, , ,

Note: To see what the 5 Minute Month is all about, click here to read the first post in the series.

I logged in to my account yesterday to get started on a post, then was called away by work, and had to log out / pack up the laptop to teach a class. When I sat down at the computer after supper last night, it was to work (grading, grading, grading).

As I glance over the calendar of postings this month, I realize that the 5 Minute Month experiment is teaching me something very valuable — I put my own interests, my own pursuits, dead last on my agenda. During a conversation earlier in the week, a job recruiter asked me how much time I tend to put in simply “blogging or writing” during a normal week, and I realized I did not have a good answer. Off-line work (grading papers, planning class lectures and exercises, meeting with students, working on other work-related projects) occupy an incredibly high amount of my time.

Growing up, my father spoke a lot about his own childhood working on a family farm, where everyone was expected to contribute to the welfare of the family in some fashion, be it through feeding livestock, helping with the harvest, preparing dinner while their parents were in the field or the barn, and so on. My father is one of the hardest working men I know — he just turned 60, looks and moves more like 50, and complains about a “lack of energy” but is on his feet and moving all day. What always bothered him — and what he successfully passed on to me, although I do believe he did not intend to — was the impression he received that anyone who sat down to pursue something that did not directly relate to feeding, clothing, and sheltering the family, was involved in something “worthless.” If the task at hand did not produce something, fix something, clean something, or have the potential to create a small profit, then there was no purpose to it. It’s something I know he still grapples with; for example, he loves cars and working on cars, but only buys a project car if it’s something he believes he can flip for a fast buck. The fact that he enjoys the process, or might build a relationship with the vehicle during the project, is devalued precisely because it does not create “value.”

Now, I’ve always been far better at relaxing and turning the volume down on that channel than my father has — I grew up in an era of video games, after all, and I’ve always been a book worm. I recognize the value in putting on some Coltrane, fixing a cup of tea, and sitting down with a good book or magazine to feed my mind. But I can never completely turn off that voice in my head that says “STOP! What are you doing? Sure, you finished grading a set of papers, but there’s another set partially complete and a fresh round coming in tomorrow — if you put your head down and stay up until 1, you’ll have all of those papers graded and can start on the next 40 tomorrow night. Put that book down / log out of WordPress, and get back to work — you’ll have time to do things like that when / if you retire.”

All of this is to say that the 5 Minute Month has demonstrated to me just how effective that voice has been at pushing me away from this blog / other creative and fulfilling projects, pushing my nose back to the grindstone and away from the things that replenish the creative wellspring. I’ve never been very good at scheduling “me” time — saying that 6:00-7:00 AM, for example, will be reading and writing time — because inevitably, when work starts backing up during busy periods, I toss that time out the window and tackle work instead. I think it’s time I started creating a little better balance between what sustains my mind and what pays the bills.