Last year was one of the busiest I’ve had in a long time. Here is some of what I learned:
1. Teaching is much harder than it looks. After teaching intro composition at a college last year, I have a profound appreciation and admiration for teachers. The work is hard, it is intense, it is close to never-ending. If you want to know what teachers go through for those tiny glimmers of satisfaction when they’ve reached just one student or you want to understand why our education system is struggling, try teaching.
Failing that, read Sarah Blaine’s excellent piece on the Washington Post blog: “You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.”
2. Relocating is even more disruptive than you think. Years ago, a friend told me about a study that measured test subjects’ ability to estimate how long it would take to do a specific task. The researchers were looking for what defined under- vs. over-estimators. Since then, I have concluded that I am a chronic under-estimator, especially when it comes to complex projects (I have learned to pad the schedules I develop for my job.)
I figured moving several hundred miles up the East Coast and embracing a rural lifestyle would be time-consuming, but I didn’t anticipate the energy I’d have to expend on things as mundane as finding a dentist or hairdresser. And when did adopting a dog become so complicated?
Six months later, most of my books are still packed away in boxes (awaiting new bookshelves), and to my deep regret, my pottery wheel sits unused. Other tasks and work have taken precedence, like switching car titles and driver’s licenses to a new state and updating my address and phone number for umpteen credit cards, bank accounts and subscriptions — not to mention stacking firewood, putting up electric fences, and pulling some of the largest dandelions and other weeds I’ve ever seen from the neglected vegetable plot (see #3 below). If the state fair had a category for biggest dandelion, I’d win hands-down, as long as I could keep our geese from eating them all.
3. Being proactive is essential when you live in the country. My husband jokes that he wants our pantry to look like the Dharma Initiative’s highly organized and well-stocked kitchen on “Lost.” We used to be able to walk to a grocery store, but now we have to drive several miles on hilly country roads, and given the severity of winters in New England, we can’t be lackadaisical about stocking our shelves and freezer.
Also, we learned the hard way that slush doesn’t melt the next day, like it does in the South. Instead, it freezes into a thick layer of ice that is impervious to just about every attempt to break it that doesn’t involve hatchets or jackhammers. So now we shovel the driveway clear every time it snows. I’m hoping some of that discipline will spill over into my writing life.
4. Sometimes the best advice is the simplest. I have a whole folder of articles about how to find time to write, but the best line in there comes from Donald M. Murray’s “A Writer’s Canon,” which I’ve been carrying around since high school:
Write now. There is no Tuesday morning without interruptions when you are rested and feel like writing.
That may very well be my theme for 2015.