I treat spare time like parents treat their teenage children: I don’t really want you, and I’m not sure how you got here, but we’re stuck with each other. Through my undergrad, I found new and interesting ways to bite off more than I should have tried chewing. During grad school, I treat my own classes like an obsession, and I treat the classes I teach like I am the last bastion of reason in a world overrun by roving swarms of Michael Bay cultists. In short, I work a lot, and I always have, but now one of my jobs is over. My high school students have finished with me for the Summer, and I am left with only one job. I am listless, stagnating, a hard candy shell of my former fully-sugar glory.
I don’t know what to do without work. Suddenly, I have a few dozen extra hours a week to exist, and it’s only when I have those hours unfilled that I realize I’m not that much of a person. I’ve come to lean on work like a crutch because I’m weak and frail without it. I find myself wondering what real people do with their spare time. Do they knit? Should I knit? Can I get into competitive knitting? What if I find a rival in a local knitting arena, and we compete–me, the up-and-coming underdog, and them, the old pro. Then, what if just as we’re finishing our final knit-off, we both stop, toss down our needles, shake hands, and join forces to make the best scarf this world has ever seen.
I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I keep falling into fantastical wormholes in which I find new, weird ways to use all this spare time, but none of these fantasies are useful or practical or even plausible. I have so much time, and I’ve got no idea what to do with myself. If I’m not stressed, what am I?
I still check my email like I’m going to be the first to respond to a real Nigerian prince. The group of students I’m still teaching don’t contact me unless they want me to edit their work or write it for them. The only job I have and my students think I’m their on-call word jockey. I still check to see if they’ve sent me any new requests. Rude as they are, any work is something.
I heard someone talking about meditation as a chance to really get in touch with yourself. I worry about that person because they are either destined for insanity or world domination. Get in touch with myself? I’m much too in touch with myself. I know myself better than anyone, and I’m really not impressed. Now that I’m out of work, I’m spending a little too much time in my head. Even when there’s someone delightful around, there’s still a little part of me preoccupied with itself.
I haven’t been diagnosed with any kind of obsessive disorder, and I have serious doubts that me being bored with myself is serious enough to consider that sort of thing. I’m not really ill. I’ve just got bees in my head. A thousand thousand bees that get bored when they haven’t got anything productive to do so they buzz around and make a mess of things. Bees need work, and so do I. When I have trouble sleeping because I’m not preoccupied enough, I imagine a little cloud of aimless bees zipping around my head like my own insectoid atmosphere.
I miss work. I miss being stressed and having a reason to get moving quickly. I love my free time, and I love how I’ve been spending it, but I have too much, and my loosely cobbled together life is usually propped up by work and stress so once that stress is gone, I really don’t have any idea what to do with myself.