Thursday, June 24, 2021

June 24 update

Brains are strange, they are frustrating, they forget their own self-knowledge every time and it is always almost a surprise -- the very greatest relief -- when it turns out that no this state of distraction and anxiety and lack of focus is NOT permanent, I will be myself again if I am patient.

Which is to say it's June 24, and today is the FIRST day I am really feeling back to myself, as evidenced in my having gotten myself to the cafe for a morning writing session.

I cannot bear to go back through the trials and tribulations of my work and personal life from March 2020 through to May 2021, they were nothing compared to what many other people have lost this year but they were not really nothing, they were overwhelming!  Cut off from my partner by a closed international border, in the hot seat on faculty governance at about the worst possible time in the whole chequered history of Columbia Arts and Sciences, naturally prone to depression  and anxiety - yes there were bright spots, my students were amazing and my new version of the intro the major, prompted by the #BLM protests of summer 2020, might be the best class I've ever taught. And I didn't actually flame out and die even though I hope I never again in my life have to run regular 200-person A&S faculty meetings on Zoom.

Misguided revisions to the academic calendar left me having taught my last class in mid-April, the semester was officially over before the end of April to accommodate two beefed-up summer terms, but of course all the admin stuff needed our attention not just to the end of May but into June.  Unprecedented degree of burnout for me, really almost indescribable if you haven't ever experienced it.  I flew to Cayman on May 21, when I booked it I thought I'd be fully done with school stuff and already transitioning to my own work, this was completely delusional.  I would be here for 13 weeks, I figured 3 for recovery (including the currently 12-day quarantine for vaccinated travelers) and 10 for FULL-ON WORK.

Halfway through week 5 now and I only yesterday finally struggled through my final Policy and Planning Committee task, the nth revision of the report of the subcommittee I chaired on pandemic workload and career impact.  I haven't done more than a few hours of work each day over these first four and a half weeks, mostly PPC and other lingering external tasks (I did have 3 2hr sessions restructuring my book manuscript when I realized how angry I was with my employer but also myself for letting this work sunder me from my writing).  What I have done is MASSIVE amounts of exercise, that fed my body and brain, it was actually a very good exercise year for me all round because I like not seeing anybody and streaming high-quality yoga from my home office and generally being left to my own devices.  But that will not ultimately sustain my SOUL, so....

... it was clearly related to having finally pushed through to the sort-of-end (really these things never end) of the committee stuff, but on my longer run yesterday morning I had a major insight.  I thought - why have I not started working in the morning at the cafe again?  That is my longstanding routine, that is what I couldn't have this past year (and what I tried to recreate for students and colleagues when I ran the COFFEEWRITING sessions last summer), I can never concentrate at home and at the computer, I need pen or pencil and lined paper at a cafe table!

And I realized that I still hadn't fully got my mind around covid-era change.  When Cayman had hard lockdown last summer, Brent moved his office computer ("the production machine!") home and kept working at home even after he could have gone back to the office.  Old timetable: Brent to office solo around 5am for backups, stop at Cafe del Sol to pick up coffee and protein shakes, home for regrouping as I also shower post-exercise and get my stuff together, then me hitching a ride when Brent drives back out to the office around 8 and having him drop me at the cafe.  

The new routine though involves Brent doing the early work at home and then a solo trip to Cafe del Sol for their 6:30 opening, at which time I am still either finishing early exercise session or unshowered and not yet ready to go.  BUT - if I just keep focused and get out the door sooner after 5am waking (yes it has been very nice just lounging on the couch drinking a seltzer for half an hour and peppering Brent with the occasional observation as he completes morning work tasks), I can be showered and ready to go by 6:25, and have the 90 minutes cafe writing time before I get all tuckered out by second (or in some cases third!) exercise session.

So I've got eight full weeks here still to go. (Returning to NYC a couple weeks before school starts because three months is long enough to be away and I will need to get various chair things up and running etc. before I am actually teaching and in lots of meetings again.)  I was really pretty much stymied in early June when I considered the 3 work things I wanted to do this summer.  The big one is my book revision, I care about that by far the most and yet it has no external deadline; the second is the Work Inside and Outside the University handbook, to be based on the pilot course I taught in fall 2020, I should really crank out a draft this summer because it's timely and it diminishes in utility if I sit on it too long, plus I have a fantastic RA lined up to help me with it.  And the one thing with a true external hard deadline is an introduction and notes for the Norton Library Pride and Prejudice, something I couldn't say no to.  HOW ON EARTH WAS I GOING TO DO THREE BIG THINGS WHEN MY BRAIN WASN'T WORKING?

But being done (at least for a while) with that report yesterday (and I  was dealing with minutes and faculty meetings and the unexpected responsibility of chairing a grievance committee that needed to meet multiple times and yes I did need to write the report for that too....), suddenly everything seemed manageable again. I dug out the old emails with the Norton Library info, whoa that's only a 5-7.5K introduction and very light annotation, that is SO manageable.  I'm waiting on confirmation of an appointment with Diana to get started on the Work IOU wrangling on Monday.  And I made it to the cafe this morning and wrote more words than is really advisable, it is such a relief to be back to myself.... 

the relief of return