Routine and Freedom [en]

[fr] La liberté, et la routine. Trop de liberté ne rend pas forcément plus heureux. Et si la liberté c'était de pouvoir choisir ses contraintes? Retour sur mon histoire avec la liberté et les habitudes.

Kites @ KepongPhoto credit: Phalinn Ooi

I think about routine a lot. I spent a lot of time when I was at university trying to be free. I was quite free, actually. Habits and routine are something we can get stuck in and that might shield us from seeing things we need to see — but I naturally gravitate to the other end of the spectrum, the introspective one, the one who thinks too much, wonders too much, asks herself too many questions. It was clear to me, already back then, that routine/habits had their use: they allowed us to lighten the load of thinking and deciding when it comes to our lives.

I spent ten years at university. Ten. Being a student. Three years studying chemistry (and finally failing), and seven years in what we call “Lettres”, studying History of Religions, Philosophy, and French. One of those years was spent in India. I then spent a lot of time not writing my dissertation. All in all, I spent many years with very long holidays and a very do-it-yourself schedule. It was a good time of my life. It was difficult to see it end.

Is freedom so important to me because of this slice of life, or did I hang out in that context so long because of how important it is to me?

Over the years, I’ve realised that “too much freedom” in the way I live my days does not make me happy. By that I mean complete lack of routine. Was it the first or second summer I was living alone in my first flat? A friend had used the kite metaphor: when you’re free, you let the string out and the kite can fly far, far up high. And I had let my kites go out a bit too far. University resumed, I drew my kites in.

In 2009, it felt like I had got my shit together. My life felt “under control”, in a good way. I wasn’t scrambling after things. If I remember correctly I was even doing my accounting regularly (that’s saying something). And I remember that during that year, I had a pretty solid morning routine. I actually would set my alarm clock. I would wake up at 7:30, and at 9:00 I would be at eclau to work, having pedalled on my stationary bicycle for a good half-hour.

Then 2010 happened. During my catless year, in 2011, I travelled way too much. I made up for all the previous years of no holidays. 2012 was chaotic. All that to say I never got back to where I was in 2009. Briefly, yes. But not consistently. And I know very well how important it is for me to have routines and good habits, so it’s something that’s often top of my mind. But I find myself coming short.

Things might be changing right now. This morning I wrote my first Morning Pages. (Loïc’s fault for mentioning them.) Last week, I got confirmation that Quintus is pretty much completely blind, and so I’ve been actively thinking about how to stabilise his environment — space and time. Quintus is a very routine-oriented cat. All cats are, to some degree, of course.

Blind Quintus Taking a Stroll

So between Morning Pages, cat-related routine, no money to travel (keeps me at home!) and wanting to get back on track when it comes to physical exercise (judo injury in March and slightly expanding waistline that doesn’t fit into favorite winter trousers anymore), the time seems ripe.

I’ve also been wondering recently if I’m not sleeping too much. One of my precious freedoms is not setting an alarm clock in the morning: I sleep as much as I want/need. But I still feel tired. So I think I’ll go with the 7:30 alarm for a bit and see if it changes anything. I’ll report back.

On another note, I sometimes feel like I spent a huge amount of my time in the kitchen dealing with food. I like cooking, and I like eating. But maybe I should limit the number of times I actually cook during the day. I eat a “normal meal” at breakfast, so I sometimes end up cooking three proper meals a day. I should probably reheat or throw something quickly together for morning and lunch, and just cook in the evening.

The biggest freedom might be the freedom to determine your own constraints.

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Reading Like a Student [en]

[fr] Envie de lire mieux. Je vais me remettre à prendre des notes, et les publier ici. C'est du boulot, mais j'apprendrai plus.

As I devour chapter after chapter of Here Comes Everybody, I find the intellectual high of reading and learning dampened by the foresight that a few days/weeks/months from now, what I have just read will have collapsed into the vague mushy pile of “what I know”, complete with shortcuts, sloppy thinking, lack of references or sources, incorrect recollection, and confirmation bias.

This has been my in satisfaction with reading lately. Realising that once the last page is turned, my main impulse is “gosh, I need to read this again so I can hold on to what I’ve just learned”. Much as it pains me, I’ve become a lazy and sloppy (yes, again that word) reader.

It wasn’t always so. I read tons of books during my studies. I took tons of notes. There were no iPhones around, no kindles, no digital versions. I didn’t even have a laptop. I took tons of notes on paper. I wrote summaries. I copied quotes. I read to remember, not for entertainment. I was expected to do something with what I had read.

Nowadays, I read freely. I photograph pages with important ideas and stick them in Evernote rather than painstakingly copying quotes (what a time-saver! makes it so easy to find the right page… if I remember what it was about).

I’m not thinking of going to back to copying quotes long-hand (I can’t really write by hand anymore, thanks to RSI, but that’s another blog post). However, I am thinking of taking my reading more seriously: summarising main ideas, taking notes. Only this time around, there is no reason for them to stay in offline notebooks gather dust: I have a blog for this. The fact that I’m strong-arming (!) a batch of MBA students to keep learning blogs during our partial module together is probably no stranger to this desire to reconnect with the “learning in progress” aspect of blogging.

Stay tuned.

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Stress [en]

A few lines on the stressful life of an apprentice-teacher. Don’t tell me we don’t deserve our holidays. Ever. Again.

[fr] Un petit aperçu du stress de l'enseignant. Et qu'on ne vienne pas me dire qu'on se la coule douce, qu'on est trop payés, et qu'on ne mérite pas nos vacances.

I’ve been thinking a lot about stress this week. I’m pretty stressed these days. I didn’t feel the stress much before the autumn holidays. I just felt very tired. Now I’m much less tired, and much more stressed.

Even though my sources of stress are multiple (private and professional, emotional and simply the sheer amount of work to do) it translates into a permanent background of “thinking of my pupils.” I just can’t get them out of my head. I go to sleep thinking of them, I wake up in the morning dreaming of them, I worry about them during the day, and even when I try to relax, they just won’t leave me alone. I’m usually pretty good at “blanking out” and thinking of “nothing”, but it just doesn’t work anymore nowadays.

It doesn’t help that I don’t have much time to do non-school things. Most of the time I have out of school is spent correcting and marking tests, preparing tests and classes, or discussing various school issues (relational or directly educational) with various people (some of whom must really be sick of hearing about all this stuff by now). Oh, and sleeping. Did I meantion dreaming about school? To put it shortly, I’m finding it hard to unwind.

However, even though I’m having a hard (sometimes rough) time, I’m confident that I’m doing what is necessary to improve the situation, and that I’m handling it as best I can. I am surrounded by competent and helpful people, and that helps a lot. It won’t last forever, and things are under control.

Just don’t tell me that teachers do nothing but sit on their arse all day waiting for their undeservedly long holidays, and go on “strike” because they think they’re not being paid enough. It pisses me off ever so slightly.

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EPFL Offers Blogs to All Its Students [en]

A major engineering school in French-speaking Switzerland (Lausanne) has opened a blogging platform for all students and staff.

[via Hannes, Roberto]

The EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) has set up a blogging platform for all students and staff.

The platform is home-cooked, Java-based, and still in early stages. Trackback and external comments have not been implemented at this stage because of potential spam problems. Their archiving system is in my opinion a little basic, but the blogs all have RSS feeds, so I think there is definitely hope for the future.

I blogged about this in French yesterday, but I think it’s significant news enough for me to mention it again in English. (Plus, I’m thinking very hard about the implication of being a multilingual blog with monolingual readers…)

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So, How Was the Trip? Tell Me About it! [en]

I must admit I’m sick of hearing this question. And as university has just started, I’m again meeting a whole bunch of people I haven’t seen in over a year and who are impatient for news.

The trip was overall a very positive experience. I would encourage anybody who has an occasion to have a similar life-experience to simply go for it.

I grew up a lot (but of course, one always grows up during a year) and feel that I belong to adult-land now.

The first three months were really hard, looking back. My solitary arrival, sickness the second day, a landlady I didn’t get on with and who gently kicked me out, illness and money problems in Delhi – all that was no fun.

The worst at that time was solitude. I was suffering from culture shock, slightly depressed, didn’t know whom to trust, and I had the feeling that try as they might, the people I confided in couldn’t truly relate to what I was going through. That was normal, of course – just as we have trouble imagining what it is for an Indian to land in our culture.

I wrote a lot during that time: my logbook, and “culture shock” notes – which I can’t really find courage to go through and sort out, as they send me back to deeply into those “hard times”.

Meeting Nicola in Delhi and the subsequent weeks in Rishikesh did me a lot of good. I had people to talk to, and got a chance to see how much I had already adapted to this strange culture. Going back to Pune was not too hard, as Mithun‘s family had kindly accepted to put up with me until I found a flat.

The third and last “part” of my journey is the longest – after having met Aleika and settling down in her big and protected home.

When I am asked what I did “over there”, I often answer (amongst others) “babysitting”. People often laugh a little.

It was much more than that, of course. Not everybody gets the chance of living with a baby before having their own. And I must say Somak and Aleika really let me take an important place in Akirno‘s life – I’m very grateful to them about that. It really contributed to making my Indian adventure such a great life experience.

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