Sunday, August 24, 2008

My New Schedule for My Life

Long-term readers have probably detected patterns in my blogging, and one of those patterns is that a key way that I get psyched for a new academic year is to plan my schedule, treating this as an artistic task: the art of creating a Good Day.

I've read back on my previous attempts, and think I have a better sense of what works and what does not work, and so, with brand new optimism, I hereby present my latest version:

1. Running. Today I got up early and went for a run! Because of this one-day success (the first time in about a year that I've actually gone running, as such), I now perhaps ridiculously think that I can integrate this permanently into my life at long last! Now, lest my patient readers think I've turned inexplicably irrational, let me explain. First of all, there have been times of my life when I've succeeded in maintaining a morning running schedule. In fact, this worked well for me two summers ago, when I even ran in a 5K at the end of the summer, and last summer -- until it got interrupted by my (minor) surgery. I tried to pick it up again last fall, but it failed miserably. Someone told me that maybe I'm just not a morning person. But my attempts to re-locate exercise to other parts of the day ended up failing too because my schedule just gets too busy and complex during the academic year.

But I've re-evaluated what went wrong last fall. I had classes every morning at 8:30. As the daylight hours get shorter, and the weather gets colder, it got harder and harder for me to get up early enough to fit the running in, until I did give up in discouragement.

But this semester is different. I only have 8:30 classes two days a week. So my plan is simple: get up at 6:00 am every morning, and on the mornings that I don't have 8:30 classes, go for a run. The mornings I do have 8:30 classes I can skip. In fact, building in these allowed days off will be good for me, I think -- otherwise I can push myself too hard too soon and risk injury (since, after all, I keep getting older as time passes...!)

On weekends I'll try to keep to the schedule in terms of what time I get up in the morning, but I'll let myself decide whether to run, or just walk, or give both a miss, based on how I feel. I'll try to go at least once during the weekend, but that's not a hard and fast rule.

The truth is, establishing a three- to four-day-a-week pattern will be a vast improvement over what I've managed lately. It is enough to build a solid base of fitness.

I think this is crucial for me, because when I do exercise regularly, I feel better about life, and better about myself. The effect is immediate. I'm feeling it right now! And the truth is, this is a nice way to start the day! Instead of worrying immediately about work, I will know that I will have this time for myself, to do something good for myself, and to immerse myself in nature: a world bigger than me and my little concerns! It will anchor me in much-needed Perspective!

And my training program is simple: Walk 10 minutes. Run as much as I feel like in the next span of 10-15 minutes. Walk 10 minutes.

I can gradually expand the middle section, marking with celebration certain milestones like "running 5 minutes continuously without strain," "running 10 minutes continuously without strain," etc., until I can run 30 minutes continuously again, framed within 5-10 minute warm-up and cool-down periods. When I'm there, I'll let myself stay there, and perhaps even start entering 5K races again if I feel inspired to do so.

2. Another feature of my schedule is that I am building in dedicated research times again. This sort of worked for long stretches well into each semester last year, and so my optimism is well-grounded, I think. My previous attempts have not been total successes, but they have not been total failures either. And I think I've addressed some problematic patterns I've noticed from the past.

So the plan is that on the days I have class later in the day, I start off with two hours of research (Monday and Wednesday; on Friday this extends to lunchtime). On the days I have my 8:30 class, I will go to my carrel immediately after class and work for an hour. This still gives me space to plan for my later class.

The key is that I must go immediately after class, without pausing to check e-mail. In the past, I allowed a half-hour gap to get a cup of tea and check e-mail, and that was my undoing -- I got caught up into dealing with administrative matters until then I had to shift attention to class prep again.

My new plan is to not check e-mail, but deal with all of that after my afternoon class.

3. Music practice. As is my usual schedule, I do this in the late afternoon or evening -- as soon as I get home, or, if getting home presses too close to dinner, after dinner then. Then the rest of the evening after music practice is time to do more work if I need to, or (rarely) to relax if I need rest.

4. Like I mentioned before, I will let Sundays be sabbath days.

So, I am feeling really good about all of this! Empowered by what looks like a good schedule, I think I may succeed in managing my busy life well while maintaining momentum on my research!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Odds and Ends

1. I went to a meeting the other day. The other faculty were in such high spirits they were bouncing off each other and ricocheting around the room. I think it is really funny how giddy and happy professors do become as a new school year starts. They keep talking as if they are rueful that the summer is coming to an end, but if you watch them work and watch how they interact with each other, you cannot help but notice that they are really happy and excited.

2. I've had a string of computer problems. Some are because we got new computers at work over the summer, and switched from XP to Vista. But others are totally unrelated. For example, my computer monitor went up in smoke all of a sudden. Now I have a new flat-screen monitor. I feel very modern and up-to-date now. The funny thing is that I had just heard that that can happen to the old CRT monitors, but I had never known it to happen to anyone. Then it suddenly happens to me! I do like that the new monitor takes up less space and uses less energy.

3. Speaking of being modern and up-to-date, I got an iPod for my birthday. I've been having fun loading a bunch of my CDs onto it. Then I make playlists that, for example, bring together different versions of Irish tunes as played by different groups. All of this has me listening to more music, more intentionally now.

4. When I received news that my natural father died, I made a new playlist of "laments" and listened to it and cried.

5. Then I finally picked up my flute again and played a bunch of laments, and didn't cry, but was sad to realize that my Irish father (well, of Irish descent) would never hear me play Irish traditional music.

6. I have been having trouble working, which at times has put me in a bit of a panic since the school year is rapidly approaching. But suddenly on Thursday I did work very well again. On Friday I was back to being moody and didn't work well. Today, though, I'm actually feeling optimistic.

7. Someone wrote to me yesterday to encourage me not to give up on trying to start a Peace Studies program here where I teach (I had been contemplating giving up because of all the other pressures in my life), and to ask me to take a leadership role in forming an Irish Session in our area. I found myself enormously grateful that someone valued me for two of the things I most value about myself (my interest in peace studies; my interest in traditional music), and also grateful that this person was also offering real help and support in both of these endeavors.

I've had lots of good ideas, but too often feel alone and unsupported as I try to carry them out. That's what led to my burnout. Last year I pulled away from a lot. But in recent weeks, I've started considering what I need to bring back into my life in order to feel meaningfully connected to people (in ways that are supportive of how I feel called). I feel I've healed enough from my burnout now that I can cautiously try to add some things back, as long as I'm careful not to overdo it again. I also have to be careful to add them back in ways that don't place undue pressure upon me.

So the fact that someone else has ideas about how to move forward in these two endeavors, and is willing to play a role, but also values my input, really means a lot to me. I feel a sense that at last the universe is trying to help me instead of dauntingly resisting my every effort!

There are other ways too that things I thought would be really challenging this coming year might in fact be resolved much more easily than I had expected, but we'll have to see.

All of this shows me how hard my life really has been in recent years. Everything has tended to be much harder than I had expected, finally wearing me down to quite serious burnout and depression.

But maybe things don't always have to be this hard. Dare I believe that some things in my life might actually start to become easier and more fulfilling? Is that really possible?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Letting Myself Be

What I'd like to do is go for long walks and wander aimlessly.

But a new academic year rapidly approaches. I still need to finish getting ready. Sometimes it's good to try to work. Other times, it's hopeless. Fortunately, I still have not had to press myself.

Sometimes I sink into real depression again. Other times, moments of being really glad to be alive break through like those rays of light between storm clouds -- unbelievably bright, but passing by so fleetingly. I am glad for them, though. They remind me that there really is a brilliant sun behind the clouds. I do know this even when I am not directly seeing it.

And sometimes I actually believe that I can enter into the new academic year with a whole new attitude: keeping "in touch" and staying centered.

Lately I've started avoiding work as much as possible, but I sense that new ideas about how to handle it well are brewing under the surface. So, when it is time, then I will be ready and I will know how to take it on with grace and effectiveness.

So I hope.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not Really Moving Forward Very Well

Ok, I'm afraid I have to take that back. I'm not really moving forward very well, after all.

I thought that having a final Interlibrary Loan deadline for two important books yesterday would motivate me to finish them over the weekend. And these are fascinating and wonderful books, highly relevant for the research project that I am very much interested in and enjoying working on. Yet, I've been having a very hard time concentrating.

So Richard M's recent comment, and similar sentiments from other friends, remind me to be patient with myself. An event like this is big in a person's life.

I have felt very close to my father after receiving the news, because of course such news gets you revisiting old memories, and doing what you can to find out more about the person and his life, such as talking at length with other family members. Having a mystery associated with it all maybe intensifies the inquiry.

So, feeling so close in this sort of way, I am startled every morning when I wake up and remember that he is gone. Initially when I wake up I am happy because I feel close. Sometimes I find myself in the middle of a stream of thought and am thinking, "I can't wait to ask him about that!" But then I remember with a jolt: "Oh, wait a minute: he died! I can't ask him any of this!" And I am stunned at the finality of it. I'm really never going to see him again.

How naive of me to think after the first intense wave of emotion that that's it: I'm ready to move on. Because my father hadn't been much in my life, really, I tried to tell myself that my sadness was just a temporary intensification of a sadness I've lived with all my life, and that I'd be able to move on with my life pretty quickly then.

Each loss is its own unique story, following its own unique path of grief. And you don't really know what it is like until you are in it. Slowly it is dawning on me that I am still just barely in the early stage of grieving.

So, yes, I will try to be patient with myself.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Moving Forward Again

A new school year approaches, and this is probably a good thing even though I keep thinking and saying that I'd like another two months, at least.

I would like to say that the approach of a busy schedule focuses my mind and motivates me to use the rest of my summer well, but, to be honest, in the face of recent events in my life I have not been well-focused at all. And last night I even went into a tailspin of panic about it all.

But in the light of day, I'm doing better again.

There are ways I am looking forward to the coming year, because things are on course for us to make some changes in our department that I believe will make my life easier in the long run. And in other dimensions of my work life and my personal life too, I feel much clearer about my goals and what I need, and so I feel optimistic that I will be able to continue to make changes that will bring my life more in line with what I want it to be. But the process still feels long and hard.

As I look ahead with trepidation to the coming busyness, I am considering reviving my Sabbath idea as a strategy for maintaining sanity. I am going to let Sundays be stress-free days. On these days, I will avoid anything that stresses me out, but I am allowed to do anything that I enjoy. This will be one day a week during which I will be intentional about not letting anxiety rule my life. This weekly discipline (which hopefully will infuse the rest of my life as well) will help me to keep in touch with positive motivations, and keep in touch with a sense of how God is calling me (instead of what the people in my life want from me).

Since there are in fact many dimensions of my work that I enjoy, this version of Sabbath is not for me a day of "no work," but a day to remember to try to tune into positive motivations and get centered again if the week has pushed me off center. It's a day to take stock of how things are going, and to seek refreshment.

Just setting this in place cheers me up and gives me hope.

There are some other decisions I have to make too about how to set up my weekly schedule to help me keep up with my busy schedule, and so I may be writing about this more in the coming days.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On the Death of My Distant Father

I received word last week that my natural father died. I had not seen him in 30 years, and had not spoken with him in 9 years. I did my best to try to keep in contact, but it is a long-standing mystery in my life why he has not wanted to keep in touch with my brother and me.

I had always hoped for the chance to see him again, or at least talk with him again. I had always hoped to solve this mystery and come to understand. Now I am adjusting to the realization that it is very likely that I will never know.

To have a parent not take an interest in your life is hard to live with. All my life I’ve been trying to do something spectacular to justify my existence and prove my worthiness for love. “Maybe if I did something really great and wonderful and became famous, my father would finally notice me and be happy to be related to me,” was a primary motivating force throughout my life, though I did not consciously realize this for a long time. By the time I did realize it, I was able to deconstruct all of the premises supporting this belief, but, in a way, it was too late. The pattern had become too deeply ingrained in my entire being. My whole being had been indelibly shaped by a constant desire to prove myself worthy of existence and love.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, my cousin redoubled his efforts to get him to be in touch with us, but to no avail. My father even forbade my cousin to let us know that he was ill. Thankfully, my cousin did break the rules to let us know that he had died – if he had not, I was perilously close to finding out through the internet. I periodically did internet searches to see what my dad was up to. He was, as they say, “highly respected in his field,” and so has a pretty impressive web presence. But the online obituaries now appearing do not mention my brother and me at all among the list of survivors.

It’s hard to know how to handle a death like this, when the “official” survivors don’t want us involved, for reasons we do not understand. I revert back to the child I was when I did last know him, and with childlike simplicity absolutely cannot fathom why other people are blocking two young kids from coming into that sacred space of honoring and saying goodbye to their dead father. Never mind that we are complicated grown-up adults now – still, we are solid good people, well-respected in our own fields. No one should have any reason not to want to see who we have become.

From afar, we try to peer over a fence too high for us to see over. Through small cracks in the fence (the internet), we catch glimpses of love and laughter and appreciation that seems otherworldly to us, perpetually out of reach. Is it real? Was he real?

Did he not care, or did he care so much he couldn’t handle it?

How would all of our lives be different if only … ?

But of course such questions can drive a person crazy. It is too late now.

I’ll go on trying to prove myself worthy of love, because it is the only way I know how to live. It doesn’t matter that it’s hopeless, because I already did figure that out: human love anyway is always inadequate. Strangely, this thought has come to comfort me. It sounds bleak, but it has helped me to become more forgiving and more accepting. Over the years, I have come to see how I’ve always been surrounded by love. So what if it has seldom or never been perfect? Why should I expect it to be? Do I love in a perfect way? No! I wish I did, but I know that I fall short because of my own limitations. So I can understand why others fall short too. No one is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent—except God. There is a perfect love that is there for us, but never will any one human being manifest it all perfectly.

So, even though there is a lot I do not understand about my father and my own distant past, I actually do believe that he loved me. Much of that love never reached me, and much of my own love for him was blocked from reaching him too. This is tragic.

But the love that was there was and is still real.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hanging on to Summer as Long as I Can!

People keep pointing out to me that the new school year is approaching. I try to ignore them.

I'm hanging on to summer as long as I possibly can. I'm trying to live fully in the present. The weather is still nice. The students are not back yet. I still do have time to keep writing, and to accomplish a few more things that I had hoped to accomplish this summer.

I am happy with how the summer has gone so far. I'm glad that I got a good research schedule going right away. I've gotten a lot done, and hope to finish the article I've been working on before the school year starts. If I don't quite make this goal (I've gotten distracted lately by computer problems. We got new computers at work this summer. Need I say more?), I'll just have to be sure to keep making time every day to keep working on it! It would be tragic to lose momentum on this project.

I am glad that I went to the conferences at Woodbrooke, and that I also scheduled research time there. Not only did I get a lot done, but I got good affirmation of what I am working on. It really means a lot when others value what you are doing!

It was also great to go to Boxwood again. It gave me the chance to take stock anew of my musical life and begin to formulate new ideas about the place of music in my life.

Both of these trips helped me to affirm dimensions of my life that are really important to me. I feel better in touch with who I really am and what my life is really all about.

I've made a lot of progress this past year in recovering from burnout and reorienting my life from other-centeredness to getting back in touch with my own sense of call. It will still be a challenge to live true to this shift once the school year gets going, because I will be very busy again, and will still be chair of my department. But I'll be patient with myself and will do my best.

There is more that I hope to accomplish this summer, before the academic year begins again. If I am successful, I'll be reporting on this; if not, I'll still be pleased with what I have done well this summer.

In the meantime, the summer is not over. There still is time, and I will continue to exercise the spiritual discipline of living in the present!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Back from Summer Travels

I'm back from my second and final summer trip -- to Boxwood again. It was a really great experience.

I took the train and really appreciated the reflection time if offered me. On the way there, I read parts of Barry Green's The Mastery of Music, as well as parts of William Ury's The Power of a Positive No. On the way back, I mostly slept and edited my mini-discs. I was really exhausted after a week of little sleep in order to fit everything in: full days of classes and full evenings of concerts and late-night sessions!

I was in a pretty good place musically and psychologically for this. I was able to just focus and learn without the distraction and interference of my usual confidence issues with music. Is it that I'm feeling confident at last? It is more that I've come into acceptance that music is a necessary part of my life. I no longer feel apologetic about this. I no longer have a guilty sense of being a "pretender." It doesn't matter whether I'm "good enough" or not. Of course I'd like to get really good. But issues of being good or not being good do not matter to me any more. What interests me more now is authenticity of engagement in the journey itself.

Engaging with music is a lifelong journey, and I perceive my own playing and the playing of others in a totally new way now. Of course I still love brilliant expressive playing, but I've come to appreciate that that is not all that there is to hear in music. A skilled listener can listen to music that does not always reach the heights of brilliance, and still find much of value in that music.

Somewhat related, this year at Boxwood, David McGuinness led a series of classes on "Listening." (By the way, he has a fun blog.) We were guided through various exercises that helped us to sharpen our listening skills and respond more quickly, intentionally, and accurately to what we were hearing. David opened these classes with eloquent words on the importance to musicians of good listening. All week, those of us in this group were hearing the birds, traffic, and fog horns in new ways!

There is lots more to say, about Boxwood and about my work this summer, but I also have a lot to catch up on now as the summer begins to draw to a close, so I will close for now but will continue to write as I can.