A few weeks ago, I walked into Kinko’s with two fat envelopes and a sense of purpose. “I’d like to have my thesis bound, please,” I said as I slid the envelopes over the counter. They were the reason I’d stayed up all night for several weeks revising, going to bed when I heard the first bird calls. They were the reason I could barely stand any noise, even the sound of feet on the stairs or cell phones beeping in coffeeshops. And of course, they were the reason why I haven’t cluttered up the blogosphere for several weeks.
I imagined vast acres of time opening up like wide swathes of silk when I handed off my MA thesis to the department secretary. Complete with acknowledgments, table of contents, five sections, references, it’s about seventy pages, and contains forty-eight poems. It’s the culmination of two years of workshopping and mentoring in the program, though many of the poems were nascent years before, when I was a nineteen-year-old wondering about why I might be afraid of mushrooms, or why visiting an Asian garden didn’t necessarily make me feel more Asian.
Surprisingly, though, the free time I’d thought I’d have has filled up, like a tidal pool that only seems empty when the current’s out. What have I been doing all day? It’s been as mysterious to me as well. It occurred to me this might be of interest to others– what a writer’s week looks like. So, to make up for my long web absence, I’ll try to post once a day for a week with the thrilling highlights of my day-to-day. The quotidian, the texture of people’s lives, is something I’ve always found fascinating. I can promise adventures in invigilating, a wedding, twins reuniting, a defense, a dry run-through… and maybe this will prompt others to share what their “One Week” looks like. What may be a dull to-do list to you make be a novel to someone else.
It doesn’t feel like a Monday, because I’ve been marking all weekend. Mystery solved as to what has filled my days! The prof I TA for generously let me bask in the glow of my thesis hand-in for a few days before bestowing me a giant stack of undergraduate final papers, that even the undergraduates themselves would rather return to the paper pulp. We all know that most of them probably throw them in the recycling bin as soon as they receive them back, I wish that we could stop the pretense and speed up the process. However, I’ve already written about the joys of grading in another post, so all I’ll say is that I can never keep track of how many hours it takes me to grade because I read half a page, check Twitter, read another page, remember a job I need to apply for, read two sentences, throw down my pen in disgust, glare at the customer who’s talking with the cafe owner at the top of her voice, read another half a page, count how many essays I have, turn to the last page of the essay and nod tellingly at errors on the Works Cited list even though there’s no one to see me, wonder what time the library closes, wonder what I’m making for dinner, wonder which teams are playing tonight on the NHL playoffs, finish reading the essay, circle a diction error, check my Blackberry to see which teams are playing tonight, make my own private predictions, fill out the rubric, start reading the next essay, count the number of essays I have left to mark. Despite this long-drawn out process, it was a relief to have a task like this to occupy me after my thesis. If there’s anything that terrifies me, it’s having too much time on my hands.
I ensure that doesn’t happen by taking on as much as I can without my friends and family protesting. Monday morning still has me finalizing the marking, because I visited my friend Alana in Hamilton for the monthly art crawl on Friday, then went out to a friend’s birthday dinner at Pachuco on Saturday, and watched the Canucks almost give their fans heartburn for the next several months. Despite the very little sleep and revelry I manage to finish my marking by camping out at the Gladstone library and rotating between a few neighborhood cafes’ hard wooden seats. After dropping off the stack to my prof, I hike back to the Annex to meet with a former Echolocation staff to discuss her choices for our poetry contest and winner. I expense her mint ice cream and we settle into a discussion of what grosses us both out in a particular poem, and strange uses of parentheses.
Then it’s up to Hospice Toronto’s new offices at Yonge and Eglinton for a Fund Development and Communications Committee meeting. This commitee has really taken off in the past year with the addition of a few new volunteers with more communications background; we’ve worked on relaunching the newsletter, the social media report I researched last year has finally made its rounds and is ready for feedback, we discuss the next steps and implementation of critical paths, and the Executive Director sits in to tell us about how her radio show on Zoomer is coming along and how the committee can support it. It’s a productive, respectful meeting and one that makes me feel, yet again, appreciated for being included, for being able to contribute.
It’s past nine when I get home, but I realize there’s still work to be done– Echolocation’s poetry editor needs to be sent the finalists’ poems before our meeting tomorrow, and my prof sends me four more late essays. But there’s Hefeweizen in the fridge, a new episode of The Good Wife, and multitasking, well, I live for multitasking.
I get the four essays marked and even give an A! I feel less like a mean TA who’s always circling misplaced apostrophes. As my reward for finishing, I go grocery shopping! I ate my last piece of fruit for breakfast and there’s nothing in the fridge except hot sauce. I leap out of the house without any spare plastic bags. Yes, that is how excited I am. I’ve been eating out all weekend and I feel like toxins are coming out of my pores, a combination of preservatives and salt and colouring. I’m excited to poach an egg, toast a bagel, make coffee, even though I barely have time to chew before having to rush to school again to meet with Paul. He’s swamped with papers, and yet still has made the time to read through all the submissions. He likes a completely different set of poems than the other three judges. I am flummoxed, knowing that they don’t know each other and therefore can’t be doing this on purpose just to see me confused. It’s a productive kind of flummoxing, I tell myself; it’s still a fruitful meeting and results in the promise of at least 2-3 emails to be sent, which is the success metrics of any productive meeting.
I’m off again! This time it’s to Fort York, for my first Encampment workshop. I’ve been excited about this collaboration with Thomas and Guinevere, two performance artists who are creating a large scale installation about the residents of the early Toronto in 1812. I decide to walk there, a kind of psychogeographic tour to put myself in the right space for this project. I’ve been so busy that I’d forgotten about my excitement. There’s about 40 people at the workshop, and as we go around making our introductions, I feel more and more pleased to be there and to work alongside this group of artists, architects, historians, web designers, welders, etc. I inadvertently sit down next to a woman who has chosen the aunt of my character. I take the TTC back with a textile artist who has spent time defusing bombs in Bosnia, and am so interested by her stories I forget to get off the streetcar to go the Toronto Review of Books issue launch. It would’ve been a bad idea to keep pressing my streetcar luck, as one had already dumped us out after a few blocks. Who knew what might happen should I voluntarily leave it before the station.
At home, I have the dinner I’ve been carrying around all day yet didn’t time to eat, and continue job hunting. This is another flummox because like most writers, I’ve spent all my adult life honing (or guessing at) my craft, and now as it’s time to find a job that can support my writing “habit”, I feel like I have a few months of equivalent experience in everything from volunteer management (aka bribing friends), social media (procrastinating on Twitter), copy-editing (underlining my students’ papers), logistical coordination (deciding which department is most likely to answer their radio/phone/email first), event planning (not freaking out when venues are double-booked) and fundraising (making up expenses to put on grant proposal budgets). I decide to apply for my PhD as a means of avoidance, than realize that getting an academic job is even less probable. I decide, for varying lengths of time, to apply for a Masters in Professional Communications, to apply for a Masters in Environmental Science and Resource Management, to apply to work for a variety of marketing intern jobs, to apply to work as a forest ranger, to be a welder, to be a resident hermit in someone’s backyard hut, preferably in Peru.
At that point I remember that I haven’t updated my blog for awhile, and delay the inevitable for another day.