The Anxiety of Planning

Yesterday I worked myself into a frenetic, worried mess. I spent my writing hour(s) doing more reading than writing, which in itself was okay -- I was reading critical essays about fairytales, and taking notes and thinking about how my own fairytale poem should be shaped. But then, after the quiet period of the morning was up -- the boy and the girl having decided between themselves at some point that this would be The Day of Fighting and Not Listening -- I attempted to write out a schedule for my sabbatical.

The results were rather disastrous. That is, to my apparently fragile psyche they were disastrous. If you look at it from the standpoint of my house and the kitchen cabinets I gutted and cleaned throughout the entire afternoon, the results were fabulous! (More overwhelming stress, please! I'll have this house whipped into shape in no time!)

I went kind of bat-shit crazy on the inside. This sabbatical scares me. I think I've voiced that as a joke before, but I'm just going to own up to it and voice it as a real concern now. I think the prospect of finishing things scares me. I think the responsibility of having four months of time to write scares me. That time frame seems both exceedingly long and ridiculously short for what I've obligated myself (via my sabbatical proposal) to accomplish.

In a conversation A.P. and I had several semesters ago, when he was engaged in his own sabbatical project(s), he spoke about how the word sabbatical comes the Greek language and the word "Sabbath" and indicates a period of rest. He pointed out the irony in the academic sabbatical: at the end of it, once you return to teaching, administration requires a heap of paperwork proving how industriously you've spent your time away from the college. You need to account for how you spent your days. So really, how restful ARE sabbaticals? They are "rests" only in that you don't have to grade papers or attend to the worries of students -- you attend to your own.

A.P., being the prolific writer that he is, threw several reams of paper at our sabbatical committee. I know that I won't be able to do this. I'm okay with that. In fact, I know that I'll be able to justify every minute spent, so the dealing-with-red-tape part of the sabbatical isn't really my problem. My problem is myself. (Both A.P. and my husband would roll their eyes and say something about the obvious if they were reading this now.)

I'm scared of letting myself down, which I've done time and time again when it comes to my writing. I suppose I have a huge problem with failure. (I'm going to have to watch myself, then, around the kids. I'd hate to be one of those parents who can't let their children trip and stumble every once in a while. But I've always been harder on myself than others, so let's hope the odds are in favor of the girl and the boy.)

And I also have a HUGE problem with getting ahead of myself. For instance, as part of my Mad Hatter planning session yesterday morning ("Clean cup, clean cup, move down!"), I took note of two book contest deadlines -- both of which I REALLY want to submit the MS to -- and thought I'd use those dates as ways to give myself goals for finishing the poetry MS.

This, to paraphrase Ron Burgandy, was a bad idea.

It was a bad idea because it forced me to think about the MS as a finished product, while I haven't even written the third section yet. The first section is a year old, and I only JUST finished editing those poems this spring, to the point where I decided I wasn't going to touch them anymore. If I think about my own work habits and what feels natural to me as a writer, how could I POSSIBLY think of entering a book contest this same semester? The best I can and SHOULD hope for is that I have a complete first draft with a minimum of 60 poems by the end of the semester.

The more legitimate fear is that I'll spend too much time on the poetry MS this semester and not enough time composing my play, which was supposed to be the primary purpose of my sabbatical. I was supposed to be finishing my poetry MS at this point in the summer, in my original plan. But that was back before I decided that the last two sections of the book would be written, more or less, in metered verse, and before I realized that writing in metered verse slows my already-suffering pace to a mind-numbing, limping measure.

In theory, I still think it's okay. It's wise, I've decided, to get more practice writing in meter by writing POEMS before I attempt a full-length play. I'm still in training, so to speak (poor, poor abused little poetry manuscript!), and I should have a better handle on it before I try to write 90 pages of the stuff that other people are supposed to act out (90 pages, approximately).

But part of what also scared me yesterday was this juggling act I'm engaged in as a working mother. The girl is attending elementary school in our town, less than a mile away, and the boy attends daycare over 20 miles away, near the campus where I teach. Ordinarily, the location of the daycare is really convenient because it means I can get there really quickly during the day if need be. For my sabbatical, however, it's not so convenient. Up until yesterday, I'd been pretty set on the following: putting girl on bus, driving boy to daycare, driving self to college library or other locale and writing until it's time to pick up the boy. That doesn't sound intimidating, does it? But now let's look at it from the way I had it mapped out yesterday, shall we?


• Up at 6:00 a.m.
• Coffee for Husband/Self
• Make bed; change into running clothes
• Exercise at 6:15 a.m.
o Run 45 minutes
• Shower: 7:15
• Wake Girl (Boy will already be up) at 7:30 a.m.; everyone dress
• Feed kids at 7:45 a.m.; feed dog
• Eat breakfast
• Give kids vitamins; take meds (yay for meds!)
• Check calendar for the day
• Lisbeth on the bus (check for lunch, homework, water bottle)
• Empty the dishwasher
• Load of laundry (wash or fold)
• Josh to school by 9:20 a.m.
• School library or Selden library by 9:30/9:40 a.m.

• Work from 9:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

• Pick up Boy at 4:30 p.m.
• Pick up Girl at 5:00 p.m.
• Snack and change Girl into Karate uniform
• Karate at 5:45 p.m.
• Dinner at 7:00 p.m.
• Bath at 7:30/7:45 p.m.
• Bed at 8:00 p.m.

Before *I* go to bed:

• Find/layout everyone's clothes for next day
• Check the calendar
• Dishes in dishwasher/turn on dishwasher
• Water bottles for next day
• Make Girl’s lunch for next day
• Prep coffee maker for next day

This list seems pretty detailed, no? One might call it finicky, or, less nicely, anal, right? There's probably something that needs to be included here that I've left out. And I NEED to have all items in here, because if it's not written down and ready to be checked off, I'll probably forget it. That's where five years of having kids has left my mind: unable to function without a checklist.

I laid out every day of the week like this, and promptly had my Mommy Meltdown. (Also, because the Boy and Girl kept staging cage-fighting reenactments in the living room.) Looking at five -- no, SIX -- days of this (Saturday comes with a soccer schedule for the Girl) raised my blood pressure and made me feel like I was squeezing myself back into the hectic, no-room-for-error mania of a typical teaching semester. The last thing I want is for this semester to look like a typical teaching semester. Those blow, because I haven't figured out a way to balance all of my responsibilities and not come out of the four months without sacrificing my sanity, and the sanity of others (my poor husband's, my students', my colleagues', my kids'). (My kids are probably least affected, because I make a conscious effort to keep it that way. There are usually a few Mommy Meltdowns scattered through the semester, though, and they occur in the mornings when I'm trying to corral everyone into the car.)

This was supposed to be, in my Grand Plan, the Semester of Little Stress. After enduring my f***ing crazy self yesterday, I've decided that it shall, indeed, be the Semester of Little Stress. I'm going to keep the morning checklists, because they do, after all, need to exist so that the children get to their schools fully clothed, well-fed, and with the proper accessories for their day. But I'm going to try to be a little more flexible with MY day.

For instance, I may drive home and work here until the Girl gets off the bus or until she needs to be picked up from school. That will entail more gas and more time spent commuting, but I suspect it may be a more relaxed way to live: the Girl won't have to attend aftercare at the elementary school, and the Boy won't be stuck at daycare for eight hour stretches. (At least until the Spring . . . but I won't think about that right now.) This sabbatical should be their sabbatical, too, right? They should get to see more of me because I have this respite from teaching, right? And our home life should be a little less hectic?

This is a long post. I hope it's coherent. At the very least, it's a record of my official Sabbatical Freakout. I'm guessing that everyone who takes one has one, and at least I'm getting mine over and done with.

I HOPE I'm done with it. Seriously, my house may benefit from the hysteria-induced cleaning, but I need to get some writing -- poetry writing -- DONE.


mugwatch said…
You are my hero.

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