Make Your Bed

It’s Wednesday. My desk is buried under books and notebooks, folders, and course sheets. I am overwhelmed. A glance around the room suggests that most most of my colleagues are in the same boat. The day is not close to over.

I have become aware of a low murmur, no, a mutter. It’s as if someone has left a radio on low under some shirts. It’s a moment later when I realize that it’s me and I am saying the only thing I can:

“I have so much to do, I don’t even know where to start.”

Everyone in the room commiserates with tired acknowledged mutters of their own. School started two weeks ago and I feel as caught off guard as one of those unlucky gents in Tom Hanks’ Higgins boat at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. Language and composition teachers are heavy on the teaching and light on the research, which means that the beginning of school puts us into a world of hectic busyness that just sucks.

Additionally, I do research as well as teach. And for some reason, the beginning of the semester has sent a bat signal of sorts out to all and every human at the university who could in any way possibly require me to do extra work and perform supernatural feats of minor bureaucracy. It’s times like these how I fully understand how books and short stories never get written.

As we mutter and groan, our department head comes from her office across the hall and touches the door as she discusses something with a person in the hallway. We stop speaking and all of us glare at the door. Who will she need and what will she need them to do? We hold our breath. Nobody wants to hear their name. The boss coming to the office has resulted each day in the doling out of a random task whose goal seems to be consuming one’s time and being needless all at the same time. When she walks away, we breathe again. Then everyone looks back at their computers until the room is filled with the sounds of clicking and writing again.

This is no different from anyone’s work life. We all do a job, we all care about doing it well, and we all get overwhelmed at times. This is just my time. Pretty soon things will calm down and courses will fall into a routine and those little bureaucracies dissipate or become second nature. But for now, things are hectic. Each task is undertaken with a grumble. Part of me almost literally can’t believe I am mustering up the energy to go to Aikido tonight. However, the part of me that drags us there is looking forward to having no responsibilities over the next two hours other than to follow directions that don’t require forms.

When I get home that night, I’m too tired to read. Instead, I go for sitcoms and get lost in a little YouTube rabbit hole whose theme is motivation. One of them is a talk by a former Navy SEAL who says that if you want to accomplish all of your goals (paraphrasing) then you should start everyday by making your bed. Confidence is built in small tasks and the accomplishment of minor goals. Interesting point, I thought. I chuckled at his humor, watched, and continued my virtual Alice impersonation.

My sleep is fitful. In between wakeful period of frustrated exasperation, I dream of giant spiders chasing me around an office handing me tasks to manage and essays to grade. It is one of the creepiest dreams I have ever had, and I once dreamed I was on a date with Freddy Krueger.

In the morning, I awake overwhelmed, already tired from a day that hasn’t even started yet. I don’t want to face work or responsibilities. I make my way to my desk and look at the To Do list tucked under the edge of the laptop. It’s long. Like, visual joke in a Christmas movie long. I procrastinate by making coffee. I go back. It’s still there, but now I’m on the road to caffeinated.

It’s when I notice the first item on the To Do list. Well, the first item is of course Make To Do List and it’s been ticked off. But the item under that is Make Bed. I walk into my room and snap out the sheets, fluff the pillows, and lay the comforters down nicely. I stare for one moment, the look on my face must be a dictionary rendering of wistful.

I sigh, head back to my computer and tick it off the list. The item under that is Clean Cat Box, a task which I then complete. I tidy up the food bowls, fill up the water dish. I tick it off the list. That’s where the tasks get a bit more in depth: 1,000 words for Christmas Project. I sit at the desk, take a deep breath, and begin writing.

Perhaps I’m propelled by two (actually three!) items ticked off of my To Do list, but today more than in the last two weeks I can keep other responsibilities at bay while I get the writing done. Who’d have ever thought that a Navy SEAL would be so good at handling being under pressure?

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