birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Leisure Swirls Slowly Through the Stress

I’m almost at leisure this summer. Every year I ironically labor to be at rest. To pull away from all the tension of the school year and move into a time where I don’t have to feel so on edge, so ready to do task after task in service to my job. I know that people who don’t teach in a classroom all year really don’t get this aspect of teaching. I think some envy it, for who wouldn’t want a 9-week paid vacation every year? And I know teachers complaining in any way about their summer can sound like self-indulgent whining.

But the school year is one season and the summer is another, and there’s a difficulty sometimes, even when I don’t have to be at school working every day, to move into a mind of rest. My former spiritual director would hear my stories of stress about my job and say “You have got to figure a way to rest during your work period!” And eventually I did—at least a little bit.

But conversely, sometimes it’s hard to rest during the down-time, too. I’ve long been control-freaky about aspects of my life. So simply not working isn’t the full leisure I seek. I want to spend quality time with girlfriends I have not noshed with in the longest time. I want to go to the Huntington library and stroll carefree like the San Marino ladies-who-lunch I see there all the time. I want to go on sweet little weekend trips with my husband.

But I have a classroom with too many books and files that I’ve taken hours to purge, bit by bit. And I have a new dog who is sweet one moment (such fun we had with fellow Bernese at our club picnic this weekend! And Bitzli was on her best public behavior). And she is she-devil-wild the next. I just put her outside so I could write this. She does not just lull and frolic in our capacious backyard. No, she digs holes. Rips grass out of the ground, scratches at loose pieces of the paved pathway ties till they come loose. As I talked to my husband on the phone I watched her pick up a plastic-potted plant in her maw and dance over to the fence to uproot and chew. I described the scene to my husband “The poinsettias I keep replanting!” He yelped dolefully. So, while it’s very fun to have a new puppy, a puppy with this personality does not easily co-exist with the concept “relax.”

I’m beginning to see that leisure has its ways of curling like fog around the shaded bits of busyness and tightly-knit plans. Rest and refreshment will have its way with me, if I just give it half a chance. Incrementally I’m beginning to acknowledge the smallest moments and say to myself, THIS IS your leisure! Whether you feel it or not. Whether it is finessed and choreographed to your maximum. This is your time, free from organized work, to think and stretch and dream in ways that re so much more challenging through the year. Breathe deeply. Feel the rest. Be.”

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