It’s difficult to believe 2017 is only 25% over. Because of their position in the school year and my general mood cycle, January, February, and March are the most intense part of my year. That’s why I’m always looking for new entertainment, tools, and practices to make them go easier than previous years.
Here’s what worked for me this quarter:
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (game for Nintendo Switch)
Everybody and their mother are right: this game is brilliant. I’ve loved many of Nintendo’s recent franchise entries that change up the old formulas (e.g. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS), Pokémon Sun (Nintendo 3DS)), but they’ve outdone themselves with this one.
I’ve played only ten hours so far. I’ve fought through about zero of the plot stuff. But I don’t want to, because there’s so much to do around every corner: side quests to complete, bands of monsters to subdue, escape-room shrines to solve, materials to stockpile, animals to hunt, horses to tame, wilderness to explore, weapons to earn, mountain climbs to puzzle out, photos to collect, memories to uncover, recipes to cook…
I like walking across the expansive map instead of quick travelling. I want to see what’s up each tree or where I can find new stew ingredients. This new game has made me patient enough to enjoy stealth. That’s saying a lot.
There is one picture frame on my desk that constantly breaks. The decorative parts fall off the frame and each other. I’ve tried everything to repair it: school glue, hot glue, super glue, rubber cement. Finally, I bought some Sugru, which is a mix between glue and modelling clay. Once you open the packet, you can mould it into whatever shape you want. It sets in about 24 hours and becomes the consistency of a really old eraser that’s got all smooth and hard.
Now the picture frame not only stays together but feels solid. And the whole repair was as easy as playing with Plasticine. I’m sold.
3. Two-day weekends
“But, Sarah,” you protest, “haven’t you had two-day weekends since you were a kid? Don’t you sometimes get three- or four-day weekends, you incredibly fortunate jerk?”
Yes, all that is technically true. But up until this month, I tried to treat Sunday through Friday as work days. Saturday was the only day I was allowed to relax, and the rest of the week, including Sunday, I had to go to the gym, log a certain amount of writing time, complete my 20-30 minute physio stretches, do any big chores that needed doing. Then, if I had grading or lesson-planning or student emails, Sunday was fair game for finding time.
Now I do my best to keep my computer turned off all Sunday as well as Saturday. I read and recharge and recuperate from my week full of gym days. I let myself wait until Monday to respond to work. And having two days of peace somehow improves both days, since I don’t start pressuring myself about “wasting” my “only” day of relaxation.
4. Acceptance of slow writing pace
Real talk: when you open up your Work in Progress, stare at it for a moment, and then decide to start grading papers instead, you are having a major case of writer’s block.
In fall term (September to December), I revised my way through the first half of my current MS. In the winter term (January to now), I’ve worked for three months on a single scene. I’ve written it at least three times and then cut it ruthlessly because each time, my meandering through the forest showed me a more direct, more difficult, but more interesting path. I have made practically no progress, length-wise or through-the-story-wise.
But I’m okay with that. When I couldn’t face this novel, I scribbled out a short story. When I could, I accepted that sometimes progress was two steps backwards so I could take the road I really needed to choose. Sometimes it was stopping to ask for directions. Work is extremely busy, and fifteen minutes a day is an acceptable slow-but-steady rate until the spring sunshine and end of term.
5. Recording my progress at the gym
I always assumed those workout-log cards were fussy and silly — why bother when I can remember what I did, right? But when I was without a phone for a month, it took me all of two seconds to start a bullet journal, and I included a strength-training record while I was experimenting with the pages that worked for me.
To my surprise, it’s really stepped up my gym game. All I record is how much weight I’ve used with each of about a dozen exercises. I don’t even check the units (kg or lb or manufacturers’ system) — just the numbers on the machine or the dumbbells. But somehow, that motivates me to keep increasing my challenge. I’ve been too lazy to make substantial changes to the weights I lift for at least a year. Now, all of a sudden, I’m up 5-50 units (lbs?) on each in just a few months. Seeing the numbers makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere.
Plus, since I set up the table week-by-week, I feel motivated to go to the gym without feeling pressured to do it a certain number of times a week. I’ll go on Saturdays to avoid having to leave blanks in my record, but I also don’t feel obliged to go exactly three days or do particular exercises each weekday. On Reading Week, I let myself have a break all week, and then crammed all my strength training into the one afternoon that I felt like working out.
6. Frozen puff pastry + work toaster
I am a huge fan of meat pies, but Fiancé is a huge fan of not having to clean the food processor, and my bad arm is a huge fan of not using pastry knives/rolling pins. So, to prep my lunches in advance this semester, I made a couple big batches of meat pie fillings and used store-bought puff pastry to make savoury meat pies the size and shape of pop tarts. Which, incidentally, fit nicely in the toaster at my workplace kitchen.
Yeah, it was an indulgence, and, yeah, my lunches end up buttery and heavy. But it sure made this term way easier.
7. Using my e-reader
Well, you already know that pulling out my Kobo during my work breaks and commute has been super handy.
8. Blogging less often
You may already know this one too. I decided to increase the time between my blog updates from one week to two when I noticed that I was stressing myself out over finding time to do something a) not career-related and b) that I started for fun. I was pushing myself through topics I found uninteresting to get words out in time.
While that’s a great skill to develop, since every working writer needs to slog through lack-of-inspiration sometimes, it also meant that I was letting time spent blogging eat away at my time to do things that might interest me enough to blog about. I don’t claim that every single thing I write here is interesting and well conceived, but it’s easier to let writing quality slip when I force myself to focus on quantity.
With a less intense schedule — at least, during the school year — I can save some of my writing energy for my actual professional writing, and I can afford to explore ideas without worrying about meeting some self-imposed deadline if I ultimately choose to discard that draft.
9. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty (book)
I am a big fan of locked-room mysteries. There’s nothing that makes me snuggle deeper into my armchair for a marathon reading session faster than “Then the murderer… must be one of us!” (dun-dun-DUNNNNN optional).
I especially love it when locked-room mysteries mix with other genres I like, as in this case. Six Wakes is a sci-fi locked-room puzzler: in a world where people can upload their memories to new cloned bodies instead of dying, the six-member crew of an interstellar generation ship wakes up in their cloning vats to find that their last incarnations were violently murdered — and though none of them remembers anything after their first day in space, they are the only six people aboard the ship, so one (or more?) of them must have done it.
I’ve been reading at a steady pace, but this is the only book from the past few months that I mainlined the way I used to when I was a kid. If you like Star Trek: the Next Generation episodes like “Schisms,” “Timescape,” or “Clues,” you’ll love this book too.