The last – how many weeks? Three? – have been a blur of activity in Cheapskate-Intellectual-land. Two East Coast conference presentations in two successive weeks (Chapel Hill and Yale), revisions for a forthcoming essay, writing a book review for Keats-Shelley Journal, getting caught up in important curriculum-planning for next year, end of semester advising, Skype chatting with the editors of Ploughshares and Tin House in my Advanced Creative Writing class, writing and securing participants for a proposal for AWP 2012, writing my intent-to-appply-for-sabbatical letter, preparing the online course evaluation forms for the end of the semester, working on another important departmental task on which I am way behind, and doing grading on which I am way behind. Not to mention the daily work of teaching, advising, and answering email.
All this is going on as we ramp up to gardening season again, and the year in which I am determined to learn to can and to begin using an outdoor clothesline, as well as a rain barrel (which I have – it only needs to be hooked up to the downspout!) Due to CFL lightbulb replacements, lowered heat, cold-water clothes washing, and using folding clothes dryers in the basement, among other things, my power bill for this past month was $30. So this is one step in a path I am trying to keep walking although I do not feel I have the time, and although I would love to be able to feel like I’m giving garden preparation in particular the time it deserves. In snatched moments here and there over the past couple months I’ve started seeds and now have some good-looking seedlings ready to plant in a couple more weeks (I devoutly hope.) Took some time over Easter “break” weekend to rip out old foundation shrubbery and make a bed for new blueberry plants instead. Just hope I’ve got enough peat in to acidify the soil…..
Because as pressed as I am for time, and as breathless as these days have felt, I fear starting the growing season unprepared, with nothing to plant and everything to buy. I’d hate to let time go by in which seeds could be starting and blueberry bushes could be sending down roots. For the same reason I took time I technically didn’t have to go to these conferences and write these pieces for other journals, I planted and watered and got things started on the odd 15-minute or half-hour or hour-long break from work. The future is a strange source of consolation if you can tell yourself you are doing all you can to prepare for it. Make efforts in several different directions, daily, to invest in it. Or try, at least. “One year from now,” says one of my favorite pieces of advice, “what will you wish you’d done now?” Shorten or lengthen this hypothetical time as needed. What will you wish you’d done now?
So in another snatched moment today I put up the clothesline I ordered on Robin Mather‘s recommendation — 40 feet of line for 35.5 feet of backyard. Some sagging in the middle was remedied by borrowing the movable shepherd’s hook from the flowerbed and planting it temporarily in the lawn. Even though the sun was settling down, I couldn’t resist hanging out the load that had just come out of the washer.
As I sat on my back steps and surveyed the lines of drying clothes – already starting to take on that sweet grassy tang – I realized that under the cover of busyness and stress, bad money habits have been coming back: grabbing prepared food at the co-op instead of making it, seizing on something to order (yet another curl-management product from the Body Shop, yet another used book) as a way to assauge the vague sense of resentment that comes with Working So Hard With No Reward (at least in your own mind.) I’m feeling really pinched for money right now although I am also really, really close to having the whole consumer-debt load paid off. Gone. I prefer to think of this current burst of money anxiety I’m suffering now as the last ferocious tantrum before it lets go. Before the hardest part is over. But it has still been feeling pretty hard.
But, ironically, this simple set of steps, signaling hope in my own future – what I will plant, how I will dry my clothes in the sun and wind, what I will can and eat – has grounded me and helped me calm down. Now back to work on other things, knowing I have brought this little piece of my life a little closer to being under control.