I have a lot going on right now. Somehow I thought since I wouldn’t be teaching this quarter, I’d have this wide, open expanse for dissertation writing. I imagined leisurely mornings of tea drinking, oatmeal eating, and writing. I have been doing a lot of writing, actually. I’m working on a paper for publication from the dissertation research and workshopping it in class. This week is a big workshopping week, actually. Monday, I workshopped the paper in the Animal Studies Working Group at the UW, which was great, and I got so many amazingly helpful suggestions for changes to make to improve the paper and places to expand when this paper is turned into a much longer chapter for the dissertation. There’s really nothing like sitting in a room and realizing with such comfort that these are your people. I felt so very grateful to sit there and know that they understand the work I’m doing, they understand why I’m doing it and why it’s important, and they understand me. What a gift! Today, I’m workshopping an outline for this same paper in my geography writing class. I imagine this may be a bit bumpier – my personal struggle and ongoing project always seems to be about making an argument for why geographers should care about this subject. The paper is definitely lacking a geographical theoretical frame at the moment and so my next big task is going to be figuring out how to frame it in the geography literature. I always find this a particular challenge.
But back to my extremely unrealistic vision of leisurely dissertation writing. In reality, I’ve come to know about myself that when I have more time in my schedule, rather than spending all that time writing, I just take on more projects. I say, “sure! absolutely!” to projects that interest me, I invent new projects, I expand the projects I’m currently working on, etc. Sometimes I wonder if there is a breaking point. And if there is, where is it precisely? And what does that breaking point look like, really? Is it one huge meltdown after we’ve fallen right over the edge or is it little daily or weekly fissures. I notice more regularly those little fissures. Like when I’ve been sitting all day at the computer and haven’t let myself stop thinking about a particular project all day long. I notice it when my mind gets fixated on solving a problem and won’t turn off until the problem is resolved. I also notice how that focus and inclination to take on more projects may be harmful to the psyche, the mind, and the body.
Given that I’m not interested in reducing the number of projects I’m doing, I’ve been trying to think of ways to diffuse some of the tension and stress associated with this kind of schedule. When it was just me and Maizy during the day, I would take walks with her to step away from the computer, clear my head, get my blood moving and fresh air in my lungs. Now, with Saoirse, walks are anything but relaxing. Walking the two of them together is, honestly, a huge test in patience. Maizy pulls in one direction and Saoirse pulls in the opposite direction. The leashes get hopelessly tangled. Saoirse tries to eat every piece of dog and cat shit she finds or any scrap of food or piece of bone dropped by the crows in the neighborhood. More than once, I’ve reached into her mouth to extract whatever she managed to grab off the parking strip only to find myself holding a slimy piece of half-chewed poop. Yup. Not relaxing AT ALL. Maybe someday we’ll work out a better system where walks with the dogs will be relaxing, but that is not the case now.
I’ve turned to thinking about other forms of relaxing, taking a break, forcing my mind and body to stop, pause and recalibrate. Standing up to stretch and do some deep breathing is good, but I’m also trying out a regular practice of closing myself in a room by myself for 5 minutes and doing Savasana. Savasana is the “corpse” pose in yoga. It’s a grounding pose, a pose where you make your body and mind neutral and still. In yoga practice, savasana has always been one of the poses that effects me most and that instantly helps me to feel calm and grounded. I thought, why not try to incorporate this into daily life, even if there isn’t time to do a full yoga practice? I’ll have to let you know how it goes.
Do you have any favorite tips or methods of relaxing and taking a step back in the midst of a work day?