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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spring Break Stress

You’d think a week home with the kids wouldn’t be that stressful. Isn’t the purpose of spring break to give everyone a chance to sleep and hang out? It’s not working out that way, however, so I’m going to spend my one and a half hours of free time ranting, I mean reflecting, on why I feel so stressed out.

Well, first of all there is the perennial problem that my teaching spring break does not line up with my children’s spring break, which means I have to scramble for child care for my teaching hours and spend less time preparing than I usually would. I’ve got that pretty well organized, though, so it’s not just that. There are two main problems: I miss having time to write; and the rest of the world is not on spring break, so several things I’ve been looking forward to working on have all arrived just when I don’t have time to give them my full attention. The most exciting is the revised contract from Tarcher for my Wisdom to Know the Difference book. This was preceded by some suggested revisions from an editor who asked to read some of my work as a project for an editing class she is taking, along with some questions she was hoping I could answer, and a gentle query from the Pendle Hill editor about when I would be done looking at her edits of the Pendle Hill pamphlet I recently wrote. All of it is good. In fact, all of it is great, which reminds me that most of the stress I feel I put on myself. None of those things needed to be responded to as quickly as I tried to handle them, except perhaps the e-mailed questions from the person doing our taxes, which sent me to the basement this morning, digging through my mother’s old papers while Luke climbed into a box of toys in the basement and tried to hide under a sled.

My desire to get things done quickly has been showing up especially in response to e-mail. We finally upgraded to DSL, and now my in-box goes to a second page as soon as it reaches a certain number, instead of just getting longer and longer , as it did on my old system. As soon as something gets bumped to the second or third page of my in-box, there is a good chance that I will never remember to do it, so my strategy is to deal with things right away: delete, save, or respond. Only those things that can’t be responded to immediately get to sit in the in-box (including the e-mails that come for my husband, who no longer has work e-mail). It sounds like a simple system—deal with it right away or not at all—but in the real Quaker sense of simplicity, it is not simple at all. It keeps my mine jumping from one thing to the next, and I get pulled off course way too easily. (Just since I’ve been writing this I’ve gotten seven new e-mails, none of which I’m that interested in.) I’m thinking I should unsubscribe to every list I’m on, except that I’ve heard that sometimes unsubscribing gets you on more lists. It’s not that I don’t care about what is happening in Darfur or Antarctica. It’s just that when my time is so short it becomes clear that all these e-mails are pulling me away from my real leading to write. During a regular school week I have time to do both, so the conflict is not so apparent, though it makes me wonder how much more I could write if I stripped all the distractions out of my life.

I discovered a few years ago that I seem to gain weight whenever I don’t get time to write. That is also true this spring break, though I could blame it on the Easter basket I wolfed down or the homemade banana cream pie my neighbor brought over for Easter dinner. It could be that the periods when I don’t get time to write also happen to be stressful times, so the relationship is correlative, but not causal. It could be that I eat more junk when I’m under stress. Despite all these arguments, I still think my body is giving me some message about what I’m supposed to be doing work wise. I’ve been at my computer for less than an hour now, but I feel much calmer than when I sat down. Just getting some of my mental buzz into paragraphs is always therapeutic.

A writer friend recently asked me how I had time to blog. I confess this week I thought about just linking to Barak Obama’s brilliant speech on race, though I’m so late, everyone who is interested has probably read the speech and fifty blog posts about it by now. Also, I didn’t feel like getting a bunch of e-mails from people who don’t like Barak Obama. Maybe in a few months, when my teaching semester is over, I’ll have the mental energy to debate politics, but right now political arguments feel like another thing pulling me “out of my lane,” as my friend Hilary says. For me, blogging is not a distraction when it helps me refocus and fuels my other writing, like a good stretch before a jog. The problem is, now that I’m all warmed up, I have to go pick up the kids! Until I get more writing time next week, this little exercise has made me realize that I need to draw the boundaries of my lane a little tighter—to respond to the editor e-mails, and leave the rest. That way I can spend more of this week enjoying the children, instead of keeping them out of my hair.


Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

Yuck that you have different spring breaks. We've been lucky so far - four schools between us, only 2 in the same district, and we all have the same break.

2:39 PM  

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