The Not Chair

DislineatedIn a drawing class a few years ago, a teacher asked us to draw a chair by depicting all the spaces around it. Drawing the not-chair, he told us, restarts the mind, tricks it into bypassing the brain’s assumptions about how a chair should look. The exercise does, as he promised, force you to scrutinize the scene afresh.

Figuratively speaking, I’ve been drawing the not-chair a lot recently.

With my 60th birthday approaching Paperclipsand after 36 years of teaching, I’m working part-time this year, meaning I have not only fewer classes but also fewer responsibilities as advisor, club sponsor, or coach. My schedule is largely open. I arrive a little before I teach. I leave a little after I finish. This new regimen is only a couple of weeks old but feels mostly like not-teaching. Assumptions about my life’s purpose have changed.

Like probably most people, furniture fills my day. Usual tasks take up its room: exercising, making a bag lunch for work, commuting, visiting Starbucks, and engaging in various other regular activities you may know as well as I do. And most of that furniture—until this fall—surrounded work. I had little time left over after planning for class, grading papers, meeting with colleagues, and answering student emails.

Now I look for ways to occupy my newly expansive day. I already have one other sort of furniture—writing a daily haiku for my haiku blog—and, in June, I added another by creating Instagram account (@davidb.marshall) for a daily doodle. “Doodle,” though, may not be the right term for what I post there, some of which take hours to complete. Perhaps because it’s easier to draw patterns than it is to think about what I really need to do, I spend a lot of time brainlessly coloring in shapes or painting pages in preparation for making shapes to color in. Maybe as long as I have the time to doodle there’s no harm in it, but I’m never sure whether I’m using time or filling it in. I believe in any endeavor that I can regard as practice—that’s what I tell myself, anyway—but how does one become a more skilled doodler?

Devil's TableclothSo I also work on work more than necessary—planning, grading, and planning some more. My son correctly predicted I’d have trouble kicking workahol, and he was right. I’m still waking at 4 am to reread what I’m teaching and put the finest of finishing touches on lesson plans. I’ve discovered you never need run out of work if you can think of more work to do. I’ve concluded everything takes exactly as long as you have to do it.

Plus, what I want to do stands little chance against what others want from me.fuzzy A life of fulfilling expectations, keeping appointments, and meeting deadlines hasn’t prepared me for initiative. For a workaholic, a fine line divides idleness and guilt. Relaxation seems out of the question. I read the back pages of the paper, listen to podcasts as soon as they appear in my feed, and try to do those household chores I too often neglect. I’m embarrassed to admit how often I check Instagram. Yet I wonder about where I’m going,  who I am now that I’m only part time me.

So far, I’ve found time for everything but redefinition. Where does identity come from—circumstance or choice? Once you remove the chair, how do you draw the not-chair?

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2 Comments

Filed under Aging, Ambition, Birthdays, Blogging, Desire, Doubt, Education, Essays, Haiku, High School Teaching, Home Life, Identity, Laments, life, Meditations, Motivation, Procrastination, Resolutions, Teaching, Thoughts, Work, Worry, Writing

2 responses to “The Not Chair

  1. Give. Yourself. Time. Breathe. When I retired, someone told me it takes five years to get into the rhythm of retirement, and I scoffed, thinking I’d nail it immediately. Five years later, I realized I was just about getting it. (Now of course, it’s a whole new ballgame, homeschooling a sixth-grader at the age of 73. You have no idea what’s ahead.)

    • dmarshall58

      Unintentionally, I’ve given myself a little time to respond… and get used to where I am. Though I still feel a little diffuse, I do enjoy having whatever time I want to do what’s necessary for work. I’m wondering now if every teacher should have the sort of time I do to think, plan, assess, and reflect. I’m not sure I’m a better teacher—because my peak energy and selflessness has probably passed—but I’m certainly a more present one. There’s something to be said for a mind freed from fixation on the next task or completion of a task that should already be finished. I could get used to this rhythm even if I’m not used to it yet. Thanks for your reply! —D

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