Readying Myself For Summer

Even after nearly a decade away from anything resembling the US school year, I still find myself thinking that the coming of summer heralds a shift from my busy and exhausting days to a time when I can take a load off mentally and physically. I haven’t had more than a week away from my labors in nearly a decade and I still find myself mentally preparing for the coming warm months and the freedom they once brought me. It’s a weird mental space to be in. I know I won’t have any extra time off or a chance to enjoy being outside in the summer without much restriction, but I still find myself hoping for it just as fervently as I did when I was a student.

I haven’t actually had a summer break in much longer than that, though. When I was in high school, my parents forced me to find ways to fill my time. Either by getting a job of some time, by doing chores around the house (usually gardening on behalf of my mother), or by taking care of my younger siblings who needed minding while my mother did other stuff. In college, I had to work since I couldn’t return to my parents house and I needed to pay for summer housing at my college. Even before high school, I was usually occupied with some form of household chores or other work assigned to me by my parents, so I really can’t imagine why I expect a chance to rest and relax.

What the summer has actually brought me is change. In college I shifted from work and school to just work, and in high school I could stay up and sleep in as late as I wanted. My schedule shifted from what was demanded by the world I lived in to one that I could largely set for myself. Sure, I had to be at work at specific times, but the other sixteen hours of the day were mine to spend as I wished. Nowadays, though, the only change the summer brings is how generally sweaty and gross I feel at the end of the day. And I supposed the number of blankets I keep on the bed also changes, so there’s that too.

When I graduated college, I wanted to eventually get into academia in some form, probably as a college professor, so I could stick with that schedule. And, you know, because I loved what I was doing with my degree and wanted to keep doing that kind of stuff (still do, honestly). I eventually realized that a career in academia was likely not in the books for me, given my already substantial burden of student loans and the need for more loans if I wanted to continue my education, not to mention the generally sorry state of academia today. I used to keep up on articles about what was going on in the world of academia, tenure, and literary studies, but that effort was what eventually convinced me I would probably be happier sticking with work outside of academia and writing in my time away from my occupation rather than as a part of it (in an academic sense, specifically. I still think i’ love being a full-time writer of fiction)

Still, as the grey, chilly April days come to a close and we head toward whatever the hell May has in store (it has been unseasonably cold and cloudy thus far this spring, so all bets are off), I find myself planning vacations I’ll never take and looking at my life for whatever big changes I might make. I don’t really have any right now, since I’m trying to work on feeling more at-home in my apartment (rent is rising too quickly to make it worth moving this year, at least at my current income), but I keep taking stock of my life in the hope that something will jump out at me. I’m already making slow but steady steps toward most of my goals, so there really isn’t much to do other than stay the course, keep up the life maintenance, and keep my eyes peeled for any opportunities that show up within my reach.

Reasonable Expectations For Life Management

As a single person living alone in a moderately sized two-bedroom apartment, I frequently feel like I don’t have enough time for everything I need and want to do. Back when I was working from home, I could do a lot of small household chores and personal management labor in the breaks I now fill with walking around my office, browsing the internet, writing, and various minor entertainments. I think that was the only time in my life I managed to keep up with laundry, apartment cleaning, work, and hobbies. I had fewer demands on my time, sure, since I wasn’t blogging, writing, and trying to maintain three dungeons and dragons campaigns, but I felt like I was actually on top of things for once.

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Living Life In Compatability Mode

I’ve been using the same copy of Microsoft Office 2003 since I got it with the laptop I bought for myself that year. When I went to college, I would send the papers I wrote on my laptop to library computers to be printed. The library at my college had a much better budget than I did, though, so they had the latest microsoft office version, meaning I got so used to seeing “File Name [compatability mode]” at the top of all my documents that I eventually stopped noticing it unless I wound up editing a file started on the library computers on my personal laptop.

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The Best Laid Plans And All That

The problem with having some grand, magical plans for reflection and processing difficult memories, is that life so rarely aligns with these kind of intentions. I’d initially planned to have my week off set aside as a time to reflect, to journal a bit, and to prepare myself for the months ahead, but pretty much none of that has happened and it seems like very little of it will happen. Life got in the way.

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Working From Home (Maintenance)

Sometimes, it can be really nice to roll out of bed, yawn your way to your computer, sleepily boot it up, and then get to work because you’re working from home. All your favorite beverages are stocked, you don’t need to worry about when to eat your lunch, and you don’t need to hurry out the door while you keep an eye on the clock so you can avoid the worst traffic without being late for your first meeting of the day.

Other times, you do it because your AC is broken, there’s a leak in the ceiling where there shouldn’t be any water TO leak, and your refrigerator is either dying or somehow got unplugged and the massive thing is too big to move on your own without severely damaging your floors. Then you wind up sweatily eating all the frozen food you had while using bags of ice to cool the stuff you can’t (or won’t) eat quickly in your voluminous camping cooler, all while keeping a nervous eye on the yellowing patch of the ceiling.

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Aging Unreservedly

As I approach 30, I’ve been thinking about all the ways people use the phrase “aging gracefully.” If it’s a person who is conventionally attractive, people usually mean that they’ve managed to somehow stay attractive, either through genetics or through a careful regimine of healthy activities and diet. If they’re not conventionally attractive or some kind of celebrity, people usually mean that they’re not fighting the process or trying to hold on to their passing youth.

As someone whose youth absolutely sucked and who has put a lot of effort into reclaiming any parts of it I want to appreciate, I’m not really sure where I’m going to fall on this spectrum. I have no desire to return to the life I lived as a child but I also have no concept of what youthfulness means outside of this context. At the same time, I still enjoy a lot of things people associate with youth, like Pokémon, cartoons, and the word “butt.” Partly because I didn’t get to enjoy simple pleasures as a kid and partly because fun stuff is fun and I’ve learned to never take myself too seriously.

If you can’t laugh at the word “butt” when it’s used in a non-offensive, humorous way, then I guess I’m sorry? It must suck to be that humorless.

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The Simple Life

Grady was a simple man. He liked to hike, he liked his wife, and he liked his work. He merely tolerated their kids. Everyone had assured him that he’d eventually like them when they became little people instead of pink blobs, but they’d been wrong. He could be occasionally persuaded to do activities adjacent to hiking, such as rock climbing or camping, and did his best to avoid everything else.

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Saturday Morning Musing

There’s a lot to be said for doing new things. Almost every bit of life advice will include something along the lines of “expand your horizons” or “step outside of your comfort zone.” It is possible to grow if you stay focused on what you’re already good at or interested in, but you can’t really grow in new ways if you never push yourself in a new direction. If you want to meet new people, learn new things, and participate in new experiences, doing new things is your best bet.

There’s also a lot to be said for doing the same things. Only by constant practice can you even approach mastering something. You can’t really master the violin by playing the saxophone. Sure, playing other stringed instruments and listening to music will definitely help your understanding as a whole, but you’ve got to stay at least somewhat close to your chosen instrument if you want to master it. You need discipline and repetition if you want to find the peak of your abilities. If you want the highest level of recognition, mastery over your chosen field, and to transcend your limits, you need to stick to more or less the same thing.

That being said, doing nothing but new things isn’t going to let you really gain experience or enjoy something because you wouldn’t stick with it long enough to really experience it. Doing nothing but the same exact thing is stifling and will only hold you back because small variations and exploring new parts of the same concept or practice is what will eventually achieve a higher level of skill. A mixture of repetition in your new experiences allows you to really experience them on a deeper level and trying new things in your repetition lets you feel out the edges of your ability so you can focus on surpassing them. The key to both is to mix in a little bit of the other.

At least, that’s been my experience. Doing something new is great, but only by doing it a couple of times can I really get a feel for it. It’s like when you buy a new album and enjoy a few of the tracks at first, but grow to enjoy different ones (or more of them) as you listen to the album a few more times. As you listen to the individual songs multiple times, your understanding of the song grows and you notice things that you missed initially. If you only stick to doing the same thing, though, you blind yourself to what might be out there. If you only listen to the same album or the same artist, you’re going to miss out on the rest of the genre you’ve been enjoying.

The first time you do something, you’re so caught up in the newness of the experience that you don’t really have the opportunity to appreciate it. The second time, it is still very new, but you start to notice things beneath the surface. Every time after, you find something new you missed before or get another chance to appreciate something you might have only noticed in passing the first time. If you keep doing it, though, you start to lose appreciation for something you enjoyed. Whatever hidden things intrigued you so much initially become boring and plain. You stop looking for something new in the experience because you think you’ve found it all.

Right now, as I try to get my life back in order after its relatively recent upheaval, I find myself seesawing wildly from one side of the equation to the other. I want to lose myself in something new, to experience something so wholly new that I don’t have any ability to analyze it or to do anything but open myself to the experience, but I also want to lose myself in the comfortable repetition of familiar things that don’t require my participation. I want either nothing but new things or nothing but old things. I want to be able to ignore all thoughts of all the things in my life that have been repetitions of new things and new aspects of old things because they’re tied up with a lot of complex emotions that I can only feel right now. I can’t do anything to them but experience them and wait for them to pass. For someone who wants to be able to control every aspect of their life, it can be a little hard to swallow the fact that there isn’t always something proactive I can do about what I’m feeling.

So I anxiously pick it at in the back of my mind and I wait. Impatiently. Unfortunately, reclaiming my life for myself is easier said than done and it requires a good deal more repetition of new experiences that I anticipated. It is interesting to see just how much of my life changed over the past year. To see how much of it feels like it no longer belongs to me alone. How often I feel as if something important is missing as I do things that I never imagined would belong to anyone but me.

Most of my relationships before this one where in college and the one that wasn’t in college was immediately after college. I didn’t have a life the same way I do now, with little routines, habits, and a set of things I kind of just assume will be a part of my daily life. Back then, everything was fluid, apt to change, and exciting. Now, I struggle to find meaning in the routines and to find purpose in pushing myself out of my comfort zone. People entering and exiting my life felt so natural back then and I never did anything long enough to feel like it belonged to me or to anyone else. Now, I feel like there’s a giant hole in my life and no one has even left it, not really. We’re just different now and that little, enormous shift was enough to throw the orbit of my life out of balance.

I guess I don’t really know what I want my life to be. I don’t want it to be a series of days where I repeat everything in new ways until I achieve mastery of whatever I’m working on. I don’t think I want it to be casual repetition of a string of new things, either. I want to say it should be a mixture of both things, but that feels like a cop-out as I write this. I feel like there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for how I feel, hovering just on the edge of my ability to voice it, but I can’t quite get it to take the one last step I need to be able to put it to words.

I feel like being able to finally understand that thought, to be able to put it precisely to words, would answer a lot of the questions I’ve been asking myself for the past couple years. I don’t think it will solve my problems or fix anything, but I feel like it’s the key to figuring out how to solve some of my problems and fix some of the things that feel broken. Maybe, after enough new experiences and enough honing my craft, I’ll find the right thought and the right expression. Maybe.