Monday, June 19, 2006

Time and the Vltava

It has recently hit me that I am the most productive when I have no external structure (or almost none) to deal with. In other words, when I am unemployed and not taking any kind of classes. Only then do I feel able to settle down and work steadily, without worrying about how to organize my time around a lot of different responsibilities.
It is not that I can’t accomplish anything in situations when an external structure is imposed upon me. Were that the case, I would be a bad student and pretty much unemployable. I am pretty wily and can get a lot done despite having to deal with other people's requirements.
However, that is not my best mode. My mind wanders, there is only so long I can manage to get up at the same time before I sleep through an alarm, I mislay things, half the time I am obsessively early and half the time I am late or almost late because I was doing something else, I forget about appointments and things I have planned to do, and I am always thinking about how to squeeze in time for whatever I want to get done. (This said, I manage well enough that employers generally like me, I get satisfactory grades, and I have written a lot of fiction during slow periods and lunch hours. I am also able to knit a lot on public transit and in situations that involve sitting with unoccupied hands.)
When my time is my own, life is good. I wake up without an alarm clock, and unless I get sucked into spending too much time checking my email, I am soon at work. If any kind of writing is involved, even if interspersed with research, I am set for the next few hours, especially if I am in a place where I can have coffee. Eventually, it dawns on me that I am tired and hungry. Lunch (or possibly dinner) must be found.
Ideally, food is followed by a complete change of scene. This is a good time to run errands or (situation permitting) do something like sit in the sun reading a book. On the other hand, moving laptop and self to a different location also works. This process can then be repeated, although usually it is saner not to attempt more than 8-10 hours a day on a given project. Spending some time on other projects, like quilting, scanning images, or digitizing music, can be desirable. Gardening or things that involve taking a walk are always good. Rabbits, being crepuscular by nature, prefer to get most of their attention in the morning and after 4 o’clock, but are adaptable and seldom refuse a little afternoon petting, especially if they can remain in nap mode.
Writing in the evening is possible, but not always the best plan. If I get too involved, it is hard to stop. At midnight or two it generally occurs to me that I am sluggish and ought to go to sleep, but if everything has been going well, my brain is too active to sleep. This tends to result in mild insomnia followed by waking up abnormally early with my mind on my project but my body feeling utterly dysfunctional. Much better to spend the evening doing something else, like lying on the floor petting rabbits. (Well, when rabbits are available.)
Unfortunately, I have not had all that many chances to lead the self-structured life. Back when I could save up money to quit work, I discovered that it really was possible to write for more than three hours a day without becoming utterly drained, so I often wrote for 8-10 hours (in two or three chunks of time). Having summers off during graduate school has also worked, except that (when I wasn’t in the archive or in Czech class) it has usually benefited non-dissertation projects. This year, nine months of grant support have meant the dissertation has been the main beneficiary, appropriately enough. I suspect the dissertation will get less attention over the summer (taxes can only be put off so long, jury duty awaits, friends and relatives need to be visited), but in September the research-and-write process will kick in again. I like to imagine that I will do a lot of reading over the summer—going into more depth on the French surrealists, for one thing—but this seems unlikely. One can only do so much.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Kristen said...

Oh how I envy thee! I am the exact opposite... I need deadlines and someone breathing down my neck to get things done.

June 21, 2006 1:17 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Well, everyone's different.

June 21, 2006 11:35 AM  

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