Not being an animal of routine, I look forward to the holidays. The tasks and activities associated with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year interrupt the normal course of days. In between family and parties and shopping, pauses give me time to think about the course of my life, where I want to be, and what I want to do.
These past weeks, I’ve had a lot to think about. I don’t have a job in the traditional sense. I teach three classes each semester at the community college. I’ve been at it long enough so that many pieces of my teaching routines run on their own. Those that don’t need only a minimum amount of effort on my part. Grading essays take the most time and energy. Four times a semester, I have hours and hours of work deciphering student writing. It’s work I don’t relish. Student work, for the most part, is mediocre. Frequently, students just write poorly.
Outside of school, I spend part of each day writing. Lately, I have spent a good deal of my writing time with these essays. I try to get in three to five a week and am successful for the most part. I also have a book I drafted earlier this year that I’ve laid aside for another project that I worked on for most of the last semester.
But lately, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands and I’ve not used it well. Several things are happening at once, I think. I don’t have a defining venture I’m working on. My son is on his winter break—a two-and-a-half week jaunt into everything that has nothing to do with school, a true vacation. That means, however, that I’m on the hook for his entertainment, or, at least, part of it. That book is fermenting. The public history project stalled out a couple of months ago. School’s out. While not fond of routine, I like discipline and I’ve had none.
I’ve also gone through one of my depressive periods, one that I’m still dealing with. Just today, I woke, drank some tea, read the newspaper, and then went back to sleep for a couple of hours—and this after sleeping ten hours last night. The days have gotten monotonous with this sleeping thing. I get up in the morning and look forward to the afternoon nap. After the nap, I bide my time until it’s time to take my medicine, an hour after which I will go to sleep for another ten hours. Etc.
In truth, I’m not a resolver. I don’t go to bed on New Year’s Eve determined to do something good or change my life in the next year. I’m more of a creature of misery. I will do something detrimental to my spiritual and mental health until low-level misery turns into real pain. Then, I change.
The routines of the last few months have reached the point of pain. I think to myself, I only have two good decades left. I have more books to write and poems to compose. If I don’t get started, I will not get these things completed. It’s not that I have to have a certain number of books published by age 72. It’s that I like working on and finishing books. I want to get as many in as I can in the time left to me.
This is why the last few weeks have been good for me. I can get nothing accomplished during the holidays. Family needs attention. We have Christmas parties and family dinners. On Christmas and New Year’s nothing moves in the real world. Business stops or should.
(I don’t go to stores on holidays because I think that employers should give their employees days off. When I say that, friends and friendly opponents will say that some people need the work. I say that employers should be paying wages good enough so that their employees don’t have to work on the holidays.)
During Christmas and New Year we are stuck at home doing home things. One of my home things is writing. But my depressive state and the activities that the holidays bring have gotten in the way of writing.
And in a way, I’m grateful. If I cannot work on this computer, I take a few minutes and write in a journal I keep. Thoughts and ideas, a diary of the day’s or week’s events. It’s an imperfect record of myself, but it’s a place where I work out some of the issues and challenges I face on an every-day level.
The last few days, I’ve been working out a new routine for after the holidays. A discipline of writing is more accurate than routine. When the child is off to school again next week, I will rise at a decent hour. This may take some doing, since I have been getting out of bed around 9 to 10 a.m. I will start with setting the alarm for 7 a.m. This will give me about an hour to drink tea and read the newspaper, and generally get myself set up to sit down to this computer at 8 a.m.
Then, regardless how hard it will be at first, I’ll work until noon. I will be back on the public history project and will have taken my book out and dusted it off to start the fun of rewriting—the book is just a draft now and can hardly be called a book. I will write at least three essays a week. This may sound like quite a bit—book, history project, essays—but I can get a lot accomplished in three to four hours of daily work.
After noon, then, I want to get to the gym. I walk the dogs two to three miles every evening. But I need more. A half hour lifting weights or swimming or both will help me fill in the energy gap I feel in my days now.
Then, when I get home from the gym, I can take that nap. In some ways, that nap may be a motivator. After all, if I look forward to getting through parts of my day to arrive at that nap now, it will function much the same when I start my new discipline.
You have the right to ask, well, if you so believe in this discipline, why aren’t you in it now? I have formed disciplines in the past centered on writing projects and when I’ve completed them, I let myself go. When I wrote dissertation, for instance, I went to the office every day for months and worked for six to eight hours on that thing. There were days—as there will be now—when I sat in front of a computer and did nothing for the time I was there. But I went and sat in front of that computer and a dissertation came out of that effort. When it was completed, I got out of the discipline of writing. The same happened with my two books. I have a discipline when it comes to these essays, though in a much more disorganized way.
I firmly believe in the adage, if you hang around in a barbershop long enough, you’re gonna get a haircut. If I hang out in front of a computer long enough, I’ll write something.
I hold no illusions that this new discipline will solve all my problems. It will be hard at first. I will be tempted to drift off to bed or fiddle with something else in lieu of writing. I will spend days just looking at the computer screen. I will not start or finish on time, not at the beginning. But I will, after just a few weeks, be in my discipline and well on my way to getting that book completed.
There will be things that impinge on my schedule. Those student essays will have to be read and graded. Family will demand my time. The dogs will bark. The letter carrier will get them worked up. But, if I do this right, and I will after a while, I will have time each day to tend to family responsibilities and do the work of teaching.
For me, it is a matter of resolve, though this is not a resolution. I will not conquer the world, lose weight, or make my pilgrimage. I will, however, write, and that’s the point of it all.