Monday, October 8, 2018

Remember September

September has drawn to a close. It was a bright, blessed kind of month, which honestly, surprises me a little. I honestly didn't expect to have the time to enjoy myself much. But somehow, I contrived to wrest a little delight from my crowded days and nights.

This was my first full month of teaching my class over at the university. Once more, I am co-teaching with another instructor, which is a life-saver. I don't think I'd be able to do it on my own. It's still a lot of work, but now that I am not totally new to instructing any more, I find I am more comfortable, and slightly less intimidated, which means I can learn stuff, now, too. And weirdly, I rather enjoy my quiet evenings in my office, my head bent over the articles and readings.

My primary work continues to be challenging, but in the best way possible. Right now I am responsible for a unit of 40 people, without immediate supervision. Of course that means far more work than I can do in the 37.5 hours per week that I can do the work in, but even that is an opportunity to hone my prioritizing skills and my willingness to delegate. And that's the important lesson that I learned this month: sometimes it's essential to ask for help, because if you don't, you won't be able to provide the best support to the people who depend on you. All along, folks have been offering to assist me during this transitory time, and at first, I didn't want to accept. I felt like if I accepted help, or delegated, I was shirking my own work; that I was admitting that I couldn't do it all and that I was weak. Finally, however, I accepted, and whether it was that a psychological burden fell off my shoulders as soon as I asked for help, or that the help was substantial (I suspect both), I almost immediately noticed an improvement in my ability to catch up, then keep up. Ask for help, folks: we will all be the better for it. And guess what? Most people want to help others, myself included.

I've had a little bit of an opportunity to enjoy myself, in one of the most simple yet lovely ways possible. We had a lot of ridiculously warm, sunny days in September, but also, some fall teaser days. And on September 22, the first day of actually behaved like fall. And since then, we've had some bright, beautiful, almost-warm days; some breezy evenings; some misty mornings.

It's the easiest thing in the world for me to pause in the middle of whatever I'm doing--rushing out the apartment to work in the morning, trundling along Kirkwood at lunch time, laying in bed late at night--and just remember: even though I don't currently have time to do all the things I want to, I am still living my dream.

I even managed to spend some time with friends this month. On one memorable Sunday evening, my friend Jessica came down from Indy and we gorged ourselves on an obscene amount of sushi, and then spent the rest of the evening lolling about on couches, agreeing that we had no regrets. (Still don't. In fact, sashimi sounds really good right now.)

And on a perfect fall Saturday, my colleague Erica and I headed out to Musgrave Orchards, and then Oliver Winery, for apples, and cider, and a picnic of cheese and more cheese.

It was a golden September, in a golden year. Let's hope October is similarly splendid.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

And all at once...

Never has this quote been more relevant than this fall equinox, just passed. All last week it seemed, we were tormented by endlessly sunny days and temps in the low 90s. And all at once...

Saturday, the first day of fall, rolled around. And most obligingly, on the Fall Equinox, the clouds gathered, the temperatures dropped, the drizzle dampened the air and the Earth. I ordered a punkin spiced latte, half-sweet, and decorated my home, and reveled in the coziness.

Lord, how I love these autumn days! The air that dithers been almost-warm and just-a-bit-chilly doesn't punish, doesn't suffocate. These perfectly-balanced days seem almost brittle, like they could shatter into tiny fragments, so small that they will be swallowed up and subsumed into the harsher weather that will, inevitably, come. But hopefully, not before giving us some time to enjoy the glory and comfort that comes as we pause and drink in the gentle golden sunlight, the leaves drifting reluctantly to earth, the mums and punkins and corn mazes and cider and laughter and the sluggish blood in our veins quickening its pace as once more, we encounter invigorating change.

And yet...

(There's always an "and yet", ya know?)

I'm always somewhat predisposed to woolgathering and melancholic remembrances of former years, former friends, former lovers, former opportunities, all long gone. And with these dying days, with the crickets' song fading along with the heat of summer, with another year of my life drawing to its close, it's hard for me to not to become a bit ruminative, a bit questioning of my progress through this world. I know things will not always remain this way; that I will not always be content with this quiet existence of unceasing work and desire to be of use. Oh, perhaps, just perhaps, I shall carry on and continue to love it, and one day wake up and be 50, or 60, or 70, still working, still pursuing this life of solitude, still avoiding things that I am afraid I will fail at.

In the meantime, I'm going to go out into the bright September sun and drink up the beautiful days as they unfold.

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.