I struggled a little with what to write this week. There have been a lot of great posts already, giving advice and tips and reassurance during this strange time the whole world finds itself in. Spending time connecting with others is a strong theme that emerges - we are obviously in need.
For some reason, I got to thinking about the first years after I graduated from college when I was a middle and high school band director. Yeah, that was a thing that happened. I was quite the workaholic in those days, which is an ever-present danger no matter what career I've dived into. The final weeks of each school year, as any teacher knows, were a stress-filled blur of tension between our need to put an impressive stamp on all of the students' hard work, and their increasingly waning interest in anything we had to say or offer. In my case, the push actually started in January with intense preparation for various competitions. It progressed to at least two overnight trips (always, always with a theme park involved), solo & ensemble preparation, spring concerts, awards (sometimes with resultant cranky parents), final grades, and preparing for summer. I was on what was called a 10+2 - essentially a 12-month contract - so yes, I had to teach summer band too.
Not that this was a bad thing. I was quite lucky to have a 10+2 - it was one example of the tremendous support that the school system had for the arts. But what it meant was I had exactly two weeks between the year of 12-hour work days before I had to show up with a smile and teach brand-new kiddos how to produce their first squeaky sounds and empty their spit valves. Whip out the show tunes and pop songs for the older ones. Start looking at marching drills, and stand in the Tennessee heat shouting counts through a megaphone with the high schoolers.
I had two weeks to recover before I was to begin this cycle again. The first week, as soon as I locked the bandroom door, I would shut down and blissfully engage in what I would describe as unproductivity. I slept until I woke up. I ate leftover Chinese food, or maybe pizza, for breakfast. I read when I wanted to, napped when I wanted to (sometimes 3x's a day), went to Blockbuster and rented 3 movies, two of which I usually didn't even watch. I did not work out, or make a list, or shop, or clean anything, or call anyone, or learn anything. Sometimes I went to antique stores or to the library and just wandered around. Mostly, I did nothing.
Once, I went with another teacher friend to Florida the minute school let out and we did this unproductivity thing in tandem, near the beach. I recall eating a lot of turkey sandwiches (because we had little motivation to fix anything else), and trying out meditation (a transformative experience). I read A Prayer for Owen Meany for the first time. We placed zero expectations on each other, barely even engaged in conversation, because we both "got it." That is a rare friend. We lost touch, and I often wonder how she's doing, if she ever gets the opportunity to do similar things.
For my Eisenhower Matrix-knowledgable friends, I guess this was all Quadrant IV stuff (or was it?). All of this unproductivity was way before husband, children, dogs, business, mortgage, IRAs and 529s, etc. so it's been a hot second since I've thought about it. Perhaps I am only just now appreciating the luxury of it. The first year my Unproductive Week happened, it was unintentional. Thereafter, I made it a ritual, because oh my gosh the after-effects. Once the week was over, and I slowly started to morph back into "Ms. Smith," wow, did I have ideas. I was able to think with this amazing clarity and feel enormous hope and motivation. I was excited to see the kids and hear those squeaks as joyful noise and come up with creative lesson plans. New ways of teaching a rhythm or technique would materialize for me, seemingly out of nowhere.
So when I see all of the posts and articles now inviting everyone to clear out closets and exercise and register for webinars and pet their dogs and update their websites and play board games and paint the kitchen cabinets, I have to pause. All of those cheerful posts inquiring, "What will you DO with your gift of time??" - I wonder about them. I guess it's all cool if you have this open time, and it feels good for you to get more stuff done. And if you have young children, I understand it's difficult to just let everything go (although why not let them eat pizza for breakfast?). Like many, we had to cancel our spring break trip plans, and I found myself reflexively and unconsciously trying to decide how best to utilize my newly-cleared week. It's my automated response to stress, but I somehow I had the presence of mind to stop, and ask: What does it say about us that even in times of collective, forced, unstructured time we feel like we have to start making all the lists?
Other than this post, I'm doing nothing of any consequence today. And when this mess is over (and it will be, at some point), wow…will I have some ideas.
I hope that you all are staying well and safe. Stay tuned.
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, dog-lover, author. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?