Friday, July 27, 2012

My Experiment in Summer Relaxation

My garden in July -- with our newly completed gate and entrance arbour . . . 




In case you're wondering how all that concerted indolence has been working out for me, the answer is pas mal, and thank you for asking . . .

In fact, as you might have guessed, I wasn't quite as immovable, in my chair by the water, as I might have promised to be. We took a day to drive/ferry to another (much larger) island to visit a painter friend and pick up some new art for the walls. Hardly a tough day, but neither was it completely lazy.

Similarly, I went to a yoga class in town one day, and on other days headed in for some errands as well as for a hair-styling session. We had friends for dinner -- a long, lovely evening sharing stories of our respective recent travels in France. Another evening took us to neighbours for one of those perfect impromptu parties summer hosts so generously. I ran on the island, swam in the ocean, even weeded a bit in the garden. Less physically, I sketched, painted, read and wrote.

But I was quite stubborn, for quite a few days, about only doing what I wanted to do, and almost every day, part of what I wanted included a nap and some free reading.

About two days ago, something shifted ever so slightly. I'm not yet bored enough to be ready to head back to work. My body and/or soul/mind knows there is some deeply lodged fatigue, a tiny corner of depression that yet needs to be eased away, and I'm going to pay that need some attention while I can. But a few days ago, I finally -- for the first time since we've been back from France -- had the energy and motivation to dig out a knitting project and figure out where I was in the pattern. I sat in the sun yesterday afternoon and knit 8 rows of a fairly intricate cobweb lace shawl, concentrating moments of sunshine into each row, joyfully.

Then yesterday, I finally completed the jam-making session I'd begun working toward at the beginning of the week. The raspberries were already crushed and waiting in the fridge; I'd refilled the sugar canister; the jars were washed, the lids sterilized, and the house finally filled with that glorious mixture of heat and fruit and sugar, the aroma I associate so thoroughly with a certain kind of summer day, an aroma that sometimes, if I'm very lucky, prompts me back to that day when I open a new jar of jam on a bleak February day.

This morning, I actually spent some time doing a bit of work toward the fall semester, and I've read some poetry as well as part of an essay on poetics, alongside my own "Free-choice" reading, the latest Hilary Mantel, a follow-up to her brilliant Wolf Hall, this one, Bringing Up the Bodies another contender for the Booker prize.

As well, I finally sorted through my digital photo files, went online and ordered prints, even enlargements of some favourite images. That task alone validates my decision to chill for a while -- it's taken me years to move from notion to action on that one, and what gave the final nudge was an indulgence of lassitude, I'm convinced.

Since I was very young, as the oldest of 12 children, a rather-heavily-counted-on help to my mother, I tend to think of myself, very easily, as lazy. So taking time off is not easy. But while an academic's schedule might seem very indulgent to those of you with only two or three weeks of annual leave, once the term begins I rarely take a complete day off, never a whole weekend, and I do some work most evenings as well. So I'm reminding myself of what my very wise friend and neighbour told me many summers ago, when I was feeling uncomfortable with an extended late-summer drought, even though it meant we were enjoying stupendous weather. It wasn't so much the reported problems the weather was causing for salmon and other wildlife; at some atavistic level, the lack of rain simply felt wrong for this citizen of the rainforest. Carol just looked at me, though, and said, "Frances, I have three words for you."
Oh, and what would those be? I wondered.
Straight-faced, she simply intoned, "November, December, January."
And sure enough, those months arrived quickly enough with storms and rain and dull grey days enough to make me fish my memories for the hope of light and warmth.

So yes, I'm storing up sunshine and rest and a memory of just how good indulgence can feel.

And I'm curious -- how do you balance your need/desire to rest and relax with your compulsion to Get. Things. Done. ?

17 comments:

  1. Why is it that most women I talk with feel guilty about sitting and doing nothing, or doing what pleases them? Is it some innate sense that so much and so many depend on us?

    I discovered a long time ago that when things are very hectic and I'm feeling stressed, the best way to actually get things done is to not do them. For awhile. If I spent 1 hour escaping into a novel, I returned to the real world much more able to cope with whatever was on my plate, and I was energized (usually) to get stuff done.

    Teaching is a demanding profession. You went right from the classroom to France. While the vacation was wonderful, you didn't really unwind too much beforehand. Now you can do that. Setting your mind to doing what pleases you for a week, with the occasional lapse, seems to me a wonderful gift to yourself.

    I've just discovered Hilary Mantel and am well into Wolf Hall.

    I'll be back to read some of the other responses to this question.

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  2. What a wise first response to my post -- thank you! I do think that many, if not most, women find it difficult to take time for themselves. I also agree with you that taking the time to refresh and rebuild ourselves keeps us healthy -- which has to benefit those we care for as well.

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  3. Ugh! I'm still trying. It seems so sinful to relax sometimes yet I know that simply by doing nothing I can achieve so much more. I am afflicted by a constant need to be Doing Something Productive; I think I need to rewire my brain into believing that some nothings are productive after all.

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    1. Especially to build toward a creative activity--writing, particularly--puttering time is what I need. It's productive, eventually, but not obviously so.

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  4. Given your early family responsibilities it's not surprising you find it difficult to relax. I used to have the same problem but Martin cured me of it. He paces himself very well and I tend to follow his rhythms. Contentment :).

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    1. I'm glad you've found a balance that works for you -- I'm trying . . .

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  5. I know what you mean about thinking you are lazy far too easily. I spent summers with my grandmother who collected animals and grandchildren; I was the oldest, and the other children were special needs so I could never have a moment of rest to myself without guilt. It is hard to leave those internalized messages behind lol. And our schedules are pretty rotten. I'm learning to balance the need for rest with the compulsion/need to get things done. I try to set a goal for myself (i.e. get these revisions done and this last article sent out and then rest for a few weeks). I may try to get things done, but when I reach the point where I need a vacation, I quickly realize I won't make any progress anyway, so I might as well just putter around for a bit. I've been walking the puppy, reading for fun, and exercising. I also saw a movie with my brother, went to a Jays game with a friend, had coffee with a friend, and went shopping with my mom. I spent some time at the cottage last month, too. Will go camping in NS later in August. I'll need to store up this positive energy for future use once fall semester starts again; also, I'm trying to build better habits, which take time :) And finally, your garden is beautiful! Wow!

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    1. Sounds as if you're getting some patterns in place that will serve you well in the future. Academic life has a rhythm that takes some getting used to and the down-time is important. Let's undo the guilt . . .

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  6. How do I balance? Not particularly well. But to the extent that I do, I draw very tight boundaries. I say no often. And I'm very selfish with my time and energy. No system is perfect, but this one seems to work better than the others I've tried.

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    1. This is key, isn't it? It took me a while to learn, and I've had to reconcile myself to whatever others think of my saying no. But there's no superwoman living in my house . . .

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  7. I am trying to cram all your indolence into the next 24 hours. Wish me luck:).

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  8. Such a complicated question, isn’t it? And so many trite answers in the self-help universe. To me, it seems fundamentally some kind of attention to giving and receiving. Not really balance perhaps since that implies a kind of stasis. I think of it more as a recognition of the limited resources of my one precious life, a life I want to be both joyful and useful. Elle

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    1. Nice point about balance and stasis. And I also like the way you (inadvertently, I think) echo what K says, above.
      Joyful and useful -- what a powerful duo!

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  9. I love the little story at the end of this post...because I've had all sorts of fears about our drought! I am just now beginning my period of indolence...and want to thank you for leading the way and giving me permission!

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    1. Soak it up, that between-term time, so luxurious!

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  10. I'm really late to this conversation, and you are now back in school and probably back in full get-things-done mode. As for myself, increasingly I have learned that if I don't take those breaks to let the brain and sprit unwind at its own pace, my brain or my body will make their own things into their own hands. Even though I strigge wotj bio;t over supposedly "wasted" time, I have learned I actually accomplish more by letting myself be indolent, and I also often make new discoveries and gains I would have otherwise missed.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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