub-genre, at least in its early form. Or perhaps chicklit has just been sucked back into the "mothership" of women's fiction. Or perhaps it's just matured into something that's a little more substantive and sensible. Either way, Cafe by the Sea is a combination of chicklit and women's fiction, with just a tiny dash of cozy. Jenny Colgan's books (fortunately) lack the glitz and glamour of New York City, and are real in their exploration of messy, realistic family dynamics...and they include lovely rural UK villages and delicious-sounding foods.

Perception-As I'm a rather nerdy, pompous bookworm who has known from a very early age that my face would not be my fortune, I've always had a wee bit of a soft spot for Mary Bennet, the plain middle sister of Pride and Prejudice who hid her shortcomings behind a bookish disdain for society and pretensions to intellectualism. And with that bias in my heart, I always gravitate towards Pride and Prejudice spin-offs in the hope of reading more about this intriguing changeling and seeing her come into her own. Perception is the one of the latest offerings, and while it was a little on the fluffy./historical romance side, I still enjoyed it. There's another possibility though, Mary B, due out later this summer, and I have rather high hopes for that one. It looks like it might less..floofy.

(I tend to consume a lot of floof. I need to counter that consumption whenever I can.)

The Silence of Ghosts--I don't often say this about a book, but I regret reading this one--at least, I regret reading it when I did. This delicious ghost story deserves to be read in darkest October, close to midnight, as the shadows of the year are closing in, and the icy fingers of seasonal death tighten their grip on the world. It's certainly a book I will happily read again.

Mrs. Osmond-Ever read Portrait of a Lady? I haven't. Saw the movie once, but I recall very little about it other than John Malcovich's overweening smarm. But I'm familiar enough with Isabel Archer, her wonderful prospects, and her very, very poor choice of husband, to enjoy this literary offering from John Banville, who explores the "what next?" after the end of Portrait. While it's technically a historical novel, it isn't primarily a historical novel--it's literary through and through. It's also a book that I will need to re-read...I devoured it for its plot, but unfortunately, this is not a book to devour. This is a book to savor. 

The Monsters of Templeton-Eldest Sister told me about this book as she was reading it...a freakin' decade ago. (It's a little disturbing that I can now break my life down into decades.) I still remember how excited her voice was as she described this book, filled with ghosts and family secrets and lake monsters and quirky characters who make all sorts of questionable life choices. Why did it take me ten years to read this?

Welp. The year marches on, and here we are--day by day, the sand in the hourglass trickles down, and there is ever-less time to read all the books that I want to. All I can do is go about it with a purpose and a plan.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Nothing Gold Can Stay...But It Can Return

Nothing gold can stay...

This has been a lesson that I have learned (or at least been reminded of), over and over, in the last eight years of my life. Any sense of contentment, of amusement, of relief, of pleasure, of simple joy in my home and work and friends, is accompanied by a shadow of knowledge that restlessness, disillusionment, anxiety, frustration, and abandonment (whether real or perceived) will also have their day. In the face of illness and old age and death and our own human frailties, the work and sacrifices and laughter and hopes will wither on the vine and seem trivial.

What if our hard work ends in despair? 
What if the road won't take me there?
Oh, I wish for once, we could stay gold.
What if to love and be loved's not enough?
What if I fall and can't bear to get up?

Oh I wish for once, we could stay gold.

This song, by First Aid Kit, is one that I've found immense comfort in over the years. These words remind me to keep a sense of balance and proportion. I've been given so much privilege in my lifethat even the days and weeks and months of sharp disappointments and worries do seem to be tempered by many good days, and weeks, and months. "Ebbs and flows," as my Middle Sister so often reminds me, and so it is in my life.

Thus far, it's been a rather golden kind of year--definitely since compared with last year, which, looking back now, seems layered in a thick coating of the ashes of many hopes, many plans, many castles in the air which came tumbling down. And so I've been relishing this golden yeara..because nothing gold can stay...

To this end, I threw a birthday party for myself at the end of May, as I leveled up to Adulting Level 38. Normally I'm not big on my birthday--I'm all about others' birthdays, but for me, I always worried that it would seem egotisitcal of me to throw a party and say "Hey everyone! Let's celebrate me!"

But this year, I made an exception. And on a golden evening in late May, I opened my home to a goodly number of people. It's been a long time since I've thrown a party of any significance--and as it turns out, while my little Haggery Home feels spacious for one feme sole, when you cram 20 people into a 2 bedroom flat, things can get cozy! But most folks stayed to the very end, and honestly, I don't even care if they didn't come to celebrate with me. They were there, laughing and having a good time, and that makes my heart happy. It's a golden memory that I will keep with me so long as my memory endures.

One of my sisters flew up from Florida. One of my oldest friends from grad school drove down to Chicago with her dog for the weekend. It was a golden night, with love and laughter and silly toasts and heartfelt words (and Cards Against Humanity, too.)

But there is only forward, no other way
Tomorrow was your hope at the end of the day
And gold turns grey...

All so very true, but if I can bathe in the glow of the gold as it is here, I will count this as worth the grey.

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Brilliance of Books, Mid-May 2018

There were a few years there in my life where I was reading an insane amount--upwards of 125, 150 books per year.

These were also some of the unhappiest years of my life. Coincidence? Nope. Not even a little bit. Books were my escape, of course, but they were also a way for me to mark progress through something. Stagnated as I was in my career, trapped and immobile as I felt in my life, there was (I thought) little room to move forward, to progress in life projects. So, page after page, I moved through stories, moved through piles of books. In hindsight, I wonder if there was something a bit...compulsive about it?

And now, here I am, in 2018.So far this year, I've not even managed 30 books. Sure, we could chalk it up to me juggling all the jobs in Bloomington, and moving households, but also, I think it's got something to do with the fact that I am just...happy. I'm occupied with pursuits and people and projects, and while I still love to read, I feel like maybe it's become a bit more proportional to the other facets of my life.  

What I've Read This Month, So Far:

Ann Rinaldi, Brooklyn Rose
Have any of you ever read anything by Ms. Rinaldi? I know I did, a very long time ago, and of course she came up in my children's literature class back in library school. This prolific author produces a lot of historical fiction, focusing on momentous events told through the mouths of fictional characters--indentured servants of Abigail Adams, or wards of the haberdasher to Queen Victoria, or some such. It's a bit of a cliched literary device, to be sure, but it certainly is one way to get young folks reading about history. Early this month, I stumbled across Rinadli's name somehow, and got it into my head that I should read something of hers. So, I checked out the title that I found the least ridiculous  that sounded the most appealing, and spent an evening reading about Rose, a Southern gal who marries into a wealthy Northern family and must test her mettle against her overbearing mother-in-law. Verdict: Entertaining enough, but by no means earth-shattering.

Mariah Fredericks, A Death of No Importance
Now this--this book was one of those that it was a true pleasure to read, that I hated to put down, and hated, too, when it was finished. A murder mystery, this was, set in 1910 New York City, and told through the voice of Jane Prescott, a ladies maid to the Benchleys, a nouveau riche family learning to navigate high society. Throw in a gruesome murder, some violent anarchists, and suspicious characters with no end of motives, and you gain a good read, and lose a night to its consumption.

Anne Easter Smith, Daughter of York
Originally, this book caught my notice out in California, when one of my colleagues nominated it for a staff pick. It looked vaguely interesting, so I threw it on my GoodReads list...where it proceeded to languish for the next eight years. I took up this doorstopper this month more to get it off my damned list than for any other reason. It tells the story of the War of the Roses in the voice of Margaret of York, Duchess Consort of Burgundy, who was sister to two Kings of England. I plowed through this a little bit at a time during my lunch breaks the last two weeks, and it was one of those that held my attention enough as I was reading it, but didn't stick very long in my memory otherwise.

Kerry Greenwood, Murder and Mendelssohn
The twentieth (and latest) installment in the Miss Fisher mystery series, this books is now four years old, and I've heard nary a peep about further books illustrating the intrepid antics of Australia's most fabulous flapper. So I read this book as slowly as I could, but there are only so many ways that one conductor can possibly be killed (my personal favorite was him choking to death on a choral score), and finally, I turned the last page. I miss Phryne already.

What I'm Reading Now (Not pictured):

Kintsugi Wellness and Harvard Business Review's 10 Must Reads for New Managers

Extrapolate from that what you will.

Now excuse me while I go on to my next book, which is...a historical novel.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Being Green

Today at work, when I was buried ass to eyeballs in files and notes and paperwork (with nary a book in sight), a random realization came to me: fourteen years ago today, I came to Bloomington, Indiana for the first time as an adult.

That's a rather silly sort of anniversary, isn't it? 14 years. Not that it's a decade or 25 years or anything like that; not it's not that I moved to Bloomington just then; not even that it was my first time in Bloomington. But for whatever reason, this happy little anniversary stands out to me.

It was a whirlwind trip, that trip--I flew in early on a Friday morning, giddy from a lack of sleep, and was back in Florida by Sunday night. But oh, I packed so much into those few days--I explored, I secured housing for myself, I wished graduating students well as they posed with their parents for pictures in front of the Sample Gates, I met a fellow that I would soon fall madly in love with; I listened to Irish music at a co-op cafe, I got re-acquainted with my uncle and his girlfriend; I met up with some Internet acquaintances for an early-evening picnic in an enchanting park, and together we tortured a Peep and a Peter Pan doll.

And I saw spring. A real, proper spring, with green everywhere. Sure, I knew green--the dusky, darker green of the palms and pines and scrubby brush of Florida. But this was a green that I had never encountered...a vivid, lush, almost painfully bright green. It was a green that seemed to flaunt itself, like it knew that it was in the rudest of health, and it was boasting of it. Oh, it was green.

But nothing was as green as I was.

Fourteen years later...My uncle's girlfriend is now my aunt. Those students that I wished well are now 14 years older, and while I never learned their names or even the first thing about them, other than they had proud parents, I still think of them and hope their parents are still proud, and that they remember their university years with joy. The fellow that I met and fell madly in love with...well, ours is a goofy sort of story, but we are still characters in each other's tale. The little co-op cafe is no more, and most of the folks I met for the picnic have moved on to different places, different partners. That enchanting park is still there, is a place I drive past all the time, is a place I still love to go.
And me? What of me?

I wanted different things then-- my vision was a bit more limited, I think. I wanted to do well in grad school, make good grades; marriage and family and career and everything Beyond Grad School were just abstracts. Research papers and projects and stultifying reading assignments loomed large, and I don't think I saw much past that. If the me of fourteen years ago met the me of now, I think we would--at best--cordially dislike each other. The battles that mattered to me at 24, I quite often can't be bothered to give a damn about at 37. Weirdly, I want more from life and expect more from myself now than I did fourteen years ago, but I'm a happier person, all the same.

Who's to say that happiness will last? Green springs swell with life and hope...and give way to fruit and death and fallow times, and god knows I've seen plenty of those in the fourteen years that have lapsed. There will be more fruitless and fallow times ahead in my life--hell, I just exited one--and perhaps in another fourteen years, I will look back on this green-and-gold spring evening and shake my head over who I am now.

"Get out of your own head," Older Indy Grrl might say, "Get off your ass and sit outside in this gentle twilight you're writing about and see the spring beauty while you can."

And yet here I am, still typing.

Maybe I'm not so different than I was, after all.

But I'm kind of curious about what happened to that Peter Pan doll.