MY DAEMONS

I’m up early, as usual.

It’s been rough of late.

Turning back the clocks this year has simply meant that I’m often up at four rather than five o’clock. This is a crummy new development and I’m still figuring out how to best live with it until I’ve reset my circadian dial.

Not long after the return to Eastern Standard Time and the darkness it envelops us in, my working life slipped into fast forward with new contracts coming in before old ones had reached their endings, and I’ve felt a little bit like I’m drowning (marinating?) in fluctuating stress hormones ever since.

At four in the morning
Tree at four in the morning (Photo: mine)

These passages are always anxiogenic.

I know this, and am frustrated with myself, because no matter how many such cycles just like this one my work puts me through, I don’t seem to get much better at warding off the waves that upset the balance in my life.

The moment I realized that I would only be able to manage all of the work (by manage, I mean do it well enough and with joy!) if I cut back on seeing my grandchildren and friends and suspended my writing, I began to feel a weight on my chest and a whispering sadness.

Time, lately, has been like a box that encloses me (or maybe this image comes to mind because, as the amount of online Christmas shopping I’ve been doing has increased, I’ve been piling up those brown shipping boxes).

It has also felt like a greased rope that’s slipping through my hands. It has felt like my oppressor.

This is both fact and figment.

I’m preoccupied with good reason. There aren’t really enough hours in the day. The balance is too precarious.

And yet, my students have been wonderful; my husband has been cleaning up a storm at home; my son Christian has been cooking up delights while his brothers have been the bringers of only good tidings and kindness; my grandchildren and friends have been understanding. And this teaching wave will crest on December 23rd.

Dusk in winter. Yesterday.- photo: mine

So: I’m not one iota less grateful for all of it, just woefully inadequate to the task of applying all of the wisdom gained from life experience, my yoga practice, and from being loved by good, good people.

 

I’m a slow learner indeed. Part of the problem—a very big part, I’ve come to realize—has been that making the adjustments to teach three new groups that all have very different needs, and balancing the seven others, has taken all of the time that I would otherwise devote to writing.

Writing—this thing that I’m doing right now—seems to have become necessary. I don’t know at what moment this became a fact, but there it is.

Early dawn under the maple-photo: mine
Early dawn under the maple-photo: mine

Writing is my daemon. Being separated from it causes me distress that only increases as the days pass. Being able to return to it this week, finally, has helped me to feel both relief and a kind of hopefulness.

Strange. The library blogs I was finally able to write this past week (in English and then in French) were about the recent, merciless unmasking of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante.

It was a new experience for me to write about an author whose work I haven’t even yet read, but something about the story of this woman being dragged against her will into the media spotlight last October 2nd really got to me.

The vast majority of the reaction pieces to Ferrante’s aggressive “outing” that I read were by women writers with whom I couldn’t help but feel a kinship. There’s the ominous scent of something regressive in the air these days and we are picking it up.

But I think that I connected to Ferrante’s fate for more personal reasons as well, because everything indicates that her ability to create and write are contingent upon her ability to walk the tightrope between fact and fiction that she believes is only possible for her in anonymity—that space that allows her to hide in plain sight.

She has been stripped of the conditions necessary to the practice of her art.

Winter sky at dusk. photo: mine
Winter sky at dusk.
photo: mine

It isn’t very Zen to state that there are elements upon which my happiness depends, but today, and every day previous, this has been so.

My existence as a living being is nurtured, like tree roots, by my connections to all of the people I love and care about—these are roots I want to continue to grow till they connect with the vastest possible network—and by those that I create through my work and my writing.

"Our winter sky at night, a sight to behold." -photo by Christian Daoust
“Our winter sky at night, a sight to behold.”
-photo by Christian Daoust

 

 

FALLING BEHIND

Here it is again, this sense of falling behind, this sense of compression. It’s increasing, and soon it’ll crest.

It’s directly connected to my work life, and also to the twists and tangles of my inner life.

I don’t have a 9 to 5 job. That isn’t the way my professional life in adult education developed. In fact, I can’t even say from one trimester to the next what my teaching schedule will be. Contracts begin, last a certain number of hours and months, and then they’re done. They can start any time (though summer is rarely the chosen season) and end at different intervals, which creates an ever-changing, staggered work schedule.

There are all kinds of advantages to a schedule like mine. I’m not boxed in at the same work station Monday to Friday.  I have no idea what my schedule will be in three or six months. There’s always a gap in my agenda where I can stick in spontaneous events like coffee with friends of family, or those killer dental or medical appointments; and mornings when I can do some writing or preparation before leaving. Gaps that allow me to break out of a routine.

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Because I go to my students’ workplace, I’m always moving around. I’m currently teaching eight groups in four different companies on the island of Montreal. Though it sounds contradictory even to me, while I’m not crazy about the driving—especially in bad weather, in the winter or in rotten parts of town (the Décarie circle comes to mind)—I really do enjoy my nomadism.

My teaching job is the antithesis of getting stuck in a rut. I’ve learned so much from the near constant state of acclimatisation that I’m in. This job of mine, which is also my mission, has taught me to be less fearful and more adventurous. It has helped me to grow up (!) and to meet new situations and people head-on with both confidence and modesty. It’s made me realize that I can teach and people can learn—and vice versa—in a small conference room, a cavernous hall or in a kitchen, with or without a whiteboard (no more blackboards) or workbooks. It has taught me to simply believe in my ability to do my job well and then go out and do it as mindfully and conscientiously as I can.

The walls closing in.

I trust others more than I ever have because I’ve learned through my teaching experiences that it’s possible to meet every one of my students on their own terms and grow to know them there, where they are all, eventually, happy to be discovered.

But I’m still struggling with the flow of my life these days. The first image that popped into my mind as I started writing this was of a sine wave. Don’t get distracted by the fact that it makes no mathematical sense. The truth is, it’s exactly how I feel, riding out the hours, days and weeks of my life.

Moving along in time is a perplexing experience. When my life slows down and gets quieter—as it can in late spring when many of my teaching contracts come to an end and I have bigger and bigger gaps in my schedule— I often first feel a lightness of being because suddenly, I’m free! I have time… for other things! It’s a gentle kind of elation. A temporary weightlessness.

 

During those periods, I can catch up in all of the other parts of my life where balance has been lost: I can make plans to see my beloved friends and family (especially my mother and grandchildren); I can do more exercise; and, o joy of joys, I can sit and spend more time writing.

But if this period lasts too long, and new teaching contracts are too slow to reappear, then I start to feel disorganized inside the time. I feel that I’m squandering it. Or else I throw myself into writing at the expense of the rest and then something inside of me starts to squirm.

Of course, this doesn’t last. More works comes in. More demands are made of my time. Someone needs me. Someone is sick. Someone is suffering. The balance shifts and suddenly, I’m busy again. The pace of my life quickens.

This uneven, unpredictable, up and down, fast and slow ride along my life’s timeline is anxiogenic and right now, I’m heading into the crest of that wave. I have eight groups of students at four different places to work with and plan for every week and soon I’ll be up to ten. My sine waves have started to look more like this:

Ten is too many. I have to cut all kinds of joy-making activity out of my schedule. I have to boil each day down to the bare bones of what has to get done. Meanwhile, it feels like time is accelerating past me.

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But it’s also temporary, and by December 23rd, I will have reached the end of my mandate with five of these groups, and then there’ll be another lull until things pick up again and I’m sent to new places to meet new men and women from all parts of the world, or else happily reconnect with former students.

Part of me wants to argue that my sense of balance and wellbeing in this life depends on getting the pacing right. But as I look at these words on the screen, I know it isn’t true.

My happiness, the joy I feel simply being alive, starts here inside my head and depends on an act of relinquishing.

Through the ups and downs, the lulls and the frenzy, I have to remind myself that no one has set a bar before me. That there’s happiness to be had and meaning to be found in tumult as in quietude. That falling behind and getting ahead are magic tricks and figments of my over-active lust for life. That I should stop fussing and just keep moving.

Photo by Vincent Bourilhon