Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Driven by deadlines

A 10-year-old child of my acquaintance has been out of school for a week but is already complaining about summer break. "I just don't feel challenged," she says, and I feel her pain! Without a challenge I loaf and mope and procrastinate, and then the guilt I feel from loafing makes me cranky, which makes me want to isolate myself, which makes me even crankier until I spiral into a vicious circle of self-loathing.

The antidote is simple but not easy: find a challenge. I need deadlines, meaningful work, necessary tasks! A long expanse of time with no clear deadlines becomes a shapeless mire of meaningless sloth.

Last summer's shape was provided by too many deadlines and tasks: funeral, eye surgery, editing project, home improvement. This summer break has so far been blessed with few deadlines and little to do besides planting the herb garden and mowing the lawn.

And then I hit a deer and totaled my car, and suddenly I'm spending a lot of time corresponding with insurance agents, gathering documents, and listening to hold music on the phone. I've been reluctant to start shopping for a car until I learned the amount of the insurance settlement, which turns out to be around $2,000 less than I paid for the car five years ago, and if you need evidence that the current car market is crazy, there it is. My insurance company will pay for my rental car for another week or ten days, so there's a firm deadline: buy a car by the end of next week. 

And then what? More mowing, more watering the garden (unless we get some rain), more work on an academic writing project that's still at such an early stage that I can't even think about putting words on the page just yet. It's a long summer and I have no more rooms to paint, so I need a project.

Which is why I was so easily persuaded to take on a new challenge that starts in August but will require some summer preparation. The details are not yet public but I've agreed to fill a void in leadership in a department outside my own. It's a low-drama department staffed by wonderful people, but none of them can serve as chair right now so they need someone to do the organization and paperwork required to keep the department going--oh, and run a search. Just a few little tasks to keep the wheels on the bus going round and round. In the process I'll gain valuable hands-on experience to inform my revisions of the department chairs' manual, and I'll get a small but meaningful stipend and another course release--which will give me an entire year without teaching first-year composition.

I'm rotating off Faculty Council in August and I'd requested an easy committee assignment for next year, hoping to spend less time dealing with meetings and paperwork. But after only a few weeks of summer break, I'm jumping with both feet on the first available challenge and looking forward to cranking up the meeting machine and dealing with a big pile of paperwork.

But first I need to buy a car. Challenge accepted!    


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