A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Keep Myself Awake

I’ve spent several comfortable years in the academic life, which allowed me to teach classes from 8:30 to 11, make it home in time for lunch, then enjoy a nap or a walk before throwing in laundry, then reading or writing for the rest of the afternoon. Don’t get me wrong – there were some long, torturous 8 hour days of paper-grading thrown in there, too. But I had it pretty nice. If I wanted to take the afternoon off to read a novel or go shopping, I could usually do so. But now I’m up every morning and driving across the TappanZee Bridge by 8 AM, knowing that the return trip won’t come until 5:30 or later.

I squint against the sunlight both ways, but when I first started my new nine-to-five, my worry wasn’t that the sunrise would affect my eyesight so much as the fluorescent office lighting. Thankfully, I don’t work in a cubicle; I have my own office and can shut the lights off. I only have one narrow, high-up window, but it lets in enough sunlight so that I can read the stacks of papers on my desk, so I’ve developed a habit of working for most of the day in the dark. I believe this is saving me from developing a dangerous addiction to Visine or Clear Eyes, and it’s far more Zen. Then again, maybe I've picked up one too many habits from my favorite film noir characters and broody vampire detectives.

But when I began working a more traditional schedule, I had far greater fears than the possibility of developing Bleary Eye Syndrome. Mainly, I was – and continue to be – concerned that a 40 hour a week job eats up a lot more time than just 40 hours a week. Let's do the math. There’s the commute, which I estimate takes me another 7.5 hours a week on average. But that is still less than 50 hours, and there are 168 hours in a week, so even if you sleep 56 hours a week (8 hours a night), you should still have somewhere between 60 and 70 hours to yourself. Right?

But you can’t forget to add all those pesky household and personal hygiene things in to the tally – showering (and for some of us, blow-drying your hair), preparing food and washing the dishes… let’s say there goes another ten to fifteen hours during the week. We’re down to 50 hours, but you have to remember that half of those hours are your two weekend days. In that time, you’ve got to do laundry, go grocery shopping, go to church, take the car for an oil change – and you should probably at least acknowledge your husband at some point. So when am I supposed to find time to write??

I’m aware that all these things are the normal concerns and activities of normal adult human beings and that I shouldn’t be so irked at having to fit my life into this schedule, but as I’ve explained before, I’ve been extremely spoiled. Not only did my parents, grandparents, and even my husband cater to my desires to a certain degree, but my chosen career as a professor often enabled my whims. I could take papers to correct at the bookstore, which made grading feel less like work because I could go browse the shelves. I could make the rounds of local coffee shops and restaurants during the afternoons, or choose to put off my work until the middle of the night if I wanted. I thrive on flexibility, and a career as an academic allowed me to do so much more reading, writing – and ultimately, living.

When I started this nine-to-five gig, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have much time left for “living” – although admittedly, my definition of the word would seem fairly boring to many, since it basically involves reading and writing out of doors as much as possible, whether at the park or the beach, or by an open window. It also involves long walks and the general ability to kum-bah-yah with nature on a frequent basis.

What I’ve discovered is that even though the different responsibilities at my new job are actually pretty interesting and enjoyable (to me) and I’m happy to devote time to these tasks, I come home exhausted and unable to fully enjoy those twenty-five free hours that I’m supposed to have to myself during the week. Sometimes I can’t keep my eyes open for more than an hour or two after eating dinner, so I’ve found myself falling asleep to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report; my routine is starting to remind me of graduate school, which is not a time in my life that I particularly want to repeat. Ever. Again.

Over the past week, I’ve been even more drained for some reason; I think I fell asleep around 7:30 or 8 PM almost every night. Look at me – I’m not even thirty and I’m already turning into my grandpa. He was a sweet man and I love him dearly – but wasn’t I already boring enough??

Honestly, I can live with being a generally boring person to the outside world, but it is important to me that I am able to continue reading and developing myself as a creative writer and memoirist. I want to be able to recapture the more amusing, self-depreciating tone that used to come a lot more easily to me as I wrote. (Anyone else miss those posts?)

I also just want to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Is it too much to ask that if you’re earning enough money to be able to buy a few books and a dinner out, that you also be able to enjoy said books and your husband’s company? I really don’t want my life to be all about a paycheck – or even about a career, for that matter, even though it’s a career that I’ve decided is interesting, valuable and fulfilling. I still crave the freedom to freely express myself – consistently, constantly.

In order to be able to do that, though, I may need to resort to more coffee and diet Coke to keep me awake. I may gain a new appreciation for my chronic insomnia, and you might start to notice that my blog posts begin appearing at 2 AM, there to greet you when you come bleary-eyed to you computer in the morning. I may develop an addiction Visine after all.

Whatever happens, I know that I’ve spent too much time lately in a haze of one kind or another – grief and exhaustion have defined my life, weighted me down and limited my sense of adventure. Everyone has been urging me to get out and make new friends, which will certainly become more of a priority soon. But first I need to simply be able to stay awake…

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