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.