For the first time in a long time, I feel like I'm starting the new year with the tools I need to succeed already broken in.
Post AWP in early March, I started trying to make room for writing--I was journaling, taking notes, planning new work, and tinkering with revisions to older poems. By July, when summer term had just begun, I was crafting new poems. I started to find time for this work once I started teaching from home--crazy thing, even though my commute is less than 15 minutes to campus. When I started taking that commute and any need for public appearance out of the equation, I found I had more time for my courses and my students, but I also was able to carve out more time for my own writing and my own life.
When I first started realizing this, it seemed insane that 30 minutes in the car was leaching this much productivity from my day. But, the longer I thought about it, it made so much sense--it wasn't just the half hour in the car, but it was taking a shower, finding something to wear, lint-rolling and ironing my clothes, applying makeup. It was packing up my bags at home and unpacking at work. It was preparing a breakfast or planning a lunch for later. It was booting up the computer. Making copies, and a cup of coffee. It was the errands I ran on my way to or from work.
It was the tremendous anxiety surrounding the fact that I spend four days per week on a campus where I witnessed a mass shooting. Where I lost a colleague and friend. Where I ran for my life and sheltered with my students. Where I still feel as if some people in our current administration and on our current board just do not get it--there's been so much turnover, and no one ever acknowledges the PTSD that many of us work through on a daily basis. In general, faculty is overworked and underappreciated. Members of senior leadership have been heard saying faculty are lazy on multiple occasions, despite the enormous amount of labor--unpaid--that faculty put into preparing to teach fully online, due to the pandemic. A pandemic, five years after a shooting. For some people, faculty still isn't doing enough. It's disheartening and toxic.
So there's all of that. And working from home has given me a space from which to teach that circumnavigates all of those feelings and some of those time-wasters and those unnecessary activities. I certainly don't lint-roll and iron my clothing any more, that's for sure. My anxiety and stress levels are much reduced.
And since mid-June, I've been free from the responsibilities of being department chair. That in itself has been an incredible thing. I served for nine years straight, and at the end, I felt I was actively choosing to invite that anxiety into my life. I had to stop doing that. The workload had multiplied several times over, department assistants were cut, the pay was slashed, the number of chairs was cut . . . from the outside, it's insane that I put up with it for as long as I did. I was a little worried about the dip in pay, but I find that I am doing fine without it.
I am tremendously privileged right now--I own my home, I am still working full time, I have a reliable vehicle, and I'm able to pay all of my bills. I have enough left to feed myself and my cats. I have a great deal of security, so earning a little less money at this point seems like good timing. I can't really go out and shop, and I can't travel for pleasure, so I'm afforded a transitional period to get used to the somewhat-smaller paychecks.
I also dealt with the death of my ex-husband in late February 2020. Our divorce was final in October of 2019, so there was very little time between that divorce decree and his passing. He had contacted me in early December, wanting to talk, but it was too soon for me, and I did not reply to his email. His death left me with a lot of emotions to process, and I had to confront that I wasn't done working through all of the feelings that led to the divorce. When he died, all possibilities of reconciliation or friendship dried up permanently. All answers that I might have eventually had were lost . . . I have so many questions. When I was in the thick of it, dealing with anger and grief and lots of other muddy emotions, I was scared that it would take me years to get past it all. What I find, now that he's been gone for 10 months, is that I'm free to close that chapter of my life. I may not have all the answers, and his friends and family may never understand my side of things . . . but that doesn't matter. In reality, that whole chapter is done. I find that freeing in a lot of ways, though I often think about him. I do miss him, especially the exciting, joy-filled, early years of our relationship, when we were making the long-distance situation work. Sometimes I am reminded of good memories, but more often, I'm reminded of the rough patches--I journaled during those times, so going back to my journals always results in my remembering something nasty that I'd forgotten.
Overall, I love my single, "lonely" life. I didn't really like living three miles from my ex-husband, hoping to avoid him in traffic or in the grocery store. It was stressful. He was stressful. I was worried that his death would define my year. In fact, it did not.
This is very disorganized. So coming full circle . . . I'm starting the new year with a real advantage. I am thriving in my current teaching-from-the-sofa situation, and I've made writing part of my daily schedule. I've reclaimed a huge chunk of my own peace and my own time, and I'm grateful for that. I am comfortable with myself, and with living on my own.
Sidenote: the cats will not know how to handle my going back to campus. Maud, the most recent addition to the family, was brought inside in late July. I've never not been home all day. The longest I've been gone is three hours or so. It's been a comfort--Maud, Tony, and Polly spend the day on the sofa with me, and Evelyn and Winnie do their own thing. Maud likes to sit right next to me as frequently as possible.
So, 2021 will hopefully find me with a first book or chapbook--or more publications, at the very least.
And 2021 will hopefully see me continue to evolve into a more present, invested instructor. I was responsive and approachable in fall term, as instruction became my primary task again, and I revised and improved my courses as the term wore on. I stayed caught up on grading, and I enjoyed teaching again. I know this will extend into 2021.
And 2021 will see me making a habit of taking my weekends for myself, and giving myself regular days off and time away from work.
I was excited to find that when fall term began, I was able to
effectively balance teaching and writing and a little time off, too. As flaky as it may sound,
I feel like I have begun to live a working writer's life.
So daily writing and a new dedication to teaching are what I'm hoping for, but to be honest, I've been practicing since July, and I think I'm going to own it.
I might try to add a small daily walk to my schedule, but I've only just been thinking about it. I've never walked through my neighborhood! So, maybe I'll get brave and start walking, too.