De-cluttering Time

June is summer break at University. Faculty members usually make the most of this time to develop their skills through workshops and conferences, while others take some time out to finally write their research work or take care of other things they’ve been putting off for the past months.  Other teachers take some much-needed R&R after handling a lot of paperwork for the semester.

My routine has lightened up compared to the past month. May went by so quickly, that even my planner / organizer had only one or two entries in it for each week;  my schedules were haphazardly listed into my cellphone. To review the month, I had to combine my photos, text messages, and google events to piece things together– I really could not remember what happened on some days.

I realize that every June is usually a month of recuperation and re-learning for me. After two months of cramming and chasing after deadlines, the weeks after inputting grades can either the be most restful or the most disorienting. In my case, it felt like withdrawal symptoms from the hectic semester– I was looking for something to do and to be stressed about it.

In addition, I DID have something to be busy about because I agreed to teach a summer class. However, I think it’s the last time that I’d be willing to teach for the summer term simply because my momentum is off… and so are the students’.

Since last year, I’ve been having mid-year classes. Last year was more of a last-minute request, but this year was scheduled long before the break began. It’s a little disorienting, especially in the weeks after the second semester ended in May. Students were on break and very few faculty members would come in. The school grounds were very quiet, and I often found myself cleaning my desk or walking around school rather than writing or staying at my desk to read.

The week after grades were due, we had our “spring cleaning” day. Our institution makes sure that we recycle papers, and that papers which are dated from five years ago or older than that should be discarded. I began to discard memos and letters from 2013. Since I work with the Humanities, it’s obvious that I need to be a bit more careful with how I apply that rule, or I end up throwing out everything. Needless to say, the past weeks have been dedicated to cleaning up my work and freeing some head space.

Since I’ve been trying to adopt the minimalist lifestyle, especially with the KonMari techniques, I decided to try to apply the same approach to my work space and my digital files. In the process of just sifting through my emails, I also found how much information I think I can fit into my head… subscribing to at least three different mailing groups about literature and teaching, only to find that I have no time to actually read them all every week though I thought that this was one way to improve myself.

In the process of cleaning up, I realized that my largest clutter is my digital clutter. I dedicated a whole morning just to organize and clean out my Google Drive and Dropbox account. I found redundant files, broken links, and a number of word files filled with potential research ideas or plot bunnies that remain unfinished. I completely forgot about them until I opened them again. When I was halfway through that, I decided to go through my email and unsubscribe to mailing lists which don’t benefit me anymore.

While my physical desk is so much cleaner now without all the papers, my online folders have a long way to go with organizing. I have yet to figure out a system for all these files, especially for books and digital readings that which have their occasional usefulness for classes. While I want to live a minimalist lifestyle, I realize that being in the academe seems like a paradox to that ideal way of life.

How do you organize your online files and clutter? I’m all ears.

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A Balanced Day

The second semester is done, and I’m relieved that the five months are finally over. A lot of this semester’s challenges were more on classroom management and my own time management. There was a lot to learn about time management this time around.

In the past year, I promised myself that I would make time for the things that matter and not to make work the most important aspect of my life. However, in the midst of all the deadlines, demanding students, and following-up bosses, this easily becomes a forgotten goal. Before I knew it, my weekends were also filled with things to do for work. I also began to do something which I promised I would stop making a habit of, which is  checking and responding to email while out with friends or family.

I listened to a podcast which also gave me a clarity about the work-life balance that I want, and why other co-workers seem to be able to live both at the same time. While some people can live both work and personal life as one, unified entity in their life, there are others who need to compartmentalize these aspects and create a clear separation between the two. I realized that I was the latter… which is why I get so stressed out when students message me at odd hours in the evening, or on non-working holidays.

One of the productivity ideas I thought I’d put into practice at the start of the semester was to use Sunday as preparation day for the coming week. While that worked and usually gave me a better sense of control for Monday, I also realized that the momentum of work in my workplace was very different– they usually began assigning and following-up on tasks for Monday and this would often change my plans. More often than not also, there would be a lot of disruptions through chats and emails on Monday. At some point, I would begin finding another work area so that I could focus on my writing and reading tasks.

So far, the method that’s worked for me is to dedicate the morning to writing and reading about the week. I make sure to do this away from my work desk– the library, a coffee shop or another room where I can work uninterrupted.

By lunch time, I actually drop by at my desk and begin to receive updates, which gets me out of my “too much thinking” mode from the morning. After consistently applying this, I realize that there is NOTHING related to writing and reading that I get done during those times I am actually at my work desk. Not only because of the disruptions, but because my cubicle is situated in such a way that I easily get distracted by people passing by.

It’s a welcome thought that people enjoy talking to me and keeping me updated about things I’d otherwise not be aware about. However, for the remaining months of the semester I think it’s about time that I create some boundaries and make these working conditions work to my advantage.

This is still better than working from home. I’m not sure how people get anything done when they work from home. All I want to do is watch TV and sleep when I tried working from home.

Reading Out Loud

When asked if I was willing to take on a teaching assignment, I thought that it was the best offer I had been given in a while. I said YES immediately, looking forward to this class, because it was a topic close to my heart (Literature) and with a group of students that I had taught before. They were insightful, curious, but most of all, not readily resistant to new ideas. It was a perfect semester ahead of me– full of ideas and curious questions and great reads.

It was not until the later meetings that a colleague suggested that I should change my approach. Though I was surprised at first by the suggestion, it greatly changed the quality of insights that students would share with the class.

Her advice was to read with the class, and to read passages out loud.

By this, it also meant that it had to be ME who read these passages, rather than what I’d gotten used to, which is to ask students to read the passage.

One thing that I realized was that students will definitely read the text and that it usually wakes them up… but that I can always expect some awkwardness and hesitance with some words. This time around, I had to take on that awkward situation and read the material in the way that I thought it should be read.

At first, while I was hesitant, I eventually grew to appreciate this approach to literature. The quality of insights changed, and became more introspective. I’d like to think that it was not only because other insights would be shared, but perhaps because putting sound and feeling into the words on paper also changed its meaning. It could have also been because there was time to think since there was less nervousness about being asked to read out loud (or maybe that’s just the introvert in me making this excuse).

Teaching Literature this past semester has taught me that there is so much more to teaching in this discipline than I expected. Initially, a good storyline and well-developed characters would be the sure way that I would keep reading a book. In recent years, I realized that another element to literature is terseness, or the exactness of words to convey an idea or experience. That’s where I find the excellent writers set apart– in the amount of editing to find the exact words for extremely complex human thoughts and experiences (or perhaps even for extremely simple ones).

Great literature has a way of creating connections between otherwise unrelated concepts, emphasizing one word or phrase so that the subtext becomes even louder. All together, these communicate a distinctly human trait– that human beings can  and will want more than what the animal self can be complacent with.

Since the second semester, I had also been telling students to read their paper out loud when they’re in the process of editing it. I find myself needing to follow the same advice, even if at times my arrogance can sometimes get ahead of me and say that I have learned to write much better (of course not, no one is exempt from proof-reading).

Reading out loud is such a simple advice to follow, but how it’s changed the way I see and think about things!

 

How to write off friends

In college, I got writing papers down to a science.

Even if I didn’t feel like writing, I could somehow manage a five-page research paper that could get me a higher-than-average score. I also managed to make some extra income by writing blog posts about paid ads… which lasted just enough for me to buy my long-coveted PSP.

On the other hand, all that writing also required focus– the kind that meant turning down parties or time with friends outside of class.

It didn’t feel so bad then to choose work over friends. I knew that they would understand. In any case, if they didn’t understand, I felt no greater need to keep them as friends– they were always free to go, always free to return. I couldn’t absorb the idea of friendship meaning giving up my own priorities, or me demanding that they give up theirs.

It wasn’t until I graduated and began working that I had to re-think how I kept my friendships intact. Much of it began as an indebtedness, while others were necessary for work to remain smooth. At this point, it was unquestionable to me that there were times when I needed to give up work in order to maintain some friendships.

You know how some things become so commonplace, that you don’t give it much thought anymore?

That’s what happened to me in the next couple of years. My work became my life, and my friendships, or what I understood to be friendships, defined me. Unimaginable to me today, but at the time I couldn’t see a future where I was without specific friends in my life. I slowly became a workaholic– but the kind that used it to maintain friendships. Not being able to perform well on a task or turning down a favor meant severing a good friendship.

It wasn’t until last year that I had regained my sense of self, by acknowledging that I had reached my limit. It’s an unnerving feeling to look at yourself in the mirror and not recognize the person. But even more unnerving was how I would say it didn’t matter, because there was so much more work that needed to be done and needed doing.

My family knew how much work meant to me. They left me alone when they saw me at my desk on weekends, and were enthusiastic enough to watch Youtube videos I indulged in when I actually took breaks.

Recently, my sister told me how work defined me. She figured I was that kind of person who thought about work more than anyone else did.

So what changed?

For one, I realized that it wasn’t like I worked at a competitive, multi-national corporation. I was in the academe, and the pay was going to be pretty much the same as everyone at my ranking. So what was making me work weekends, if I’ve pretty much delivered what was expected of me and of everyone else?

I started losing friends. Well, maybe not losing more than it was that they realized I had changed, and perhaps that I actually got angry for once. I learned to walk away from the demands and the blackmail, and realized that they needed me more than I needed them. I learned that friends whom you practically gave most your life over wouldn’t think twice about dropping you when you start setting boundaries for yourself.

I needed to learn to pick my friends better. And, more often than not, they were friends for a cause and an end. While I couldn’t absorb that kind of shallow friendship in the past, my older self has learned to be grateful that friendship can and should be compartmentalized. I don’t mean this in order to enable you to use people (although I’ve also read up about people who are very good at doing this), but so that you can keep yourself healthy and intact in relationships. Friends should not demand access to your inner world, or that you trust them– that sort of thing happens over time, and with communication.

While I’m sure that I’ve had my own lack in being a good friend, I know that life is passing quickly with my poor choices. Ever since I’ve been having some “spring cleaning” in my relationships, I’ve learned to appreciate my individuality better. And, though I never thought it could happen before, I actually found friends who have the same eccentricities that I do.

Writing off friendships doesn’t have to be the worst thing in the world. Sometimes, it frees you and clears your blindness to experience better friendships.

Human

Human beings are light and darkness

they are mundane and sublime

they can do good or evil

they can be skeptical or devout

trusting and betraying

every-day and exceptional…

 

how can such a complex being contain so much in one package?

how can it all be purely accidental that they are the way they are?

The Future

We had class yesterday. North America in the 19th century. Transcendentalism, frontier and the pioneer spirit.

I live in Manila. I am a college instructor. Lately, shifts in our educational system have made teaching more demanding, shifting more pressure for professors to document the learning curve….

Exams have to be measurable, do-able, reasonable. Work progress, predictable. No homework on weekends. Be mindful of students with special needs. Meanwhile, I also need to keep researching and studying as well.

In college, I was taught to think outside of the box. That, if I wanted to soar or at least make sense of this existence, I needed to expect problems before they happened. Teachers could flunk me on the basis of being asleep in class… never mind if I had to stay up late to complete assignments. Asking why my grade was low was such a difficult thing to do because I needed to figure this out on my own.

As a teacher now, I need to remember that I simply facilitate the discussion. There are no wrong answers… or maybe there are… just don’t make them feel horrible about it. Classroom discipline is needed, and this is my weak point. I forget that most of the time, students are not as interested to learn as they are to get the highest grade with the least effort.

I was trained to assume that nothing worthwhile ever comes easily. This meant, taking the brunt from the boss to staying quiet because it would be rude to speak up. You get to speak when you have established yourself somehow, or at least have a good backer.

Everyone has an opinion now, and curtailing that chance to speak– in any way — is offensive and a disregard of an individual’s rights.

They are very particular about rights; I hear nothing about taking responsibility.

I became a teacher, dreaming of a Manila that would be more intellectual. A place where conversation could take place without anyone getting hurt or dying. Where emotions could be safely kept in order so that the other can be heard better. I believed that teaching would be the best way to reach young minds, and was eager to share what I knew about the world so far.

I dreamt of Emerson, the pioneers, the spirit that pushed a civilization forward while they pushed others aside. They achieved their goal of changing the world, including mine. They became part of my ruined country’s history, they are still the gods to us, and that land is still where many Filipinos hope to find better futures.

After class yesterday, a student expressed her disappointment with her drink. She asked if I felt the same sometimes when the drink I bought did not meet my expectations or feel worth its cost.

I thought that it was such a petty problem. And I found myself hoping that they could weather greater problems than a sub-par beverage someday.

 

 

2018 Resolutions (again)

2017 was a rollercoaster kind of year.

There were so many disruptions, unexpected changes, political events… to an extent, it almost appeared absurd that many of these things were even happening. I’m not going to dwell on these things in this post, however.

While there were many instances for me to just give up and accept defeat, there were also insights and opportunities that gave me the privilege to enjoy life and what else it had to offer. Perhaps because of the resolutions I made for 2017, I had subconsciously decided to focus on my own challenges and duties than on what is going on in the internet world or what the media would report. There was just so much that needed to be done, that it became clear that there really was nothing that I could do— as much as I hoped that I could— for these events outside and far away from me.

All I had was my community, my immediate circles, and myself to deal with.

In hindsight, that’s actually a lot of influence right there. I don’t mean social media influence either, but actual interaction. The need to be in the moment and to absorb what can and cannot be done with my limited time.

Because of the challenges that 2017 presented to me, I realise that 2018 should be about focusing on what needs to be done… to rebuild boundaries and to challenge myself to say no and accept that I will be criticized for my new behaviour.

I think I got a taste of what this challenge would mean, just this past week. It takes a while for people to get used to a “new you”, when they’ve been used to a version of you that they didn’t really need to get to know or to take care of… someone who was fun to be with and agreed to everything that needed to be done. Most especially, someone who used to change themselves readily to fit into any given situation.

Now that I’m learning to say “no”, or to offer some resistance to things I actually don’t want to do, it’s been more obvious that people are surprised by this behaviour.

While it’s made more relationships a little rocky, compared to before, I’ve seen that it also brought out the people who are truly friends. By this, I mean the people who respect me as I am, rather than how I make them feel all the time. People who share common interests but also common values with me.

I’ve also realised how many friendships I had made and kept out of necessity. It’s eye-opening for me that I’d give so much of my time and effort for this level of friendship, too.  I’m not saying that gave more, either (I never thought it should be a competition of affection) but that I sincerely did believe that I valued them as individuals. For that reason, though, a lot of times I did give up my own individuality.

I think 2017 had to teach me about expectations. Both mine and others’ expectations of me. There is no doubt that everyone has expectations, but it’s not very often that people know what they actually want… they’re more likely to criticize or comment on things that did not meet their expectation.

This 2018, I begin my resolutions again… keep at trying to be a better version of me even if I don’t appease everyone all the time. At the same time, know when I need help and have to ask for it.