Since the beginning of the semester, I have been thinking about the semester, about my workload, about the challenges I gave myself this semester. For the past couple of years, due to political personnel issues at work, I have given myself teaching schedules that didn't require tons of attention and time on campus. It was an escape. A way to deal with my job. There were times during those two years when I perused job boards consistently, at times pondering moving in order to change jobs. Things would get so bad that sometimes I would enter a class immediately after an hour conversation with colleagues, spinning in distress. My mind wasn't in the game. I spaced out more often in class, trying to recover a bit of myself. Fortunately, despite this, I still did a good job, but not a great one.
I hadn't really thought about the depth of those two years much until Friday when I took a teacher narrative workshop. As I wrote and reflected, I realized that those years placed me at a crossroads of decision, a reckoning with my current job. During what I recall as two years of job hell, I found solace and sanity by returning to my writing, taking writing workshops and working with a writing coach. This redirected my attention away from work and back to a practice of craft I had missed for decades. Not only did this save me, in a way, but it also gave me ways to connect back. I brought my experiences into the classroom and found myself relating to my students on a new level of authenticity.
During the spring semester, my writing came first. Weekends were first devoted to my own writing, to assignments for my workshop. Only after that was done, did I turn to prepping for classes and grading. Fortunately, my prepping demanded little, since my schedule was easy (nothing new in terms of prep and classes I could wing at the last minute). Early in the spring semester, when I finalized my fall schedule, I opted for challenge, deciding that if I were to continue at my job, I had to cease being lazy.
With this new schedule this fall (new class, new text, all F2F), I am piled under at times, stressed by the enormity of the work I need to do for classes, pissed that my writing has to come after. For four weeks, I've spent most of my time bitching about my exhaustion, my heavy workload, my shitty schedule that I gave myself. Yet, for four weeks, I go into all my classes smiling, engaged with students, laughing, and finding that we have begun to hit our stride with a nicely developing sense of community. Even though I teach three classes back-to-back-to-back with only a quick 30 minutes for lunch, I am energized when done. And so far, I've done a fairly good job of using that 30 minute lunch to actually sit and eat with colleagues, rather than multitasking with the computer and food. I have full days, and by the time Thursday rolls around, I don't want to do much, and fortunately, often have the luxury of the day to recover.
During the teacher narrative workshop, I wrote my way toward some sense of peace and gratitude around my struggles with balancing work and writing. I do get to do it all in a way, but I have to go about life a bit more carefully in terms of time, at least for now. Socializing needs to be kept at somewhat of a minimum, and when I know that I have several things coming up, I need to work ahead. On weekends, I need to devote an entire day to nothing but school and writing. Down time isn't really an option, at least if I want both work and writing.
And honestly, it ain't all that terrible. Yes, I spent hours this weekend working, but it's not so awful that working means closely reading an Annie Dillard essay that reminds me to slow down. It's not so awful that working means teaching myself about the artistic, musical, literary, architectural, and philosophical ideas that defined the Realism period. My brain is alive and I am challenged.
To stretch myself does mean some stress, but out of that stress brings a sense of life, of active engagement, of pushing my boundaries a bit rather than resting it out.
On the eve of week five, I am still excited, still slightly nervous, and grateful.