Zen Hours on a Saturday


Zen Hours on a Saturday

It’s 5 am on a Saturday. The alarm goes off. The night is still in process and, judging from the darkness and lack of sound, movement, life, or joy, it doesn’t plan on ending anytime soon. Burke and the Shihtzu are snug in bed, content and quiet and comfort ooze off them like little daggers and bury themselves into my skin and then assault my organs, which also want to stay in bed. I stuff a pillow over my face and moan. I sit up. I moan. I stand. I moan. I moan. I moan.

In the living room, the cat sleeps on her little bed on our bookshelf, looking just like a cat might being cozy in a cozy picture of a cozy country bookstore. Applying the case of Misery vs Loving Company, I poke her in the ear. She instinctively swats at my hand and looks up at me in confusion and anger. She’s wearing her Who the fuck is that? face. It’s instantly replaced by her Oh, it’s you face. I stagger through my quiet, dark flat. I press the button on the coffee pot. I drink a glass of water. I take my vitamins. This is no ordinary Saturday, one that promises relaxation and movies, a glass of wine with lunch maybe or a whiskey with my cereal. No. This is no Saturday. For I have to work.

I don’t really go for New Years resolutions. Any major positive changes I’ve made in my life have been done throughout different times of the year and often without planning, forethought, or fireworks. The major things I want to do in my life (write, work out, read, eat carbs) I already do. But I spent the break thinking about minor tweaks that could improve my quality of life. There are a few small ones (draw, replace Reddit in the morning with an article, stop showering in a British accent). But one that jumped out to me was being present.

I have always had a problem living in the present. I think too much about the past, like many of us, but my real realm of life is the future. I am always looking at my watch. I leave so early for trams that I often just miss the one before the one I was hoping to catch – which ruins my day. I am a poster boy for the country’s deep need to implement meditation into schools.

The worst for me is work. How many times I have awoken on Tuesday morning and wished it was Thursday afternoon cannot be counted. And all too soon, it’s Thursday. Worse, I am a teacher and being present in class is a real requirement. Nobody (certainly not me) wants a teacher on autopilot. So my goal was to think less about the future, be present in the present, and stop looking at my watch. Today – a working Saturday – will be a terrible test.

Oh, I’ve worked on the weekends. I spent my bachelor studies years waiting tables and bartending. In both, I was forced to go to into work when everyone else was leaving work. I would literally pass those people on the way to my job as they were leaving theirs. Our vibe, mood, aura were absolute yin and yang of the work world. Theirs equaled elation, relaxation, a peace of mind afforded those who didn’t have shit to do for 72 hours. Mine: misery, stress, the sallowness of mind damned upon those whose following 8 hours would require not only work, but working with people. My job was literally to help those people unwind from the stress of their very difficult jobs. Surely, the hours before working at night were terrible. I couldn’t enjoy myself. If I had to work at 6 pm I’d turn down lunch plans at noon. Sorry, have to work. But with bartending you have to be present. You are surrounded by dozens of people and they all need drinks in the present. There’s no time to look at your phone or think about later. You are busy slinging booze to hairless apes who need it.

Enter university life. Oh, sure, I thought, who has ever heard of a university teacher working on a weekend? No way. University teachers get the weekends off so they can hang around with younger women in small coastal towns. They need the energy to pull off a rollneck cardigan and shop at local marts. They require those weekend hours to do erudite things like open wine while talking about Rimbaud and listening to Hank Moseley (or one of those other guys) on the local jazz radio station. On Saturday night he must entertain equally as successful friends – doctors, philosophers, writers – in his rustic coastal town cottage, where they will wine and dine and talk about the problems of the universe and all the things contained within it.   

No.

Wrong.

The university has a number of courses for nontraditional students, which means one thing in giant neon words: weekend. Though I wear my cardigan and try really hard to buy groceries near young women and to properly pronounce Rimbaud, in the end I have no choice but to go to work on a Saturday.

See, most Saturday teaching is a pig on which lipstick must be purposefully applied. Usually, it’s only a class or two, often in the morning or early afternoon. This means drinks and lunch can be had afterwards, shopping can be done, a whole afternoon of light-hearted delights awaits you and, not only that, you have just worked, on a Saturday, so you are entitled to indulge yourself. And only a sociopath would deny you that.

This weekend, however, is a special case. Special. Special is a word one never wants to see in front of case when it’s referring to your work. Why? This is because in almost every but a very few cases it will somehow involve you having more work than is usual. Well, normally classes are 80 minutes long, but in this special case they are 820 minutes long. Ce la vie.

The students in this weekend course have their entire semester of English on two weekends, in other words, 12 classes. So, six classes one Saturday and six two weeks later. Alas, as I awoke at 5 am on Saturday and pissed off my cat, I had about as much to look forward to as a guy who’d just gotten a bucket of fried chicken in a court ordered last meal. Sadness dictated the scene.

There are few things more depressing than a workplace on a weekend, but one of those things is the fact that you’re in it. It’s bleak, quiet, too big, too empty. There’s no life.

I get into my classroom and switch on the computer. Making matters even more pleasant for the teachers is that the students are allowed to decide whether they want to come in for the class or do it online. Of the 20 students on the list, 15 stay at home in their PJs and do the class online, 4 don’t come, and 1 student has said she’d come to the class. I switch on Zoom and am instantly awarded a fly-on-the-wall angle of me, of my post-holiday ass, and my combed-with-a-towel hair. I look up at the camera and I resist the urge to flip it off. Zoom classes have all the excitement and energy of a funeral for a beloved family goldfish.  

My student arrives. She makes the face all students make when they arrive to a class and find only the teacher, sort of the mug Joe Pesci made when he walked in that room to become a made man, the one he made seconds before a 32’s bullet scrambled his brains.

I expect her to grab her phone and say something about an emergency, but after the initial horror, she seems fine. Throughout the day, we make the best of it. While the others are in the breakout rooms, she and I do the activities and extend the conversation. My major bright spot of the day is the femur-sized baguette sandwich I have made and packed for myself, the chips, and the Kit-Kat bar, because though this is Saturday, it’s also Cheat Day.

But here’s the thing – I didn’t have time to think about anything else. I had a student in class and I had to be present for her. There was nobody else to talk to her but me. Moreover, she was engaging and curious and gregarious. If I’d had only students online, I’d have been able to drift off into masturbatory fantasies of my life post-Saturday. Me on the couch eating pizza. Me on the couch eating another pizza.  

By the time I’m done, my throat is dry and I am starting to talk in circles and I’m making less sense than a homeless guy who thinks he’s a prophet. I say good night to the students and I leave the school. It’s pitch-black outside, the sun having dipped away during my fifth class. I make it to the tram and sit down. The people around me look relaxed, jolly, some are drunk, the way you’re supposed to look at the end of a Saturday. I try to enjoy the ride home, it’s the most content I’ll be for a long while. Until tomorrow, that is.

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