Thursday, September 17, 2015

When Structure Goes

When I quit my job, I torpedoed structure. Left to my own devices, I’d get involved with something and stay up all night. I’d have commitments, contracts, or meetings, and I’d do them just fine; but the rest of the time, I was a free agent. Nothing was “fixed” and there was no regular schedule. I did something because I felt like it, not because it was routine. In the beginning, this was joyful, glorious freedom.

When my book club read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work; everyone shared the daily rituals of their lives, and I cringed. There was nothing routine about my days. But instead of feeling liberated and free, I was beginning to feel erratic and unstable. My sleep hygiene was a mess, and I tended to drift aimlessly between being and not being in the mood to do this or that. Sometimes I ran in the morning, sometimes in the evening. I always ate breakfast, but sometimes that was at 9 a.m. and sometimes at 2 p.m. While other people might think it was the sign of a free spirit, I knew it was courting craziness.
I told my book club, “I believe the absence of routine in ordering my day is really thinly-veiled absence of self-discipline. So I did something I ‘didn’t feel like’ yesterday … and it was just fine. Then I stayed up till 1 a.m. to give me back the part of the day I’d relinquished.”

I enrolled in an art class that met twice a week and had demanding homework. That helped in many ways – and I’ll write about that more – but doing art with deadlines for projects means you’re still pushing the sleep hygiene envelope. Or maybe that’s just me; everything pushes my sleep hygiene envelope. I’d charge ahead highly motivated, get stuff done, and then walk around spacey and sleepy getting nothing done.

While I was flailing around uselessly, I came across a newspaper article which quoted Ernie Zelinsky, author of The Joy of Not Working. In the article, he said, “There are three big needs jobs provide that people have to put back into their lives in retirement….” I’ll call them the Big Three, and I’ll write about them a lot more:
That’s it! I knew structure was an issue for me. Even back at college, I learned to sign up for the breakfast plan so I “had to” get up at 8 a.m. And when I was finishing my thesis and worked part-time, I worked 8-10 a.m. and then 1-4 p.m. It was my way of imposing structure on my days.

But now, with no external source of structure (job, driving kid to school, etc.), I was rootless. I’d sit in the living room free to read a book on an afternoon, but I couldn’t relax. Somehow, without a Time to Go to Work or a Time to Go to Class, I felt like I didn’t have a Time to Relax either. I don’t think it was feeling that relaxation was undeserved, just that it didn’t have a beginning or end. My friend Sherry called it feeling “untethered.”
Yup, that’s the word.

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