The Great Balancing Act of Fall 2015 (And Beyond)

This Fall has proven to be an exciting time. I started teaching at Mitchell College and Junkyard Heartstrings has become successful beyond our expectations. It’s made our schedules much crazier, which I thrive on, but I have to say that it’s challenged my time management skills and ability to accomplish everything I want to do. I believe this, ultimately, is a good thing. I don’t like to feel as though I’m in a stasis, but it’s forced prioritization on all aspects of life and I want to meditate on how difficult this can be at times.

Firstly, there are tasks that are never done. I’m not speaking of responsibilities that consistently recur and need attention such as dishes, laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping. As far as our musical venture of Junkyard Heartstrings is concerned, we can learn new songs, write original material, reach out to additional venues, update our social media and revamp our marketing approach, basically anything and everything can be improved upon and enriched.

The same applies to the blog, Interdigitized, which has presented a constant tinge of neglect-related guilt since its inception. There are dozens of unfinished posts, long gaps between updates, and benchmarks that we’ve failed to reach. It was ultimately begun as a source of pleasure, to give us a space to share and write for the joy of the act, but given this leisure-based designation it’s easy to focus on another pressing concern instead of blogging.

Being a teacher constantly subjects you to the fact that you can always do more and be better prepared. There’s invariably a stack of papers asking to be graded, a lesson that could use some updates or a new approach, a concern for a student to be addressed, and records of grades, attendance, and plans that could be better organized. Part of the struggle with teaching is learning where to draw certain lines, then proceeding to erase and redraw those lines several times a week/semester/year.

Learning how and where to limit yourself applies greatly to those things to which you donate your time and energy through volunteering. I recently had to decline accepting a volunteer position with Real Art Ways given its distance and the sacrifice of a free day that is devoted to completing things related to the aforementioned tasks and other interests I have yet to mention. I continue to volunteer to the Norwich Community Cinema and while I enjoy it, the sacrifice of a Saturday night has repercussions elsewhere in terms of booking gigs and the essential need we all have for relaxation and to recharge. It’s rare nowadays that we have a whole weekend free. The upcoming holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are likely going to be the first weekends that don’t have gigs scheduled, though they have social obligations and family gatherings.

I don’t mean to associate any negativity to social or familial functions, but they consume time and for some of us, probably most of us, represent both an enjoyment and a responsibility. I’d love to take Christmas Day to sit at home and not do a thing, but I also want to see family and I expect that they’d want to see me as well and would wonder at my absence should I choose to truly “take the day off.” We used to also host monthly “Movie/Game Nights” at our house and this has proven extremely difficult for the same reasons as volunteering: giving up a weekend night and playing host of another kind. However, we love the people who attend (even those who don’t) and it’s a genuine pleasure to spend time with them. We can’t be the only ones who share these mixed feelings.

Then there are the interests yet to be explored. I have a stock of canvas, paint, and markers that I’ve been dying to use to create a beautiful mess. Heidi has a stockpile of yarn begging to be hooked into functional arrangements (is there avant-garde crotching or knitting that I haven’t heard of yet?). We took a screenprinting class together at AS220 last summer with every intention of exploring the form further, along with taking additional classes, but haven’t managed to make it happen. We’re both deeply interested in photography and have been discussing buying a quality camera for some time, but again, this dream has yet to materialize.

While these are endeavors that could bring us satisfaction in a variety of ways, there are other undertakings which would improve our ability to do those and give us additional time in the way of lengthening our lives: exercise. We try to walk regularly and have an elliptical in the house, but we all recognize that exercise demands time and commitment. We want to be better about giving it the due it deserves in our lives. Having done away with cable, we feel more free in molding time to better suit our lifestyle and there are plenty of shows and films that we try to associate with working out to encourage us to exercise. For example, Heidi indulges in the Spanish (and when I say Spanish, I mean produced in Spain) program ISABEL about the famous 15th century queen. My choices aren’t quite so lofty, give me some FUTURAMA and the original series of STAR TREK and I’m a happy man, but I think limiting these shows to only being watchable while on the elliptical forces us to exercise more regularly than we otherwise would. A good combination between pain and pleasure. To use a STAR TREK reference, it’s a balance of terror.

Another way to improve our lives involves focusing and minding something that I’m happy to ignore as frequently as possible: money. To quote “That’s Me,” a Paul Simon song, “Well, I never cared much for money / And money never cared for me.” It succinctly summarizes my feelings. However, I have to be somewhat aware of its existence. I’ve been searching for steady employment as I’ve fallen into the dark realm of the adjunct faculty pool at two institutions now and while it’s fine to supplement other incomes, it’s a far cry from a regular full-time position and what I believe I deserve based on my academic performance, work experience, and myriad of abilities. Job searches take a lot of time in the way of finding jobs, applying for them, keeping your resume and associated materials updated, and getting to interviews. Many people have claimed it’s a full-time job to search for a full-time job. I can confirm they are correct.

Meanwhile, searching for a potential school to complete another master’s degree or a Ph.D. is also time consuming. I’ve given returning to grad school a lot of thought and I continue to debate the topic given my employment status, my desire to acquire more education, and drive to achieve more in life. I’m horribly indecisive at times and I fear that I’ve let this take hold of me in regards to education, the one place that I thought this would never affect me (thanks, life). I love teaching and education. I’m not sure if higher education administration is for me or continuing my love of film and visual media. In either case, I need to improve my foreign language skills, test scores, and other important criteria to successfully compete for a limited number of spaces in a program that I feel suits me well.

Heidi and I also want to start a family. The great antithesis of creating balance by addition. The enterprise for which you have to be all in for the rest of your existence. I realize I’m concerned about finding balance and fitting in what I want to do now, but I have no problem jettisoning these priorities, dreams, and wishes by starting all over again, as I think holding your first child in your arms must do to everyone.

I guess this could probably read as a list of complaints or grievances in what I don’t have or haven’t accomplished, but I think we should all have similar lists (whether written or mental) of what we want to achieve, taking notice of the limited time we have to complete them (in a short term and lifelong sense), and being prepared to constantly negotiate with ourselves and others what shape our priorities and dreams take. I think striving for balance is an idealistic task, but it’s also a nice way of saying I’m sorry to those around you and yourself while simultaneously proving that you’re working on being a better person.

Balance on Block Island

Balance on Block Island

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