Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Moderate Praise for Going to Extremes

A commenter on Frugal Scholar said, the other day, "I don't go to extremes like reusing coffee filters or stuff like that . . . " .  My immediate thought was "what's so extreme about that?"  I have a reusable "gold" coffee filter that I use whenever I can.  And when my husband makes Pot #1 of coffee with a paper filter, I've been known to make Pot #2 by just dumping a bit more coffee grounds into the existing set of grounds.  That's not extreme by my standards, it's just normal.

But I admit I do go to extremes in other ways.  In fact, recently I've been reaping the mixed blessings of a life lived to extremes.  This past summer, I spent something like 20 hours a week training for the Ironman triathalon.  It's not the way I want to live always, and I was happy as all-get-out when I finally finished the race.  It wasn't just that I was happy to do the whole 140 miles; it was a relief to know the triathalon training was behind me and I could now return to "normal".  

But, in large part because of going nutso this past summer, "normal" means something different for me now than it did before.  "Normal" now means I "only" run 13-ish miles a week.  It means I have gone from bike-fearing to bike-loving: I bike to market and to doctors appointments instead of driving.  And when I get a bit of extra time on the weekends, my husband and I go for a 25-mile joy ride, biking through some of my now-favorite farmland vistas.

And the truth is, I pretty desperately need that exercise habit to be deeply ingrained this year.  Because now that the academic year has kicked in, I've gone to extremes in another direction.  This year I'm both a department chair and a member of my college's promotion and tenure committee.   Either one of these jobs is notorious in academic circles for being a time suck; the combination (mixed in with teaching and advising that I'm also doing) is a little bit like an IronMan of Academia.  I've got lots and lots and lots of administrative work on my hands . . . although, it's not really my hands that carry the load, it's my butt.  I'm doing a lot of sitting and staring at computer screens.

The time-suck that I've entered into this year, I think of as another odd and painful blessing.  It has forced me to think about all the parts of my life that have become normal because of habit instead of because of choice.  So to keep myself sane, I'm examining every part of my day, from how and when I rise to what I do just before I go to sleep at night.  I'm paying especial attention to anything that keeps me seated at a screen, or seated reading papers.

I've put myself on a newspaper fast; between now and May, I'll get the Sunday paper but not the daily paper.  That's a half-hour each morning I'll spend differently.  I'm becoming more aware (and also much more careful) about internet use.  I'm seriously considering an internet fast from 7:30 each evening until 7:30 the next morning; I just have to work out the logistics of that.

I'm also, paradoxically, using these time pressures to force a few new activities into my schedule.  I have a weekly "date" with my grown daughters, and that's turned into a source of delight for all of us.  I've started attending coffee hour at our faculty center, mostly so I can schmooze with other people.   I've set aside time for a Bible study and for solitary prayer and quiet.    And I've decided that I need to read something that's pure enjoyment, so I'm threading my way through Jane Eyre.

With so little free time in my schedule, I'm working hard to make the most of the time that I do have.  All of a sudden, every little thing that I do matters.  I think about every part of my schedule these days differently, carefully, even obsessively.  It's an extreme way to live.   But I think that when this academic year spits me out into a warm, empty, wide-open summer, I'll be a better person for having lived this way.


  1. I've been having trouble with this. I need to be more productive across all aspects, but instead I've been watching Daria and reading novels!

  2. I'm in that stage right before I get back to being productive and efficient. It's a bit of a cycle for me: slothful/productive so I'm pretty sure it'll come back but I'm using this slow brain time on the blog since that often gets neglected once I get busy with life things. It keeps me from dwelling on what a struggle it is to refocus on the mundane work :)