Tuesday, September 27, 2022

S is for Semester

 S is for semester and this one is kicking my butt. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize why. I’m back to full-time – or what counts as full-time for an adjunct. Although I’ve taught all these classes before, I’m never happy unless I tweak them. 

This isn’t too bad when it comes to the development classes that I teach every semester, because the tweaks are minor and, when the technology cooperates, not too overwhelming. But my first year seminar, which I have taught numerous times before, comes with built-in changes every time it rolls around – changes I didn’t put into place. They aren’t bad; in fact, some are quite good. But, add them to the tweaks that I would normally do and the lists start to grow. And, of course this time around, I agreed to add in some content related to a new objective, as well as once again rethinking the major assignment that comes at the end of the semester, along with the instruction that leads up to it.

You can see how quickly I can get in over my head. Or, more accurately, in my own way.

And therein lies the problem. I teach my students about perfectionism and yet I struggle with my own, never satisfied leaving well enough alone. 

Ironically, the harder I try to make things perfect, the more the little details trip me up. This is not surprising. I’m a global person. I love big ideas, sweeping plans, and dreaming of new ways to do things. But then it comes down to the details and, as we all know, that’s where the devil lies, especially for a global thinker.

And I very quickly found myself drowning in the details. So much so that, despite my best efforts to achieve balance, that plan was flooded out just as quickly.

It’s early in the semester, though, so I still harbor a bit of optimism, along with the out-of-the-box thinking that also goes so well with a global personality. Yesterday, I decided that I was renaming my days. Well, not exactly renaming them. Frustrated by a schedule where I’m losing a whole weekend day getting ready for the week ahead, I decided to give myself comp time, recouping some of those hours on a weekday, thus making Monday (or whenever I take my comp time) Sunday (or whatever weekend day I gave up).  

It remains to be seen whether my latest big idea makes things better or worse, but I’ve already learned that pairing that comp time with other chores, like things that need to be done around the house, is probably not the best use of it.

pixel2013 via Pixabay

This week, I'm challenging my freshmen to think about their chronotypes (lark, night owl, third bird). From there, I want them to consider these presets, as it were, using them as a tool for developing time management skills befitting a schedule more wide open than any they had in their previous thirteen years of education. 

Once the structures that have been our touchstone have been largely ripped away, it can be a struggle to decide what goes where. Not surprisingly, it can take longer than we expect to rebuild a routine that functions for the long haul. And, in a world where the schedule can change with every semester, it can be difficult to establish a routine that can function as a life raft, no matter how imperfect, in time to rescue ourselves from drowning in a sea of details.

Some days, we can follow the schedule we've devised, ticking all the boxes and congratulating ourselves on our insight. Other days, all we can do is enjoy the ride.

And coming to terms with that is perhaps the greatest time management trick of them all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Why it's Clear that a Writer Lives Here

 A few summers ago, I went on the Beach & Bay Cottage Tour in Bethany Beach, Delaware, with a friend of mine. We had a blast, and the homes were gorgeous, but let me just say that there wasn't a "cottage" in the bunch.

Writers, on the other hand, can sometimes be found in cottages. We usually share these living spaces with family members who wonder why we find it necessary to spend so much time at the computer or scribbling our thoughts on scraps of paper. And since you're not likely to find our homes on any tour --  at least not until after we're famous and dead (in that order) -- I thought I'd share a few telltale signs that you're in the home of a writer.

Books. Though some writers have cool hobbies like geocaching, many of us have hobbies that are more tame. Though I've heard that they exist, I've never actually met a writer who didn't love to read. If you're in a house where the books outnumber -- well, practically everything -- chances are good that a writer lives there.

Enough paper and writing implements to open a small business. I'm never more than one room away from a piece of paper/tablet/notebook and a writing implement. In fact, there's usually one of each within arm's reach. Every purse or tote bag I own has a small pad of paper in it and, in my car you'll find a small notebook in my sun visor organizer and a spiral notebook in the driver's side door pocket. (Writing implements are in the console). This way, I'm always prepared to capture wayward impressions, ideas and observations that arrive when I least expect them.

Specific writing implements tucked into out-of-the-way places. Or behind closed doors. While anything with a point will work for jotting down ideas, writing is more serious business. Many writers have pens to suit not only specific tasks (planning, writing, revising), but also our moods. Color matters. So does the feel of the instrument and the way it glides across the page. Though I do most of my writing on a laptop, I often do my planning on paper, hand write first drafts of short pieces, and edit hard copies. And when I do, the writing implement I want to use had better not be in someone else's hand.

Other possibilities: You may also find clutter, dust and dirty dishes (signs of an impending deadline or a really good writing day), noise canceling headphones (for those times when the writer's family invokes their right to actually live in and make noise in the cottage) and makeshift offices in rooms of the house designated for other purposes such as sleeping, eating and relaxing. You might even find decorating touches that make the writer's love of words and books abundantly clear, like the comforter (below) I bought to put on the bed in my daughter's room when she moved out and took her bedding with her.
Yes, I really did.

If you call a writer or ring the doorbell and he or she doesn't respond, please don't take it personally. Any of the usual reasons (in the shower, out of earshot, on the phone) may hold true. Or perhaps, he or she is working, dressed in an outfit not meant to be shared with the general public. Catching a writer "mid-write" can be as dicey as catching a toddler before nap time; trust me when I tell you that coming back later may be the best thing you can do for all involved.

If you do get invited into a writer's lair, there's no need to be reverent. Just please understand that what looks like a mess to you may look like progress to us. If we have office doors, we close them for just that reason. If we don't, and we invite you in anyway, then we must really like you.

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our tour. For further details, ask a writer, or leave your questions in the comments below. Thank you for joining me, and please visit again.

Just don't touch the writing implements.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

School Days

 This vintage post from 2010, back when I was still working in a public elementary school, is still true in so many ways. The first three items are unchanged, even as we close in on a month of fall semester classes. Now that I work on the other end of town, however, I get my Starbucks fix closer to home. And, as for #5, that daughter now goes to a job of her own, carrying her favorite Kate Spade backpack, which is far more stylish and, I hope much lighter.

The threads of education are interconnected in so many ways. My students are older and my job description has changed but, as I've said here often in the past few weeks, the transition from summer to school year remains a challenge.

Five ways I can tell the school year has started:

1. I'm awakened by an alarm clock, not an internal clock.
2. In the war against clutter, the clutter is winning.
3. I fall asleep on the sofa instead of in my own bed.
4. I buy my daily Starbucks fix across town instead of a few blocks from home.
5. My daughter has a cold, and is carrying a backpack that weighs as much as one of her limbs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

R is for Routine?

TaniaRose via Pixabay

 Yesterday, I made a decision to step off the merry-go-round. 

No, I'm not retiring. I'm revising. 

Not a book this time but, rather, my insistence on a routine.

Despite the fact that I've been an educator for 34 years, I spend the first month of every semester trying to settle into some sort of routine. During this time, I waffle between flexibility and rigidity, never completely happy with either one. 

It's frustrating. I keep thinking I should have this down, but every new semester brings a slightly new to-do list. 

This is, in fact, one of the things I like about my job. 

But, somehow, the "real" job (teaching) always manages to nudge the "other job" (writing) not only off the table, but crashing down onto the floor where it splinters into a thousand pieces. By then, I'm too exhausted to make sense of the splintered remnants, so I sweep them away, hoping the next day will be better.

I've tried tracking my time. That gives me a headache and depresses me because everything always takes longer than I think it will.

I've considered setting business hours. But, when I don't complete the things I deem necessary for the next day within that established time frame, I break through the frame and keep on working.

So much for business hours.

Yesterday was a challenging day for reasons I still can't identify. All I knew was it wasn't a "nose to the grindstone" sort of day and that I felt "out of sorts," as my mom would say. 

So I took a new approach. I taught my classes at their allotted times and, when I got home, I decided to choose my tasks one at a time instead of trying to blow through a to-do list. All afternoon, as I completed a task, I determined what to do next by pausing and asking myself one simple question.

What do I want to do in this moment?

I found it so helpful that I wrote a post about it for this Thursday's Organizing by STYLE blog. I thought I was reporting on a single day but, when I got up earlier than usual this morning, I decided to adopt the same attitude with today's "found" time.

It felt good. Very productive, and not routine-like at all.

I actually wrote about this -- or something similar, anyway -- back in January. It sounds like such a simple (and possibly indulgent) thing to do but, for those of us who've adopted a work-before-play philosophy, either wittingly or unwittingly, it's a hard sell. The "what I want to do" gets swept away in a sea of "what I should do." And, when we "should" ourselves, we can suck the joy right out of anything.

Yesterday, simply by choosing what I was doing, slowing down a bit, and focusing on my chosen task (easy because it was what I wanted to be doing), I not only enjoyed the tasks more, but I got a lot done. 

Clearly, this relaxed routine has something to recommend it. 

I don't know if my choice-based system will stand the test of time. Will I do all the stuff I love and ignore the rest? Then again, might that tell me something about the value of what never gets done? 

I do know that I felt a lot better by the end of the day yesterday than I did early on. And, when given a fighting chance, my writing -- which has been languishing under a pile of shoulds -- rose quickly to the top of the "what do I want to do in this moment?" list. 

And that's a win.

Step aside, rigid routine. Relaxed routine to the rescue.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Routine is Elusive, but the Fun Has Just Begun


This three-year-old post just about sums it up. 

Now if only I could get into a routine. Baby steps, I guess.

I'm very happy that we're entering the third week of the semester.

The first week of the semester is nerve-wracking. No matter how many years I do this, I still get nervous. No matter how many times I proofread the syllabus, I still miss mistakes. No matter how many layers I put on (or don't), I'm still too hot (or cold) in whichever classroom(s) I've been assigned to.

Week two is a little better. We're through with the preliminary information and beginning to tap content. I know a few names, I know how to work the equipment in each of the classrooms and how to dress for the climate of each classroom. I'm still not in a routine, though, in part because switching away from a writing focus and into a teaching focus is something I do a bit grudgingly. Last week, snow -- both expected and unexpected -- made getting into the swing of things even more challenging than usual.

By week three, it's all coming together. I'm no longer worried about the impression I (or my imperfect syllabi) make. It's about the students (whose names I'm beginning to master) and the material. I've set the parameters, clarified expectations and I can just be myself and teach. My nerves have dissipated and so have theirs.

It took me a long time to get to week three, or to even understand that week three was coming. The ebb and flow of the semester, like the ebb and flow of any job setting, takes time to learn and perhaps even longer to embrace.

In early January (or August), people start asking me when the new semester starts and, as we move through the month and that date gets closer, if I'm ready. Honestly, even though I enjoy teaching, I'm never quite ready to relegate writing to second place. But, once the semester starts and I fall into a new routine, I can embrace the change.

This year, the day before classes started, someone asked me if I was excited and I said that I wasn't, but I would be once I met my students. The person who'd asked smiled and told me that's how she knew I was a good teacher.

I never really thought about it that way, but now that I'm moving into week three, I get it. Teaching a class is a lot like doing a presentation. Both require knowledge of the subject matter, preparation, and an ability to blend information dissemination with interaction and entertainment.

But teaching goes beyond those things. For me, teaching starts to get fun when I know the people I'm dealing with, when I can tailor the subject matter to those sitting in front of me and when I have a sense of who my students are as people.

A presentation shares material. Teaching makes it relevant.

Kidaha via Pixabay

And by week three, it has started to feel relevant. Classes are less of a presentation and more of a two-way street. Questions pop up -- both those that are easily answered and those that make everyone (including me) think -- and the material not only begins to take shape but to come alive.

Both writing and teaching require the ability to breathe life into material. As a writer, the responsibility for this is all mine but, in the classroom, the responsibility is shared. Between me and the textbook, the material is set out before the students, who are strangers to me during those first couple of weeks. As we get to know both one another and explore the material, a shift occurs, and that's when things get exciting.

Right around week three.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Q is for Quiescent (Among Other Things)

 I love words. Since I'm a writer, this is hardly a shocking revelation. And, since Q is one of those letters that makes it challenging to choose a word that drives the theme of a post, it seemed a good week for a word that was a tad quirky.

Quiescent. It even sounds peaceful, which it should after all, since Merriam-Webster's first definition for it is "marked by inactivity or repose: tranquilly at rest."

I had a lovely, quiescent Labor Day weekend at the beach with my husband. We tried a new place (same town, different rental) -- a house, this time, with a screened-in patio that rivals the sunroom we just added at home. We spent a lot of time in that sunroom, and a lot of time with long-time friends we don't get to see nearly often enough.

It was lovely.

And then, yesterday, the quiescence came to a screeching halt (if, indeed, quiescence can do such a thing) as we crawled up Route 1 to come home, unpack, and face reality.

It wasn't only the outside world that became noisy and devoid of tranquility. My lack of quiescence was an inner issue as well. I didn't mind spending a chunk of my "holiday" doing school stuff. At least not at first. But, the longer it went on, the crabbier I got until no amount of external quiescence was sufficient to quell my inner toddler who didn't wanna do work. 

She just wanted to play. And the longer the work went on, the more she let it be known that this work on a holiday weekend stuff was not to her liking.

She wanted her quiescence (as she often does).

Don't we all.

Protecting this clearly valuable asset can lead us into a quagmire, as we attempt to balance work, play, and rest. Or, perhaps more accurately, we find it difficult to extract ourselves from the quagmire of work and other obligations to carve out a little quiescence. Introverts are often more adept at doing this than extroverts are, whereas we ambiverts are often mid-quagmire, waving a metaphorical white flag (or perhaps a real one) by the time we realize we need a break. By then, our inner two-year-old is within whining distance.

If we're smart, we use the memory of those quintessential summer days to replicate that tranquil feeling on days when the weather, our schedules and, perhaps our moods, are less-than desirable. When we fail to do this, holding at bay the comfort we crave, our inner toddler may emerge.

And I don't think I'm speaking for only myself when I say no one wants to see that.

As sad as I am to see summer go, I look forward to the crisp air and colorful leaves of fall. Sprinkle a little quiescence on one of those lovely, cool days, and I can put my inner toddler down for a long, restful nap.

And who knows? I might just join her.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

GDJ via Pixabay

 With one week of fall semester classes behind me, and a routine beginning to take shape (I always forget how long that actually takes), it's time to declare my summer officially over. I always end the summer with a bunch of things I wanted to do, but didn't get to, which means I typically forget what I did accomplish. So, a couple of weeks ago, I started my list. 

It almost makes up for the fact that dust continues to collect on my unfinished projects. 

All in good time, I guess. Meanwhile, here are some things I'm proud to have accomplished during my time "off."

  • Taught a summer course online.
  • Reduced my home inbox by 6000 emails. I'd love to say that brings it to Inbox Zero but...no. Still at it :-)
  • READ. Novels, non-fiction, magazines, audiobooks.Aaahhhh.
  • Wrote and submitted a non-fiction book proposal. 
  • Wrote a few chapters of my novel.
  • Got a little revising in and learned that I will work for food.
  • Improved my office. The counter still needs some work, but I sorted, purged and streamlined all the files.
  • Made significant progress in our overstuffed basement. Some of that was due to sending a medium-sized piece of furniture home with my daughter, but there was a lot of de-cluttering and organizing involved, too. 
  • Continued my weight loss journey, hitting the 40 lbs. lost milestone.
  • Spent a week at the beach, and looking forward to a reprise.
  • Finally finished my 1000 piece Grey's Anatomy jigsaw puzzle. So many blue scrubs and white coats!
  • Made a few trips to see our daughter who has entered the real world and is nesting in her new apartment.
  • Revamped the final assignment for one class and streamlined/reconfigured assignments for the other two, as well as revising syllabi and re-shaping the flabby bits of some of my courses.
  • Indulged my love of learning and merged it with my love of writing to take three webinars and a three-day online workshop.
  • Engaged in regular writing sprints of an hour or more on an average of about five times a week. 
  • Improved my French with Duolingo and something I'm calling my "Aujourd'hui Journal."  
  • Did a play reading and few evenings out with my theatre friends, and engaged in some catch-up calls with old friends, as well as a few low-key social activities like lunches. 
  • Started setting boundaries with respect to work hours -- always more easily said than done.
  • Did an online summer book celebration with Celebrate Lit.
  • Wrote a bunch of blog posts and tweets.
    geralt via Pixabay

  • Created and posted daily quotes for my L2Hess & Friends page.
I'm sure I've forgotten something but, I have to admit, revisiting all of these things for this post was definitely a mood-booster, even as my to-do list remains undone. 

Or, maybe because of that. I'm not entirely sure. 

How about you? What are you proud to have accomplished?