Latitudes, Attitudes

Please don’t sue me, Mr. Buffett. The series we just wrapped up was a little intense, so I’m going to dial back on the emotional investment and length for a little bit. If I didn’t, I’m afraid I’d burn out on blogging again, and I like the moderate consistency I’m maintaining here.

Reading through Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals made me think about my own rituals and habits. Because I’m usually only in a stable situation for about a year at a time before things shake up dramatically–moving, changing jobs, living situations, etc–I haven’t ever maintained a specific daily schedule for any length of time. However, there have been some general flows within given periods of my life.

Graduate School was my first insight into stability; before then I had worked a lot of swing shifts and irregular schedules that threw off everything else. My master’s degree, though, allowed enough consistency and flexibility that I started falling into patterns. I woke up between 6:30 and 8:00 AM most days, usually an hour before I taught at 7:30 or tutored at 8:30. I would end up teaching, tutoring, going to class, or holding office hours until noon or 1:30, at which point I would promptly go home. Usually, I would try to do as much of my reading and writing as I could in the mornings, while my attention was at its sharpest, and maybe some grading. Then came lunch, usually leftovers of some sort, and relaxing until dinner. Usually that involved watching television or movies, but it wasn’t uncommon to work on some kind of food project at the same time–tinkering with a bread recipe, prepping for dinner, or doing some bulk-cooking of ingredients I’d need later in the week. Then came dinner, usually a relatively large one, and talking with Emily while we watched TV and I graded papers. Five days a week for just about a year. On the weekends, Saturdays were usually relaxing, often with a drink in the evening. Church on Sunday morning, lunch, watching a movie or skyping with family, maybe playing a game of some sort.

While I was working on the first draft of my thesis, the mornings included an hour or two of writing instead of classes, and a 30 minute walk to clear my mind and talk with my parents. Since I didn’t teach until noon, the entire schedule was pushed back by about 90 minutes, but otherwise unchanged.

This summer, without teaching or tutoring and minimal writing, the activities have changed while the major blocks of time remain. Work in the morning, relaxing afternoons. At the start of the summer, work mostly meant thesis research, writing, and applying for work. Now that the thesis is wrapping up and there’s a job lined up, that’s stabilized into writing on here, reading any interesting articles I found the day before, and managing my buffer queue. Most days I’m accompanied on the laptop by a cup of sweet coffee, and finished with everything by about 10:30. Then it’s looking for secondary income–anyone need an English Adjunct?–and playing games until lunch. With lunch, there’s usually a quart of black, cold brewed coffee, and after we normally watch an hour or two of TV. Then it’s coming back to anything I didn’t finish in the morning, and more games or reading–currently Antifragile, just finished Desperation and The Regulators–until PawPaw gets home in the evening and we have dinner. After dinner, the dogs take us on a walk, and we come back for more TV or a movie before an early bedtime.

In college, the idea of a schedule was completely foreign to me. When I tried to establish one, I felt caged and quit rather quickly. Now that I’ve started developing them organically, I’m realizing how much time I really need to get things done. It’s a nice feeling, especially since we’re about to move, I’ll start at least one new job, and there’s a little one on the way. I’m excited to see how my habits change to fit around all this newness!

What about you guys? What kind of habits do you maintain?

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Relationships- IV

I wanted to spend a post talking about being a parent, but I realized I don’t know how to do that. We delivered our first six months ago to the day. People say things to us like “Well, you’ll understand when you’re a parent,” or “We’ll see if you still feel that way when you have kids.” Some days I only want to scream “We’ll see if you still feel that way when you’ve buried your children!” I had a lot of ideas of how I wanted to raise the kids, and what life would be like. Now I mostly just hope that I get the chance to raise them, or at least hear them cry once before they’re gone forever. So, like I said, I don’t know how to be a parent yet. But I know what happens when that parent-child relationship ends early, and I’m starting to get a handle on how to get on with life. There are still bad days–a lot of them–but the last half-year has shown improvements.

The first thing I had to learn was to stop asking “why,” both in the mechanical and metaphysical senses. The gross physical examination didn’t show anything specifically wrong, any biological cause for the death, and I’m probably not getting any answers from the Big Man about where Jamie Shannon’s death fits into The Plan. It was hard to stop asking, because that meant accepting the death and moving on. Some days I still catch myself mulling and puzzling, but the simple fact is that nothing went wrong.

I’m also learning how to deal with criticism again, especially from people who default to being critical. Criticism was hard for two reasons, which were really two sides of the same coin. The first is that when our child’s life could go so wrong for no reason, how much worse are things when people can point out that things are wrong? Second, we’d already been through one of the worst experiences possible, so minor issues paled in comparison. Slightly-less-formal-but-still-correct-comma-usage, words-that-only-encapsulate-90%-of-the-idea, lifestyles-that-are-slightly-harmful? Dead baby, don’t care, shut up. Of course neither of those interpretations are correct, they’re excuses at best, but it’s hard to cut people slack when you can’t find any footing in life.

The crutches will come back out in full force. The excuses in the last paragraph were the kind of crutch I mean, but I’m really talking about the big stuff here. I’ve struggled with sarcasm, procrastination, extreme introversion, skipping church, caffeine, tobacco and alcohol at some point in my life, and booze and smoking are the only ones that I really ever licked. Guess what came out to play? All of them. I shut myself in, doing nothing, lashing out, bringing out the pipe, drinking half the time, and dosing on coffee the other half. My circadian rhythm was interrupted, progress on my thesis stopped, I fell behind on grading, lesson plans were executed half-assed, coughs and headaches filled the day, and I snapped at everyone. The worst part is that you just have to break those habits again before anything can get better. I tried waiting it out, to see improvement. I would have been fired first, and fallen even deeper. I’m still overusing coffee, and I’ve made my peace with that for now, but the rest are mostly gone. Get back into your healthy routine as quickly as possible.

Everyone wants to help, pretty much nobody knows how, which means you need to figure out some stock responses. I defaulted to “nothing.” People were great about offering food, friendship, comfort, and other things that we genuinely needed, but I’ve never gotten the hang of asking for or accepting help. I felt bad about it, like I was denying people the ability to be useful. Some people just helped anyway (Kristen, Angela, Keith, Heidi, Family), while others waited for a signal from us (Joseph, Hillary, Crystal, Eric). I appreciate all of it, even when I didn’t accept. I was stuck on the big picture issues that there was no help for, things like work. So find the small things people can do, and ask for help. It’ll save a lot of time.

Don’t rush it. I’m still trying to heal, six months later and with another one on the way. Do what you can, but don’t worry about what you can’t do. As long as you’re trying, and happy for any progress, chances are that things will be okay. But that means not giving up. There were days that I imagined driving down the road and just…failing to turn. I would have sailed over the edge of a few hundred foot cliff, and I don’t think our Hyundai is rated for that kind of driving. I could have kept up the heavy alcohol or nicotine. I could have given all my students an A- for the semester. There were a hundred ways that I could have given up. I didn’t. Emily didn’t give up on hers, either, and she’d just lost grandma a couple of weeks before. I think that’s really how things improve in general: a lot of small improvements or stagnant days and a big change every once in a while.

That’s it for relationships. There’s a lot more that I could write about: mom, teachers, thesis committee, friends, extended family. They all have an effect, but I don’t know how I would write about them. Thanks to all of you I didn’t mention in great detail, too. Everyone I’ve ever met has made me a better person, even if it’s by showing me who I don’t want to be.

I hope this series has done some good for readers, either in helpful advice or at least comfort. Good luck out there.