From September through June, my life is ruled by bells and deadlines, classes and clubs, meetings and committees. And there are never enough hours in a day to complete all the prep and grading. But for the past two months, my time has been my own. I’ve finally given up teaching summer school and have been able to devote my summers to writing, painting, crocheting, golfing, visiting friends and family, and, most importantly, recuperating and regrouping from the hectic school year. In the summer, I rarely set an alarm. I might make a mental list of what I hope to get done, but if a better offer comes along, the laundry can wait till tomorrow morning. I don’t have to go out early.
But now, it’s September again. The bells are ringing for me and my gals. There are already stacks of summer reading outlines to look over. My school email inbox is overflowing with student assignments. It takes so little time to lose the carefree days of summer. How quickly one can be snowed under even as the temperature set new record highs for the month. By the time classes end and the last student leaves and the desk is cleared of the day’s detritus, the golf course may still beckon, but the shorter days and my waning energy make an evening nine nothing more than a happy memory of freer days.
Where does this leave my creativity? Quite honestly, sometimes I am just sapped, but I need to remember that switching gears is rejuvenating. I need to schedule my creative time and, this is the hard part, stick to it. Even as the school year rolls on and the paper load becomes unbearable, I need to stick to my guns and keep my “me” time, my time to write, to paint, to create.
What will help this become a reality is to set a schedule that includes my work needs as well as my creative time. Recent calculations indicate that if I were to read and grade one essay from each of my students and spend just eight minutes on each essay, I need 18 hours and 40 minutes. Of course not every essay takes eight minutes; some take much longer. (Here’s another plea to bring back handwriting to the elementary curriculum.) On the other hand, not every homework assignment is an essay. Nonetheless, let’s say I need an average of twenty hours of grading time per week. That’s just under three hours a day if I grade every day of the week, including the weekend. Add in some time every week for planning, and I am beginning to get depressed about my writing time because it is the hardest time for me to keep sacrosanct. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and because so much of teaching load involves correcting others’ writing, sometimes it is hard to switch gears from the editor to the writer. My painting time is scheduled by the class I attend, but it is easy to say, “I need to (insert something else here) now; I’ll get to it later” during the writing time when something else comes up. For me, that something else is usually a set of papers to grade or a student who needs to stay after school to take a make up test, but it could also be a friend who needs an ear, myself who needs a nap, or a second/third freelance job I’ve taken on. I am always impressed by the stories of writers who get up at three or four in the morning regularly to write for a couple of hours before the kids wake up and the daily hustle begins. I don’t know how I would get through the rest of my day if I did that. So for now, I am focusing on a minimum of one afternoon a week that is sacred. No tests, no essays, no naps. It will hopefully not be the only time I write, but it will be a time that I only write.
Now, I’d better see to those essays.