Monday, June 18, 2018

Summer holiday Sundays

After many years of working long weekdays and all weekend, a bad spell of insomnia and fatigue last year forced me to change my ways. With great difficulty, I began to resist working on weekends. I go to bed earlier and sleep as normally as I can, approximating 6-8 hours on a good night. And not working now means stepping away from all devices, or rather, from work applications on all devices, including social networks.

The first few weekends were hard, not because I longed to go to work--it had been years since I felt motivated to keep working--but because the guilt was overwhelming. How could I possibly be idling? What do I do with the day if I am not working? I had forgotten that I used to have hobbies.

For all those contemplating this transition, I want to tell you that it gets easier. I now start shutting down work on Saturday morning; which means I do what needs to be done and don't initiate anything new. I do some of this resentfully--no one else around me is working even when I do, so why should I? I am not recovered enough from burnout or fatigue for time-off not to be tinged with negativity. But it is just getting easier to let go. To shore up the barrier and say, no, I will not respond to this in a hurry now. I tell myself when an email calls for an instant reply: I will hurry but they will not read it till Monday anyway, so why bother? I see a frantic message from someone who makes me wait all the time, and go, ha ha, now it's your turn, I will do this on Wednesday. And so Saturday afternoons are once more becoming a time of temptations: shopping, coffee with my cousins, colouring books, chatting with my sister.

And Sunday. What can I tell you about my summer holiday Sundays? I set aside the mobile phone I use for work calls. I charge the other one where I watch Amazon Prime and the iPad where I have Netflix. I have a pile of books by my side. I have a notebook and some pens. But I make no plans and have no expectation that I will do this or that.

I am slowly learning, "just for today" as the meditations go, to ignore the obstacle course I have set up everyday--I have to be up by this time, get so much done by that, heat breakfast by this, eat breakfast by that... it's a high-pressure race that the clock wins every time. I experience time like a series of concentric walls that close in around me. At this point, this leaves my body and spirit wrecked everyday. The clock is fastest, I am running hard and quite fast behind it but most people around me appear to be moving like snails slowing me down as I reach out for things they are supposed to be passing me. My war with the clock exacerbates my war with the world around me.

But not on Sunday. On Sunday, I retreat to the pace of a 16 RPM record. I have learnt to slow down quite a bit. I spend a lot of the day flat and virtually all of the day alone.

Let's talk about the 'alone' part. For six days a week, I am forced to interact with people and perform a variety of roles: founder of NGO, political scientist, fake expert on this and that, cheerer of the miserable, encourager of the fearful, dutiful relative, and so on. On Sunday, I am practising the only one that can get me through this lifetime: me.

On Sunday, I spend most of the day by myself, interacting quietly with those in the house and nothing more. I hope to god no one wants to meet for anything that day. I drag myself to visits. I even postpone urgent grocery shopping so I will not have to interact with people on the way and at that end. Sunday is reserved for indulging my introversion. Just one day in the week. I don't want to talk to anyone. Go away. Let me pretend I live in complete isolation. Don't remind me of how much my life irritates me every other day.

That solitude is enough to endow Sunday with a magical quality.

I am remembering all the things I like to do apart from work, and now, one day is not enough for them. I think I can once more list 'hobbies': reading, music, watching fun stuff here and there (of course, nothing highly recommended), drawing and colouring. I have an incomplete craft project sitting in a bag. And dozing. I do a lot of dozing. I yearn to blog and work with my photos but that would mean coming to a computer so I resist and promise to steal more weekday time from work over the months ahead. I want to return to letter-writing by hand and use all that beautiful paper I keep buying.

And I want to tell you, there is a category of work reading I do on Sunday that my week life gives me no time for. I remember that precious part of myself.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that I have reconstructed my school summer holidays in my Sunday non-routine. Sunday is beginning to feel lazy and quiet. I look forward to it. My books invite me and I curl up with them. I spread everything out and do what I feel like.

When I taught in the US, Christmas week was like this. When the Fall term ended, I would pull out paints and paper and spread out and never put anything away. I would listen to audio-books and have the television on, and just draw and paint for about a week. In blissful solitude as everyone else partied. That too is a part of my Sundays now.

The bad thing about Sundays is that they culminate in Monday. Unlike some of my friends, I do not look forward to Mondays. Monday mornings, such as this one, bring the dread of a time-bound obstacle course. I have only till about 9 to myself. After that, my time, energy and attention are fair game. Anyone is likely to show up and ask for anything. I will not get my life back till Saturday.

This is where the summer holiday resemblance stops. One finished the summer in anticipation of the new school year: Who will be in my class? Who will be my class teacher? Who will sit next to me? And of course, in Bombay, it was time to by the next size of raincoat and gumboots (or rain shoes) and if your parents felt indulgent, a new pencil box or water-bottle... Monday brings no such temptations but a return to anxiety and more work than this healthy new life-style will allow me to finish. I close my eyes and sigh and think, if this is how I feel, I need a change of life. And I put that on the work-list to deepen my dread of Monday.

But never mind, if I can close my eyes and get through this day, I can go to bed early and dream of another life. And inshallah, time flies, so Saturday afternoon will come around soon enough. And another summer holiday Sunday.

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