Balance?

well, I am an idiot walking a tightrope of fortune and fame
I am an acrobat swinging trapezes through circles of flame
If you’ve never stared off into the distance, then your life is a shame
and though I’ll never forget your face,
sometimes I can’t remember my name

Counting Crows – Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby – This Desert Life

Balance.

I once thought I knew what this meant. I once thought I had a modicum of it.

Now, I’m not so sure of either of those.

There has been a lot of talk in the biblioblogosphere about balance. Walt Crawford, in particular, has devoted a couple of words to the subject here and there [buy his book]. During all of these discussions I felt that I had a decent balance in my life, or at least as much as I could based on my circumstances.

But I think I was drastically wrong. First off, deciding whether one has balance in a certain situation is vastly different from deciding one actually has balance in one’s life. That was my 1st mistake.

Mistake number 2 was perhaps lying to myself. Maybe I did; maybe I didn’t. Either way, I think I have changed my mind.

Despite taking time to relax, enjoying reading for pleasure, watching movies, going to the bar, hanging with friends, coming to accept much about the productivity of being a graduate student, and so on, I have been and am repeatedly ill. Physically, in particular. But also existentially.

I have been to the doctor and she has been unable to determine anything wrong.

Despite all the things I do to amuse (or is it to distract?) myself, my life seems to revolve around school and related-educational/professional experiences. Unfortunately, I am becoming less comfortable with formal education. I absolutely love parts of it, and parts of it I despise (the production aspect and semester system, primarily). This is a problem on several fronts. It is a definite problem in light of what a very dear friend of mine wrote to me recently:

I think it’s because you’re afraid that you might find Life post-school as disappointing (wrong word, but I can’t quite get the right one this morning) as you found it before you started back in education. You’re used to your role in the classroom and are unsure how you’ll find your role as a librarian.

I think she makes a very valid point. I have elided the exact context of our discussion, but it is a part of my current issues.

I truly need to discover what balance is for me in my life. Then I need to pursue it. A large part of my recent problems are related, if not directly causally-related, to this issue of balance. A large part of the problem, besides needing to come to an acceptance of this truth, is that I feel like I have little control over much of the things I lack. A second large problem is that to get to a point where I am able to remedy some of these issues requires successfully negotiating myself through some of the things that I dislike the most in life. The primary reason I ended up in the Army so many years ago had to do with avoiding some of these same issues.

Some of the things I need in life are mostly out of my control (see, I was good and did not say completely). I try to go places where I might meet people/someone but I cannot simply conjure up discussion partners nor a companion. Perhaps there is more I could do all along this spectrum of companion-seeking. I have had a few suggestions from some folks, some of which I try, some I do not. Doesn’t mean they are bad suggestions but just that they don’t sit right with me, or at least not now.

There are things I could (theoretically) do and that I could possibly work harder at. I have a couple of folks who would love to have in-depth conversations about some of the topics of prime interest to me, which is one of the main things lacking in my life. And, bless their hearts (Jodi, primarily), they keep trying, but our prime communication mechanism is email.

Call me a Luddite, or non-L2, or whatever you like, but serious conversation is almost impossible for me in a non-face-to-face setting. I am looking for full-blown, full-on conversation and not some pale specter of it that can happen in email, blogs and other electronic means. Because, well, I already have that. I am not claiming that such is impossible by any means. It happens (for me) on rare occasions. But it is vastly too hard for me to accomplish via these means generally; it is too hard for me and takes far more time than I would like. It takes forever to clarify terms and fine points, which leads to leaving some of them unglossed, which, in turn, leads to needless argument over things which are in actuality agreed on. Knowing that I have folks who’d like to converse with me and being unable to do so effectively just adds to my issues.

Things that I want very much to do do not get accomplished. Things that I tell others I will do drop by the wayside. Luckily, so far nothing of major significance that I have promised anyone else has slipped. But, for example, when I tell Jodi I will write a post on a certain conference program then I should. I know she understands, and I even understand, but whether it has to be or not, the “failure” increases the feeling of unbalance, amongst other feelings.

The kid could really use a vacation. I could be wrong, but the last real vacation I remember having was in 1984 or 1985 when my mom and her man came to visit me in Belgium and we traveled around Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.

Sure, I’ve had things called vacations since. But when I was in the Army most of my vacations happened when things at home got so backlogged that I had to take time off to deal with domestic chores. When we have taken a vacation as in going somewhere it was usually for more ulterior motives even if there was a bit of amusement and relaxation mixed in. Right before I left the Army the whole family took a trip to Illinois to visit colleges for both Jeremy and me. On the way up from Texas we stopped at the Cotton Bowl to see a Major League Soccer game and fireworks. It was the 4th of July.

Vacations as a student have been for the exact same reason. There is so much to do around here; always.

I’ve been to visit family in DC at some point early in this century and while it was quite relaxing I don’t exactly consider visiting family to be a vacation. And considering that my apartment was invaded by a large number of mice which ended up making me deathly ill for the next 6 months, well, not so vacation-like in the end.

The last couple conferences I went to were in many ways vacation-like but they were not vacations. They were conferences.

So I ought to just take a vacation, you say? Right. Drop me a line in my comment form and I’ll tell you where you can mail the check.

I do not know what any of this means. Not as regards my life; other than things need to change. Not as regards school. Not as regards job hunting. And not as regards this blog or my other adventures in cyberspace.

I won’t say that I’m going away because I don’t think that’s true. I may be fairly quiet for a while, both here and in commenting on others’ blogs. Or I may not. I will try and accept that my weekly reading lists may be most of what I do for a while. I have had a few people tell me that they find them useful. Feeling useful is a nice feeling for me. As for anything else I cannot say. I have no doubt that on occasion something will exercise me past the point of silence.

I am not avoiding anyone and I most certainly do not want my friends to think they must or should avoid me. My friends know the various means to get a hold of me and I am thankful that they do use those means, and I hope that they will continue to.

I have some very big, and to me terrifying, changes to face in the near future all the while attempting to deal with the issue of identifying and incorporating some balance in my life. I have no idea how I’ll fare. But I go into it knowing that I have many people who care about me, some deeply. This knowledge, in the fullest sense of the word, can only help.

…we drove out to the desert
just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars…

Counting Crows – Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby – This Desert Life

Now wouldn’t that be nice…

20 thoughts on “Balance?

  1. sorry to hear your balance is out of whack. it’s interesting looking at your last two posts side by side….that you are still so excited by librarianship/the academia surrounding it while in this pointing out here how unsure of your place you are. I guess so many of up feel the opposite way (excited re: actual librarianship, not so excited about the academia!).

    hey and driving out to the middle of nowhere for a day counts a LITTLE as vacation!

    i see why you have no time to do anything–have you looked at that reading list!? :)

  2. You know, it sounds to me like you need a sabbatical. Amid the pressures of everyday life, it’s really hard to listen to one’s inner self to hear what you truly need to achieve balance. I just took off a couple of days from work to do absolutely nothing. It was lovely — but it wasn’t enough. I need a sabbatical, without any obligations other than those I impose on myself. And I need to make sure that those I do impose aren’t too ambitious.

    However, I would also point out that balance doesn’t ever mean you have everything perfect, but that you are constantly tilting back and forth to stay erect. Think of the process of standing on one foot; even at its best, the muscles of the foot are constantly working to maintain balance. The best you can hope for is that the muscle movements are minimal rather than dramatic swings of the pendulum.

    Right now, it sounds like you need one of those dramatic swings in order to achieve even a minimal moment of balance.

    I do enjoy reading your blog. Have you ever considered emailing Barbara Tillett about your interests in her dissertation? She’d probably be interested in the discussion. Her email is available on the LC website.

  3. Hey Mark. Good thing you’re able to recognize that things need adjusting. Lots of people never get it. So, for what it’s worth, I have two magic recommendations for you that will, and I guarantee this, they *will* change your life:

    1. Learn to say no.
    2. Learn to let go.

    I could spend the next 20 minutes explaining how these two things have made it possible for me to find and keep balance in my life, most of the time, but I won’t. I know you will figure it out. But if you just say, “easier said than done,” and forget about it, you really will miss the point. Balance, like good relationships, requires effort. But the effort, magically, isn’t in what you *do* but in what you choose *not to do.*

    I wish you the best.

  4. Funny thing: Writing about balance doesn’t always mean having it…just like writing about the need to take a break is odd for me at the moment, having gone a relatively long time without an actual vacation (for complex reasons).

    I just skimmed this for now, but I think I hear what you’re saying. And “sabbatical” does have a nice sound to it… maybe an extreme temporary shift is necessary. (Am I talking to you or myself? Dunno. I agree that real-world conversations are MUCH richer than anything in this environment.)

    Best I can do is say “Take care.” Of yourself first and foremost. And right now, I think I need to say that to myself as well. Maybe it’s one of those summers…

  5. Jenny, yes, I fully realize that there are some, shall I say, contrastive elements in my life. As you know, I dislike the concept of dichotomies since I feel that there are so few of them; or that life (mine, anyway) is rarely that simple.

    But these sorts of oppositions are rife in my life the last few years, and they only seem to *grow* in number.

    Little vacations *are* nice. And hanging out with you in Toronto was a little vacation; along with being something else. It was nice, and it was fairly relaxing. But my critique of vacations is more in line with Walt’s as an extended going away from the normal and daily business.

    Do you mean my reading list? Which is lengthy and only seems to grow.

  6. Welcome bibliotecaria. I *do* need a sabbatical! But seeing as I am still a student and employed as such, no one is going to give me one. If I could otherwise afford it on my own I would most certainly take one.

    I have been telling my advisor for the last 6 months that I need a sabbatical and I think she agrees. If I could simply take a year off I could (probably) do some amazing things, along with even accomplishing some projects around the house.

    Glad you enjoy the blog, although I’m beginning to wonder if my being so off-balance is beginning to make me “unpleasant”.

    Perhaps I should email Dr. Tillett. But I think I’ll wait until I’ve had a chance to actually look at the dissertation instead of just the various synopses she has produced over the years.

    Thank you for your comments.

  7. Hi Georgia. Yes, recognition is the 1st step. And your points about saying no and letting go do seem to be the keys.

    I think I will focus on those 2 steps. Of course, 1st I need to do some sorting out and figure out just what to apply each of them to. I have no illusions that even that will be easy.

    But thank you for the advice! If I can only “take it” then things should dramatically improve.

  8. Walt, my friend, I *do* think you are talking to both of us.

    I’ll make it formal, for both of us:

    “Walt, take a break and take care of yourself.”

    “Mark, take a break and take care of yourself.”

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  10. Hey Mark. I definitely understand where you’re coming from and I hope you can find the sort of rewarding interactions and balance in life that you’re seeking. I think balance is a constantly changing thing. I find it funny how sometimes the things I really want in my life at one point are the things I need to remove from my life to find any balance further down the line. Sometimes we need to sort of step back from things to see what’s important and what we could probably do without in our lives.

    You’re at a really transitional time in your life, with finishing up school and all. It’s a difficult time to find much balance when so much is up in the air and uncertain. I know I felt very “off” during that period just after library school until I’d been in my job for a few months. I worried that maybe I only liked librarianship “on paper” and that in the “real world” I’d be the chronically dissatisfied person I was before. And I feel it now too, now that I’ve accomplished a lot of the things I’ve always wanted to do. It’s kind of like “well, what’s next?” I feel directionless and anxious. Lots of roads, but which one to take? That’s what makes me feel unbalanced.

    I think probably a change in the routine (and scenery if you have the time and $$) might give you some perspective about the things in your life that you really enjoy and the things you could do without. I’ll admit that I haven’t taken a vacation in years that didn’t involve a conference somewhere in there or visiting my parents (which never feels like a vacation either). It’s good sometimes to disconnect.

    Anyways, I probably made no sense since I’m struggling with mixed-up feeling myself, but I wish you luck in figuring it all out. Anyone who questions stuff as much as you do must be a damn good librarian. :)

  11. Hi Mark,

    That particular post really resonated with me, and maybe its because I am in such a horrible transition period myself.

    So, I am in a place where I have never felt more unbalanced or unsure. Here’s some of what I’ve learned that helps me get on, even if only a little. Maybe some of it will be useful to you or someone.

    1.) If I’m feeling hopeless, or sad, or angry, I just let myself feel it for a while. I only ever seem to become really unglued when I try to convince myself and others that I don’t feel anything negative ever at all. Kind of like patching something broken, and then cramming it fuller just to prove to yourself it never was broken. That’s just a silly thing to do to an object, why do it to yourself? You might already be good at this, but it’s taken me a while to learn.

    2.) Just be still sometimes. When I get too overwhelmed, sometimes I just go on my stoop and sit no matter how busy or behind or whatever I am. I do nothing but hear what I hear and see what I see. Eventually my imagination takes over and I’m elsewhere. When I come back around, I usually feel loads better.

    3.) Destinationless road trips. Seriously, get an atlas of Illinois (preferably with a gazetteer) and just hit the road, making sure to stop whenever you feel the urge. I do this a lot with a friend of mine, but it’s just as fun alone. We end up in all kinds of places, with coffee and a packet of beef jerky to last the day. We’ve been broke lately, so we usually top the tank off with ten, mark the midway point, and head home when it gets there. Since you didn’t have a place in mind, it’s not so bad to just stop and head home.

    4.) Reading the Joy of Cataloging for the umpteenth time. I don’t think I really need to explain myself here ;)

    5.) Whenever you do take a vacation, come visit me in Vermont! No coincidence that Meredith posted before me. She’s in central, I’m up north, you’ll cover a lot of ground. Then we can sit and have face time over strong coffee and home cooking…outside, of course, where you may view my sexy kitties but not be affected by them.

    That’s all she wrote.

  12. Thanks, Meredith. You make perfectly good sense to me, by the way.

    I think a very key point is what you said about how “sometimes the things I really want in my life at one point are the things I need to remove from my life to find any balance further down the line.” This is very true for me, also. The difficulty is recognizing that point when it arrives, especially since it is probably more of a transition than a point.

    May we both find some direction and balance in our lives, even for a moment so that we may recharge in preparation for the next period. :)

  13. oh yes i did not mean our toronto thing, but i mean going away for a weekend.

    yes, i cannot imagine how you have time to read all that.

  14. Hi Helen,

    I used to be an expert at #1, in a sense. I would hurry my way to the bottom (via music, primarily) so I could begin the upswing sooner. I don’t intentionally use this trick so much anymore. And while there is perhaps some good argument to be made for using it again, I don’t know. This technique is one I’m sort of in a transition period with. But it has (at times) served me well in the past.

    #2 C’mon, beautiful! This is me you’re talking to. Do you even imagine that I can be still? I really, really, really wish I could. But except for extremely short periods of time, I seem incapable. Still, an important concept and one I do try to attain.

    #3 Actually a good idea. I could make excuses about how/when but I won’t. Tis a great idea.

    #4 :)

    #5 I would SO love to visit Vermont! I WILL get there someday.

    Take care of yourself, girl! But, then, it sounds like you may be better at it than me already. ;)

  15. Hey, Jenny. I knew you didn’t mean Toronto, but I had meant to spin that in a much better light in the original post. It was great and fairly vacation-like. But anytime I (have to) shave I ain’t counting it as a vacation. ;)

    I am going to try and shift some of my reading time into other things. But it is what I do. And besides, vacuum or read? Dust or read? Not so hard a choice really.

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  17. Thanks, Laura! Be careful what you offer. Someone might take you up on it. ;)

    I have a feeling it is a lot further than I think, though.

    Now if I can only find the time (and gas $) to swing by Minneapolis area and on out to Wyoming and back….

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