Josna Rege

398. This day . . .

In reading, reflections, seasons, Stories, Work, writing on May 24, 2017 at 3:48 pm


This day is the first day of the rest of your life, proclaims that 1960s poster once plastered ubiquitously on college dorm walls across the country and intoned, infuriatingly, by any number of 1970s self-help gurus and popular culture figures from John Denver to The Walking Dead. But being banal doesn’t make it untrue; quite the contrary.

Every spring, as I teach my last class of the year, and again a couple of weeks later, when I turn in my students’ final grades, I tell myself: This day is the first day of the rest of your summer. Make the most of it, start as you mean to go on. Walk and write daily, wrap up long-postponed and unfinished business, work steadily to make inroads into those large, looming tasks that take time to complete, and have plenty of fun: take trips to visit friends and family, thrift-store shop to your heart’s content, and do a whole lot of entirely extraneous reading (what Andrew used to call, in that interminable last six months of my doctoral studies, reading unrelated to my dissertation). On that first day, as the whole summer stretches before me, I am utterly exhausted, but simultaneously filled with pleasurable anticipation and resolve.

Here it is, though, a week since I turned in the grades, more than three weeks since I taught my last class, and I have precious little to show. Already I have that sinking feeling, as if the whole summer, and then some, is already spoken for. Former students with Incompletes are still turning in late work, students from this just-finished semester demanding to know why their grades haven’t shown up online; prospective students asking for the syllabus of one of my fall courses (answer: I don’t have it; the course is yet to be designed), editors asking after that book chapter that I have yet to complete, creditors asking why I haven’t paid (and never will pay) that last ambulance bill for Dad. And now, here I sit at the dining-room table with my second cup of tea, doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a whole lot of nothing.

For the first few days of the summer, I always tell myself—despite my resolution to work slowly and steadily, to start as I mean to carry on—that it is okay not to do much of anything, that I need to catch up on lost sleep, unwind, and generally be kind to myself. But in my heart of hearts I know that I am simply postponing the inevitable: there is no substitute for getting started.

The trouble is that inevitably, the instant I finish teaching my last class, either I fall sick or crisis strikes at home. There is no time in-between to take a deep breath. It’s like when Nikhil was a baby and went down for his 45-minute nap (unlike my friends’ babies who regularly took two-hour naps during the day, sometimes two of them), I would immediately start rinsing out his dirty nappies (because of course I used cloth diapers rather than disposable) and inevitably, the instant that I had finished the last one, he would wake up as if on a timer. So it was this year; so much has happened since that last day of classes in early May that I can’t account for it all. Through the blur of these past three weeks I seem to recall that, among other things, my eyeglasses broke in two during the last, desperate hours of my final grading, the air conditioning failed during an unprecedentedly hot mid-May heatwave, more students than ever before failed to complete their final term papers on time, and, of course, the nation has been teetering on the brink of a Constitutional crisis. All I know is that I feel as if I’ve been continuously and furiously busy, but seem to have nothing to show for it but a lot of late nights where I fall asleep on the couch and so many rounds of Canfield’s Solitaire (called Demon in England because it is so notoriously hard to win) that my hands ache with the repetitive stress. My hands actually ache from doing a whole lot of nothing.

The cure for doing nothing seems obvious: just do something; make even a little headway with it, and you will begin to feel better. But what to start on first? Perform triage, and then start with the most urgent task. But there are so many urgent tasks; it’s overwhelming. This is where the deck of cards comes out for yet another round of Canfield. If I lose, I play again: just until I beat Canfield. If I win, I play again: why quit when you’re ahead? (Wait, isn’t the maxim Quit while you’re ahead? No matter.) You get the picture, and unless you’re superhuman, or one of those Highly Effective People, you’ve probably struggled with your own version of it.

But the summer is young yet, and despite my sinking feeling that it’s already over, it really isn’t. It is. Not. Over. So let me take stock, and come up with a game plan; just for today.

First, open that unfinished book chapter and get back in the groove: Where was I when I last worked on it, and what do I need to do next? Actually get to work on it for a short period of time, setting a timer and stopping when it goes off; but not before writing myself a brief To Do note for the next time I sit down to it.

Second, take a brisk walk; it doesn’t have to be a long one. The 40-minute loop down through the old cemetery is perfect, but the shorter leg-stretch up to the Town Line and back will suffice.

Third, Destination Henion Bakery: sit with a cup of tea and a little something (okay, a jelly doughnut; although they now make these light, not-too-sweet little French things called choquettes; if feeling righteous, substitute a couple of them for my JD). Keep wireless internet connection resolutely turned off so as to continue to work on essay without distraction for period of time not to exceed 45 minutes. Slow and steady is the way to ease into this.

Now the hard work of the day is done. If energy permits, knock off one of those Incompletes: reread, regrade, recalculate, and resubmit the grade to the Registrar.

What next? Front porch, feet up, and—oh joy!—Extraneous Reading.

After dinner, repair to living-room couch. Get required daily dose of Professor Robert Reich’s Resistance Report, and laugh at opening monologues from last night’s late-night comedians.

This day is the first day of the rest of my life. From the standpoint of now, it is the only day. It is.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

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  1. I love this ‘Tell Me Another’, Jojo! I can totally relate to this. Thank you for another wonderful entry.

    • Thank you, Nadine! Glad you enjoyed this. I feared it was just me pathetically spinning my wheels, finding yet another way to delay actually getting down to work by writing about how I was going to go about doing it! Hope your summer is a glorious one. xxx J

  2. I love this post, Josna.
    This is often me too, though I am not in employment any more. But the constant travel to keep up with siblings, children & grandchildren who are scattered far & wide is more tiring the closer I get to 70 (only 15 months until I do get there). I need time when we get home to relax & get back some energy.
    The first day, I do little – except for the unpacking of our little Toyota van & the laundry. Then I do a round of the garden & soon, I am pruning and weeding and whatever else needs doing. That is my way to relax after a period of stress, and is also a way to get back to the things I want to do but never seem to get time for.
    Now, four days after we returned from the last trip, I really need to get back to my writing. The rest of my life is getting shorter & shorter!

    • Ah Linda, You have a very full life. Lucky family, who get visited by you in your trusty Toyota van. Yes, traveling can be exhilarating, but it certainly is tiring. Good for you for unpacking and getting the laundry done right away. I only just managed to put away the empty suitcase from my January trip last week! It had been taking up space in the laundry room for four whole months!
      I love your system for relaxing and getting back into the groove. It’s true that once one starts weeding and pruning one gets drawn into it for its own sake, and its easy to lose oneself in the task. For me, getting started is always the hardest part.
      I love your writing. Don’t count the rest of your life (which I hope will be long and healthy); it’s a rich and rewarding one now–for you, for your family, and for us, your lucky readers.

  3. Sometimes sharing your thoughts to the world at large can give the impetus to action — or at least clarify your thoughts on your current position. (Isn’t social media, including WP, a boon for that?) Maybe just getting ideas shaped and down in writing is enough positive action for now. Whatever the solution, I hope you get there and enjoy the summer you still have!

    • Thank you, Chris, for your helpful point that just thinking things through and putting them down in writing may have been worthwhile in itself.
      I do hope, though, that the post wasn’t so narrowly navel-gazing that it had no wider resonance at all. Despite keeping a personal blog, I’m not a fan of simply baring my soul to all and sundry. Perhaps I was feeling a little sorry for myself as I sat down to write; I know I was in blog-withdrawal, after a gruelling academic year in which there wasn’t a moment to sit down and write for the sheer pleasure of it. Lately, TMA has dwindled to a post a month, if I’m lucky, and I’ve been wondering whether that means I need to be doing something different with my writing. But in any case, one of the pleasures of having some time on my hands was to write a new TMA story, and, if nothing else, I did accomplish that yesterday. I’ve also missed following fellow-bloggers’ posts, and see that I have a lot of terrific Calmgrove posts to catch up on.
      Now to take your advice and enjoy the summer! Thanks again, and Happy Summer to you too. J

  4. Wonderful talking to you this morning and letting each other vent a little. That is what true friendship is for, I believe. You are a wonderful friend and as close to me as a sister. I will keep you in my prayers and hope that your Summer includes a really good trip to England and a quick swing by us here! God bless all your intentions and give you the fortitude to carry on no matter what!

    • Thank you, dear Marianne. It was lovely catching up this morning; I always feel better after talking with you. Yes, intentions. . . Thank you for praying that mine be blessed. Love, J

  5. That solitaire is such a time waster! I wish I could take a trip that bakery.

  6. Jojo
    My Mom had forwarded the link to this blog. Had not had time to read it until today, after returning from the Celebration yesterday. Too true, too true. Triage, and keep on with the march (forced or otherwise). After all today is the first day of the rest of our lives.
    Michael

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