Running away with myself, or, The Red Shoes

My jaw is on the floor. I look up at the clock on my computer screen to see that it’s 4.44pm; I’ve been working since 8.30am and I feel like I haven’t done half of the things that I’d planned to do today, and I know that I still have a stack of things that I hope to do before the day is out. Yet, although I have a plan, and although I know that it’s impossible to think that I can accomplish everything that I had intended to do in one day, I feel like time, ‘like grease through my fingers’, is slipping away. I think that I feel that sense of time loss more acutely as I slept terribly last night, so you might say that I’ve been doubly robbed. Personally, I wouldn’t; I’ve been a sporadic insomniac since the age of about 16, so fatigue is something that I have for a long time been learning to combat. In addition, it might be logical to assume that more waking hours should proffer me with more hours of productivity. If this were the case, then I think that I’d have little need to write this post, and you’d all, no doubt, be very envious of the full and productive life that I lead. Alas, while I strive as best as I can to stay ‘on my feet’, sometimes my feet get pretty tired. And, to use another foot analogy, I sometimes picture myself in those fateful ‘red shoes’ that Hans Christian Andersen taunted me with as a little girl – the ones that dance and dance and continue to dance even after I’ve chopped off my feet. A touch melodramatic? Perhaps. I know that my situation is not unique and I know that there are many people in my life that work harder and longer, and have pets and dependants that I don’t even have to worry about, but surely there has to be a point at which we all draw a line?

This post is not intended to be a diatribe against Chronos, or even against those other keepers and controllers of time that we know to exist outside of mythology, but is rather more of a scoping exercise; on a more human level, it intends to instigate a conversation about the efficacy of knowing one’s limits. As a woman with a strong sense of my own (and indeed every woman’s) potential, I am loathe to use the word ‘limits’, for the fear that it may spiral into derivations thereof (limitations, for example), but I should be very clear in saying that what I actually refer to is our personal right to say ‘No, I’ve done enough, and I’m not doing that’. I wonder, furthermore, how we do this without cutting out the things that we love to do and form the vital core our existence. While reading is part of what I ‘do’ on a daily basis, and while I do essentially ‘love’ it, I feel that it’s important to make sure that I go to bed reading the trash that I’ve chosen to read over the French article that I kick-start my day with.

My second discussion point relates to guilt. Those of us in academia can always rest assured (however ironic this may seem) that we have never researched enough, read enough, accumulated enough, written enough, and edited enough. The process is perpetual; when we stop, the work is still there; when it’s completed, it could still be improved. What I have found runs in tandem with ‘clocking off’, therefore, is an immense surge of guilt. This year’s Christmas was particularly hard for me, and, while I enjoyed the mince pies and family frolics, I berated myself for not working for a few days. That old adage about ‘work-life balance’ just seems a bit hollow these days. After all, it’s not really a problem of ensuring that you harmonize work and life, but a problem of feeling constantly let down by yourself, even in the advent of harmonization. So, my question is: how do we erase guilt, and how do we absolve ourselves?

In the time that it’s taken me to write this piece, I could’ve read an article. Alternatively I could have washed the clothes that are spilling out of my laundry basket. If it had to be the latter, then I think I made the right choice.

To be continued…after I’ve located those darn shoes…

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