Alma Mater weekend away

Wow, it has been over a month since I posted. I have fallen far from the days when I wrote a post every night. Obviously, there is no way I can back-fill the last month, and I’m not going to try. Suffice it to say, attempting to balance motherhood with teaching and performance schedules is kicking my butt. Added to that, I have been making a concerted effort to communicate regularly with my friend who is behind bars, and that has taken the time slot that had been reserved for writing blog posts. That’s not a long-term situation, though; just short- and intermediate-term. So I posit that I’ll get back to somewhat more regular posting at some point. That vague enough?

What I did want to write about are some partially-organized thoughts I’ve had since returning from the retirement event of a college professor of mine. They stem partly from the perspective-granting aspects of just simply being away from my family for a few days; also from the conversations I had with various people while on the trip; and, importantly, from the topics discussed at the Symposium held in celebration of the retirement.

The main thing I’ve been thinking about is time. Time is, in some sense, life itself. Time is a limited, precious resource, somewhat like money. We do all sorts of things to time, some of which we wouldn’t think of doing to money: we burn it; we kill it; we sometimes resent it. We also desire it; we experience it variously as being in abundance or in scarcity. We take it for granted; we pray to get through it; we want it to last forever.

The primary way in which I don’t treat time with respect is by jamming all sorts of things into my schedule and hoping that somehow it will all get done, all work out. That is a method that has been failing spectacularly to work. When I left on my trip I was feeling simultaneously overwhelmed and that I am performing inadequately, not doing enough, especially as a mother. I have been feeling at the end of my rope, wondering how on earth I am going to get through the next several months, let alone the next 16 or so years.

One of the presenters at the Symposium spoke about mindfulness. This is not a new concept to me, but in listening to her and contemplating my life it came quite clear to me that I am in retreat a lot, not engaged with what I’m doing or who I’m doing it with, because I’m running away from the feeling of overwhelm. When the twins were babies and I was spending an incredible amount of time nursing them, my screen use shot up and passed a certain barrier. I got addicted. Now, I find that a lot of my day is spent, partly, wishing for the time when I can stop talking to anyone, get my computer or my phone out, and surf or play Scrabble or whatever. I feel the compulsion, and frequently act on it, even when I am with my kids. I have felt a lot of shame about that.

The thing is, a big percentage of that screen time is not actually downtime; it is not refreshing, renewing, energizing, or productive. It doesn’t actually help me feel better, after a certain point. There are other things that are much more effective, like going for a walk, or reading an actual book (you know, with pages and texture and non-glowing typeface).

So, here are my current conclusions/beginnings of a plan.

First, I have been treating times when I have several concerts’ worth of repertoire to learn, rehearse and perform as being outside of, beyond the normal schedule. They are times we just struggle through as a family. My kids miss me; Ted winds up with a huge burden, and by the end I sometimes feel punished by the very things I love. I have to stop doing this. I have to design a schedule in which the concert times fill up the available spaces, but don’t require more. This way, when I don’t have concerts on tap there will be more time to spend in other ways; and when I do have concerts there will be time already allocated for all the work involved.

Second, therefore, Ted and I are in the process of identifying the elements we really want or need in our life; everything else will be jettisoned. I am making a daily schedule for myself so that I can use it to remind me that these are my choices, and to remind myself to be present in each phase. I WANT to engage with my children. I love them. I want to be present with them. I WANT to practice cello; it is a professional obligation, but more importantly I find it necessary for my spiritual and psychological well-being. I WANT to have downtime, because I need it; but I want that downtime to serve me, to help me feel and do better. I don’t want to just kill time.

Third, I need to assess, in the moments during the day when I am feeling stressed out, why I am experiencing that stress. Am I feeling the weight of All The Things in such a way that I am not present with what I’m actually doing? This was the case the other day when I was on my way to a chiropractic appointment, which is definitely not, in and of itself a stressful event. In fact, it is a positive. But I was worrying about all the other things I had to do that day, all the things I was sure I was forgetting. I was therefore not able to connect with the moment I was in. And of course, I was feeling guilty about not spending that time with the twins.

Fourth, I therefore need to post the schedule I come up with and use it every day as a tool for recommitment, for a reminder of what matters to me, and a reassurance that if I’m not doing X, Y, or Z at the moment, there is time in the day later in which I can do so.

My conservatory cello teacher died when he was only 8 years older than I am now. I missed him terribly when I was back for the weekend, wished I could go see him. My life is a gift I want to live fully, and that means treating time with respect and appreciation, to see it as the texture of my existence and therefore learn to inhabit it with mind, heart, and spirit.

I am so deeply thankful for all the wonderful people I have had and do have in my life, and for the gifts of perspective, generosity, caring, and knowledge given me by the teachers I have had.

Thank you, TVN!