Balancing Work and Play

As I gear up for the school year to begin again, I find myself juggling my new schedule in my head. I teach a lot. That means a lot of time in front of students, but it also means a lot more time spent grading papers.

And I wonder when I will find time for my writing.

It’s the age old debate: work vs play. The delicate balance of the things I have to do and the things I want to do–and don’t get me wrong here. I love what I do. I love teaching. I love explaining words to students and reading their words. But I also love the characters who live in my head, and I want to give them a chance to stretch their legs on paper and screen.

I know, I know. I had an entire summer to get writing done. And I did! I am nearly finished with the second book in Klauden’s Ring. I just have to tweak a few more things. But when my classes begin on Monday, I worry about getting sucked into the whirlpool that is the semester–when other people’s words become more important than my own.

I just need to manage my time a little better. Focus more. Wander less. Have a schedule. Say “No” to extra obligations. Make it a habit. Work in brief spurts. Even a few minutes counts!

I’ve heard all of those things. And I’ve tried them. And sometimes they work. And sometimes they don’t.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with the juggling act–work, play, homelife, family. I know that when I was in grad school I managed to teach and take classes and still had a brain leftover to spend time at home.

But I was younger then. And I didn’t have a child. And Netflix wasn’t around yet. And I didn’t have so many apps on my phone. (Back then, I was just excited to have a cell phone at all!)

Ah well. I’m happy to have such problems. And it will work itself out. It always does.

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Lazy Summer Days

Summer means a great deal to someone in my profession. I’m a teacher, and even though I teach adults instead of teenagers or little kids, I still find myself counting the days left in the spring semester. I usually teach a class or two during the early part of the summer as well, just to try out new things that I want to do in the fall semester–those summer sessions are always my guinea pigs. Does that assignment work if I do it this way instead? What happens if I swap this out for that? Those summer students are always more open to these little trials of mine, it seems. They are, after all, crash coursing through what normally takes a solid 16 weeks to cover in a mere 6 weeks, so they start off running, continue to sprint while I add hurdles and dexterity challenges, and at the end, they stumble bleary-eyed yet triumphant across that finish line.

But then there is the the down time. Time that is suddenly, gloriously free of all restrictions and expectations. Time to read a book on the couch All. Day. Long. To binge watch those tv shows late into the night and even the next morning because, seriously, it’s not like I have to get up for anything. My daughter is old enough now to play quietly if mommy decides to sleep late–as long as I roll out of bed long enough to supply breakfast and snack and lunch, she’s fine. Sometimes, she snuggles back into bed with me, tablet in hand. Yes, I let my kid play with her tablet while I sleep in. It happens. It happens more when it’s summertime and I decide to let it go for a few magical weeks. There are days when I don’t know what day of the week it actually is–and I don’t care. I have nowhere to be and nothing to do until August 10th, when my daughter goes back to school, and August 18th, when I go back to campus for meetings.

Until then, though…glorious, wonderful freedom.

And before I even start to feel guilty for all of this free time, I remind myself of those days during the semester, days when I teach five hours and then come home with a stack of papers and grade until midnight or 1am while my eyes cross and my pen bleeds everywhere. It works out in the long run because of this time right now.

And I know it will end. And that’s good. Because endless days and nights of nothing would be tiring.

And I have actually been doing things besides reading cheesy books and watching cheesy television. I’ve been writing. Look-I’m writing now!

I know when I’m in the dog days of November, grading that mountain of papers, I will remember this time and sigh, and use that memory to go on, to grade just one more before I finally go to sleep.

But until then, I will relish each moment. Summer is the best.

On “Cheesy” Romances

cheesy

When people ask what type of stories I write, I often tell them I prefer “cheesy” romances, and I mean this in the modern sense of the words.

Cheesy, of course, is my adjective of choice, showing that my writing is like cheese, those thick, gooey, satisfying layers of flavor that enhance whatever they are draped across. Cheesy also shows that my writing isn’t meant to be an entire meal; it’s a snack, something to tease the senses and delight the mind, but without the necessary depth and breadth that make up a meal. Even a cheese plate in a fancy restaurant is not meant as a full meal–it’s a nice touch, a great chance to sample different textures and flavors, but it’s not meant to replace the grand affair that is the entree.

What I mean when I describe my work as cheesy is that my stories are not the Great American Novel–and that’s ok. The English teacher in me knows that literature, great literature, often reveals some fundamental truth about what it means to be human–and I think my stories skim the surface of that goal, revealing depths beneath the ice but not quite dunking the reader into the murky symbolic depths.

I spend my days reading, teaching, and discussing literary works. I know what it feels like to have an author smack you over the head with theories about life. And I enjoy those moments. Sometimes. I love the feeling of diving into the wreck, as Adrienne Rich so aptly describes, unraveling the secrets and squinting into the spaces between images. But I also appreciate not getting dunked into watery chasms of biographical significance and cultural commentary, especially after a long day spend showing my students the way with a spare SCUBA tank and a flashlight. Sometimes I just want to waterski across the surface of the work, to quote Billy Collins. I want to read without work, without careful attention to detail and nuance. I want to stand under the shower of words and let them pour over me, sliding across my skin without having to chase them, corral them into sense and convert them into meaning. And on those days, at those moments, cheesy romance is my escape. I can meet new people and watch them do new and exciting things and not have to focus on what the blue curtains really mean. Yes, sometimes I find those meanings without meaning to (once an English major, always an English major), but I like not feeling pressured to find them, to decipher the hidden symbols and unearth the subtext.

So when I write, I create the stories that I want to read when I’m tired of reading into every little thing. My tales are snacks, refreshing glances into new worlds with different people, and if they do have some universal truth lurking within, it’s generally the effect of storytelling at large rather than a conscious effort to make the story mean something significant.  And so my stories are always cheesy.

There are plenty of entrees out there; go out and enjoy them. Inhale them, savor each bite, study each sentence and dissect each word for its meaning. Literature is vast and powerful and worthwhile.

But when you need a break from that level of focus, when you just want a quick snack that’s satisfying the need for a story, check out some cheese. You deserve it.