Rhythms

Every year I have a little trouble transitioning from the rhythms of the academic year to the rhythms of summer. Even when I make myself detailed schedules — breaking up the planned work into chunks of time so I don’t while it away staring into space, and so that I have concrete plans for my best working hours — it still takes me awhile to make myself stick to it. I think I need to remember that and just give myself the last couple weeks of May to make the transition, and not feel such guilt for not working at full speed just yet. It really is a very different pace of work, with no or few external deadlines or structure, and it takes some time to adjust from the highly scheduled and highly interactive semester to the seemingly bottomless chasm of time and quiet that summer offers.

I’m also adapting this year to a different work/home rhythm with Bullock, who is now chair of his department, and so has to go in every day. In the past, when we both worked from home in the summer, we could ease quietly into whatever our individual rhythms called for, in our various spaces in the house. But now mornings have a bit of bustle to them that they didn’t previously have, and it’s throwing me off a bit. One of things I put on my summer schedule was an hour of language study each day — I’m trying to learn Italian, partly for the heck of it, partly so I can teach Dante and Boccaccio without feeling like a total fraud — and I put it on the schedule in the morning so that I could warm up my brain that way. But Bullock is often still here during that hour, and I feel a little self-conscious about doing the oral practice right now, as I’m still in the tourist phrase-book stage. I’ve got to find something else to warm up with — and NOT e-mail and NOT Facebook! — while Bullock is still getting ready for his day, something that can be interrupted more easily, too.

And I really do need a warm-up “exercise.” I’m a slow starter in the morning. I’m trying to trick myself into being a quicker starter by reading something at least semi-work-related over breakfast and coffee, instead of my usual Entertainment Weekly or Esquire (both of which come to our household in Bullock’s name, but which I end up reading) — a leisure reading that can stretch into my work day because I lose track of time. It doesn’t have to be research-related — lately it’s been the Kinoshita and McCracken companion to Marie de France (whom I often teach, but don’t work on) — but it needs to be somewhat substantive. But at any rate, I do not wake up eager to work on whatever research I’m engaged in at the moment. I have to get there. (Side note: I also don’t wake up eager to go for a run, not even when I was in peak marathon-training mode. I’ve always been more of an afternoon runner than a morning runner. I think all of this may have to do with my extremely low blood pressure and heart rate, even when I’m not in shape.)

My problems getting started and getting going this year are compounded by the fact that in the fall I’ll be teaching an 8 a.m. class (followed by a 9:30 a.m. class), after 10 years of teaching mostly in the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. range and never earlier than 10:30 or 11 a.m.  A decade of that kind of schedule creates some deep habits for both work rhythms and all the other rhythms that surround work, including sleep. As my mother’s daughter, I’ve inherited a tendency to be a bit of a night owl, though never to the degree she was. (She often stayed up until 3 a.m reading and watching movies on cable.) But still, I am most certainly NOT a morning person, but an 8 a.m. class means I’ll have to be up and *on* earlier than I’ve ever needed to be as an adult. (My college and grad school institutions didn’t have 8 a.m. classes, and my jobs before grad school started at 9 a.m. on most days, sometimes at 8:30. I’ve been lucky.) That’s an adjustment after all this time doing things otherwise. So this summer, I’ve set out to readjust my internal clock, getting up a little earlier bit by bit.

But that’s been a little difficult already, because after years of being “on” in the evenings (rarely did I have a schedule that didn’t at least have a 5:45-7 p.m. class, and sometimes later ones), I’ve developed a general tendency not to really “come down” and be able to sleep until 11 p.m. or later. And this past semester, I developed some intermittent insomnia that kept me up even later. To combat it, I started playing what I think are soothing games (mainly on my iPhone) to help me relax, although Bullock thinks they keep my mind too active. Perhaps they do; here’s one ‘free draw’ drawing I did in Draw Something 2 one night:

Keep in mind I drew this with my finger on an iPhone screen! (And no, we don't have exposed brick in our house -- I just wanted to use the "brick" pattern tool in the game.)

Keep in mind I drew this with my finger on an iPhone screen! (And no, we don’t have exposed brick in our house — I just wanted to use the “brick” pattern tool in the game.)

So yeah, the insomnia is making changing my biorhythms “interesting,” to the say the least. I should probably ban electronics — especially really glowing ones — from the bedroom. In Sleepwalk With Me — a very funny, if low-budget and low-key movie about *extreme* sleepwalking issues — comedian Mike Birbiglia says all of the advice he’s been given to help him sleep and to sleep well includes totally powering down all electronics hours before bed time. I should probably take that advice, huh?

OK, so, if you’re still with me, I’m having trouble getting into the summer work groove, and having trouble sleeping as well. All of these are issues of changing “rhythm” in my work and personal life, and I’ve got to adjust to these new rhythms. There’s still one more rhythm adjustment to come next semester. Not only will I be teaching an 8 a.m. class, but I’ll be teaching it *four* days a week instead of two, for 8 weeks instead of 16. In the first half of the semester I’ll have 3 separate classes, two on M-W and one on MTWR, but in the second half of the semester I’ll have only the 2 M-W classes remaining. I’m kind of interested in seeing what this does to my teaching/research balance of time. On the one hand, I’ll be completely *done* with one class half way through the semester; but on the other hand, that means I’ll have to do *all* of its prep and grading in the first half. Meanwhile, I have two honors thesis students, and work with them will probably ramp up in the second half of the semester. However, the MTWR class is a section of one of the other two classes I’m teaching, so having *finished* one version of it mid-way through the semester, I’ll have most of the prep done for the other version of it for the second half of the semester (with some adjustments). Still, this is all going to be VERY strange, so I think I shouldn’t expect to have as productive a fall as I might have otherwise anticipated.

So see, that’s another reason why I need to get on the case this summer and use it *well*. I know, life’s hard. /sarcasm  But the constantly changing rhythms of academic life are part of what makes it different from other professions. Not better, not worse, just different. I suppose it keeps it from being that rut of the work week, especially since even in the school year, every day is a little different, but it’s a challenge that needs to be managed over and over and over.

Huh, I guess that’s where the regular rhythm is — in always having to adjust one’s rhythms!

8 thoughts on “Rhythms

  1. A long while ago now, I found that listening to books on tape helped me sleep. I can find them now on CD, and put them on an mp3 player, and voila. It makes all the difference in the world to me and sleeping. (I doubt it would be as easy if I were sharing sleeping quarters, but maybe it can work out?)

  2. So much of this post resonates with me. I just had a jolt of focus administered when my co-editor proposed getting together in personal in a few of weeks to hash out some issues with our edition–because now I have an actual, pending deadline by which I have to have my act together on a number of things I’ve been working on just lazily for months–but until yesterday I was wondering when, if ever, I’d get up to working speed.

    I’m also with you on being a night-owl. Nothing sounds more horrific to me than an 8 a.m. class–unless it’s an 8 a.m. class FOUR DAYS A WEEK. (This past year, my first class both semesters was at 2 p.m. It was heavenly. The only days I got up before 10 was when I had a morning meeting.)

    I’m of the belief that you can only tinker with your rhythms so much. I can get into the habit of going to bed at midnight rather than 2, but I can’t go to bed at 10. I can start working at 1 p.m. rather than 3 or 4, but I’m never going to be someone who works when she gets up. Instead, I go to the gym then. It’s not a great time for me to workout, but at least I CAN do it–and then the rest of the day is clear.

  3. I don’t deal well with transitions. So I’m fairly happy that next year I’ll be teaching MWF both semesters, even though that adds significantly to my commute time; at least the schedule will be consistent. When I needed to train myself to exercise early in the morning, I read fun books while on the elliptical trainer, whereas when I exercise later in the day, I’ll read work material. Could something like that work for you? Get up early enough and you’re allowed your Esquire or something else fun? As to sleep, I’d say you definitely need to get off the electronics 2 hours before bed—speaking of which, I need to shut this laptop right now!

  4. So, I’m going to focus on a teeny tiny unimportant portion of this post: Dude, does having low blood pressure have any connection to ability to get going in the moring??? Because I hate getting up – ever, even on the weekends – and I’m terrible at morning exercise; my body never seems to wake up until after noon. And I have low blood pressure. Who knew!

  5. Bardiac and Dame E – Those are good suggestions. At the very least, maybe I need to limit myself to reading on my Kindle (the old kind) in bed and reading only non-taxing things.

    Flavia — Well, I’m just going to have to suck it up, aren’t I? Btw, have you noticed that the professional world has been moving to an earlier and earlier start time? I worked for lawyers, and we didn’t start until 9am, but these days it seems everyone’s having freakin’ 7am breakfast meetings — including our administration. What’s up with that? And at least the 8am routine will be over after the first half of the semester! That’s one reason why I agreed to do it.

    New Kid — That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it! 🙂 I think *maybe* I read it somewhere? It certainly jives with my family anecdotal evidence, anyway. Of course, it could also correlate to our depressive tendencies!

  6. Pingback: I keep moving my own cheese! | Quod She 2.0

  7. My biggest fear when I moved to teaching high school was having to be at work and alert by 8:00 every morning. (Or at least this was the most concrete of my fears.) But I have actually weathered that transition pretty well, no doubt in part because I was never a night owl, just slow-moving in the mornings. But the flip side, of course, is that I fade away really early in the evening, and I often can’t get anything substantive done after about 7:00.

    • Yes, that may happen to me, too. But if it does, I’ll be more aligned with Bullock’s rhythms, since he has a tendency to fall asleep in front of the TV around 9 pm.

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