Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Normal Day

As you read in the last post, school has resumed and I am fairly drowning in gravy. Actually, I would liken my situation to a river of sweet chocolate, both because I prefer chocolate to gravy, and because this is one of the sweetest gigs any professional can have.

Think about it: I only work two days a week now, and only on one of those days do I have to get up before the sun rises. All of my accommodations are paid for and, although I’ll never get rich at it, I get paid a handsome salary (by Chinese standards) to do what I do. And what I do is as natural as breathing: I speak English. This may well be the best-kept professional secret in the world. All terror aside from living in a foreign country and the pain of living separated from all of my loved ones, the job is pure… chocolate.

I have lived nearly my entire life at least thirty-three degrees out of mainstream. Most people get up early in the morning, commute to a job that they work from early morning to mid-late afternoon. And then they commute home, reconnect with spouses and kids (if any), go to the gym, go shopping, cook/eat dinner, clean house, watch a little TV and then go to bed, only to get up and do it again, five days per week. If weekends are good, there might be an extra hour of sleep in the morning.

That world is too crowded for me.

I have spent the last eight years building my life around a swing-shift work schedule. I would wake up about 10AM, read/respond to email, surf the ‘Net and study something – lately Chinese, but in the recent past, for my college degree. And then, I would shower, go to work, enjoying a no-traffic commute, manage my work day and then commute home long after those on a ‘normal’ schedule had turned off the TV. In the silence of the night I would enjoy a movie or curling up with a good book, finally going to bed somewhere around 2 or 3 in the morning.

Prior to this most desirable schedule I mostly worked the night shift, in order to earn the maximum amount of money to support my family on, and to be available to my kids during daylight hours. Only rarely in my professional life have I had to work a standard schedule, and that suited me just fine. I like being at least thirty-three degrees out from the rest of the world.

In considering this career change I recently made, my reluctance to force my circadian rhythm to a standard schedule was in fact a consideration. Most teachers teach from early morning until late afternoon, after all. And then there are meetings and after school counseling sessions and other education-related activities that would encumber my schedule more than I might want. Remember: I made this move to lower my stress levels.

Haha, it seems the joke is on me. I’ve had a fair measure of stress, learning to live here and learning to be a teacher. But, the worst of that is over now. And, since I’ve hit my stride in the classroom and have learned to live fairly comfortably in Wuhan, my stress levels are down and manageable. So is my schedule.

Matter of fact, so manageable is my schedule that, on my one long day, Thursday, when I teach from 10AM until 5PM, with a 2-hour break at noon for lunch, I wondered how I was going to feel.

Last Thursday, after I bade the last student farewell and cleaned off the board, I put on my jacket and left the classroom. The campus and The Street were full of students who abandoned their textbooks and were done with classes for the day. They were just taking in the evening air, which was, in fact, quite pleasant. I needed some things from the store and wanted some fresh stuff from the farmer’s market. Being as I was already dressed and ready to go out, I simply grabbed my shopping bag and took off.

After the farmer’s market I stopped off at the bakery for a fresh loaf of bread and considered treating myself to a dinner out but then vetoed that idea. I had all evening to cook and savor a meal, so I went home and rattled some pots and pans and produced an acceptable dinner. While dinner was cooking, the thought crossed my mind that now, with my teaching obligations done for the week, and all email and blogs caught up, I had opportunity to watch a movie that I had bought last week. So I decided to eat dinner in front of the TV, in spite of the lingering chill in the living room.

The movie was excellent and dinner was pretty good too. I munched an apple as the credits rolled, and then got up to clean the kitchen before bed. It was going on 9PM and I didn’t want to leave dirty dishes behind. Once the kitchen was clean I sat down to read a little bit, and started yawning. At 10:30, I got ready for bed.

As I drifted off I realized that, for the first time in years, possibly my entire life, I have lived a ‘normal’ day. Maybe normal days aren’t so bad after all. Or maybe they’re not so bad because I only have to do it once per week.

That night, sleep took me with a smile on my face.

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