From My Perspective – Too much time on my hands?

November 20th, 2002

Last week’s article detailed several days of neighbourhood surveillance activities I engaged in. I received some interesting feedback, suggesting that perhaps I have too much time on my hands. I decided that this week I should explain how I spent the seven days subsequent to writing that article – just in case anyone decided that I really was lacking productive activities to occupy me!

November 11: Worked Noon-6 PM. I had missed the deadline for my Voice article because I was called in to work Sunday as well, so after arriving home I immediately finished the article off and sent it to our patient and understanding editor, Tammy. Tossed a load of laundry in, then returned to my computer to write a movie review of Bowling for Columbine.

Ever since my recent health worries, I’ve made it a point to cook a healthy, well-balanced meal at least once a week. So after sending off my articles, I made a “proper” meal of meat, potatoes, vegetables and salad, and my daughters and I had a late supper together.

By now it’s around 11 P.M. Read and responded to a couple dozen emails, then spent several hours on a sociology assignment. In bed by 2 A.M.

November 12: I don’t work today, so I hope to get some serious studying done. However, I have a slow start to the morning, and when my daughter calls at 10:00 AM, I’m still in my pyjamas drinking coffee and reading the paper. She needs a supportive and listening ear from her mother on some personal matters. Since I’ve resolved to put my family’s needs first whenever possible, I set my studies aside and we spend a good portion of the rest of the morning talking.

Toss another load in the laundry, notice that my feet are starting to stick to the kitchen floor, and that the dishes are threatening to fall off the counter, so do a quick clean up. Run to the bank, then pick my daughter up so she can come by and use the computer.

At 2 PM, sit down to do a couple hours of studying. My youngest daughter arrives home from school and needs some study help. She is struggling with her chemistry homework (which I’m hopeless at), but I try my best nonetheless. I then drive her to work, take my other daughter to a rehearsal, return home and start wading through some 40 emails awaiting a response. CAUS has an upcoming tuition forum at U of A, so I spend some time discussing the forum and some other CAUS activities with VP Shirley Barg and CAUS chair Anand Sharma by telephone.

Receive some information on a peer support conference I’m scheduled to attend during the weekend, and I contact fellow Council member Sandra Moore, who is attending as well, to make some arrangements. Begin planning an upcoming Council meeting.

Almost 9 PM before I get back to my books, but by that time I have to go pick my daughter up from work. On the way home we make a quick stop at Safeway, since our fridge is getting pretty bare. None of us had time to eat supper earlier, so we cook a late meal, then sit down to watch a recording of a Days of Our Lives episode while we eat. She asks me, “why are we watching this dumb show, mom?” I toy with various excuses; “?its a sociology study,’ or “?I need to review it for a course assignment on modern media,’ or “?watching soap operas is psychological research;’ unwilling to admit that I get some kind of guilty pleasure out of watching it. I finally answer, “I have absolutely no idea.” In spite of the fact that we agree it’s a waste of time, we keep watching.

At midnight, my daughter goes to bed. I return to my computer to finish up my email, monitor the AUSU discussion forum, and do a bit of online research for my next course assignment. In bed by 2:30 A.M.

November 13. Get up, have a coffee and read the paper. Notice an item on the winner of the Miss Captivity contest (most attractive woman in Lithuania doing jail time). Make a copy – sounds like good Voice article material!

Go through my usual 30-40 emails. Lots of CAUS stuff, press releases, meeting information for the upcoming tuition forum. Take a couple of hours to prepare for the forum, get some AUSU office stuff done, and go through some emails I had flagged for follow up the previous week.

Pick up my daughter, then return to my computer to do some coursework.

The doorbell rings. Three young Mormon boys are on my doorstep. I had chatted briefly with them a week before (I think they caught me on the step when I was doing my neighbourhood surveillance!). They had offered me a book of Mormon, and I had accepted it as an addition to my research library. Now they wanted to know if I’d read the book and wanted to talk further. Their eager, hopeful looks made me feel very guilty, but I politely told them that I was really too busy to talk, and had not had time for any reading.

Took my other daughter to a doctor’s appointment, then headed to work.

Return home at midnight. Make something to eat. Try reading a chapter in my Communications 421 textbook, but having a hard time concentrating. Pour myself a glass of wine, sit in my favourite chair, turn on the TV, and channel surf mindlessly for a bit. Pretty sparse viewing this time of night, except for infomercials and talk shows. The documentary channel has a rather graphic show on training strippers (I must admit I’m quite fascinated by the variety of silicone implants!). Jerry Springer hosts a midget who is mad at the world and gets even by deceiving vulnerable women. Jenny Jones is giving paternity tests and flashing cute pictures of “fatherless” babies. Colmillo Blanco does his wolf-rescue cartoon on the Spanish channel. Some late night re-runs of old sitcoms and MadTV. Every second station seems to have sexy girls in bikinis rolling around on the beach exhorting male viewers to “call now.” I finally give up and go to bed at around 3 A.M.

November 14. 7:00 AM my daughter is getting up for school and the phone is ringing. I moan and roll over, but it’s no use, and I drag myself out of bed.

I manage to read the front section of the paper and have a cup of coffee, but the phone keeps ringing. Some AUSU matters to deal with, and I have to contact several government departments in search of information. I find myself cursing whoever invented the phone message selection system, as I listen to option after option and press number after number in a futile attempt to contact a human being who can answer my questions.

Drive my daughter to do some errands, then meet VP Shirley Barg to work on our presentation for the CAUS tuition forum that evening. At 2 PM, we head to the U of A for a panel discussion on the future of post-secondary education, which includes Tom Pocklington, author of No Place to Learn (1), along with Don Carmichael and Gary Kachanowski (U of A Research). Pocklington has raised the concern that universities are focusing on research to the detriment of undergrad students and teaching quality (2). In the forum, the U of A tries to justify the value of a research focus, while students in the audience debate the “publish or perish” mentality.

After the forum, we meet with CAUS representatives to discuss future plans.

On my way home, pick up my daughter so she can accompany me to the tuition forum that evening, arriving home at 5 PM. She tries to do some work on the computer and we discover that it is inexplicably not working properly and won’t access the internet. We try to fix the problem, troubleshooting every possible route, including crawling around on the floor checking wiring. Suddenly realize that it’s almost 7 PM and we have to leave for the forum. I utter a few curse words at a piece of machinery that apparently has a mind of its own, set a scandisk in motion and head out the door. We are going to be late, and I find myself pushing the speed limit.

Hit a construction zone on the way. I’m trying not to feel stressed but not entirely succeeding. Make it to the university with a few minutes to spare.

Forum is reasonably well attended, but it’s mostly students rather than the target group we had hoped for – the general public & parents. Raj Pannu of the NDP is there, as is Liberal Ken Nichol, and their comments are thoughtful and worthy of consideration. Shirley Barg and Mike Hudema speak on behalf of undergrad students. The PC’s are noticeable by their absence, and although the debate was extremely interesting, it tended to be somewhat one-sided, with most panelists in agreement on issues. The exception was the U of A rep, Fran Trehearne, who drew the biggest response of the evening when he made a comment about the CAUS newspaper ad that reads “to become a doctor, Emma’s university education will cost at least $111,817 on top of her living expenses.”(3) Trehearne said that when his neighbours saw the ad, they commented that it sounded like a good deal. The audience erupted in gasps and titters and murmured almost unanimously – “what neighbourhood do YOU live in?”!!

At almost 10 PM left the forum, dropped my daughter off, and picked up my other daughter from work. We arrived home, had some supper, and I realized I had not yet read the newspaper. After reading the paper I went through my email and finally headed to bed at a relatively early 1 AM.

November 15. Moving very slowly this morning, chronic pain from an old automobile injury is acting up. Aches and pains might be eased by a whirlpool bath – but I have to clear off the yellow bath ring first! Clean the bathroom and run a bath, then realize we are out of towels…so I do another load of laundry.

Take a look at the front page of the paper, quickly review email and respond to urgent matters.

Spend two hours studying, then decide to try again to fix the #@*$%! computer. Run scan disc and defrag, reload programs, restart computer repeatedly. Do some program updates. In order to update my CD software I have to register and enter usernames and passwords…. and I start to curse under my breath at yet another password I have to remember.

Phone keeps ringing and I try to respond to email in between. I make supper in advance since I have to work, and head out to pick up my daughter from school.

Work from 6 PM to 11 PM. On the way home I decide that my car is just way too dirty to keep driving it (temperatures have been above zero and snow, slush and mud has been the norm for the last few days). Fortunately the carwash is still open, and I clear the mud and grime off, hoping my doors won’t be frozen shut the next morning.

Home at midnight. It’s Friday and the teenagers are still out, so the house is quiet. I have to be up at 7 AM, but can’t make myself go to bed, so once again I turn on the TV. This time I actually find a few programs worth watching, but I finally start nodding off and head to bed at 2 AM.

November 16. My alarm rings at 7:30 AM. As much as I’d like to stay in bed, I have a conference to attend. I’m out of the house by 8:20, stop by Second Cup, head downtown to pick up Sandra, and we are off to the University of Alberta.

The peer support conference was extremely informative and interesting (and well-organized). I did find myself struggling to stay awake during the late afternoon sessions, particularly the last one on addictions, since I had been through a similar one a few months previously when training for my new job. At 4:30, sessions ended and all participants headed to Fiore’s Italian restaurant for supper. There was a roundtable discussion scheduled after dinner, but I was way too tired and persuaded Sandra that we should skip it. I dropped her at her hotel, and headed home.

Arrived at home, visited with my daughter for a while, read the newspaper, and caught up on my email. As much as I wanted to stay up and watch Saturday Night Live and MadTV, I was struggling to stay awake. My daughter had friends over and the basement was vibrating with music and laughter, but in spite of it all I fell into a deep slumber by 1 AM.

November 17. Up at 8:00 AM for the last day of the peer support conference, followed by a meeting with CAUS at 5:30. Exhausted, I walked in the door at 9:00 PM, said hello to my daughters, quickly skimmed through the morning newspaper, then worked till midnight to finish this article. Certainly no time to hang out on my step and watch my neighbours this week!!!

As hectic and exhausting my week was, I’m sure it’s not much different than that of most of my fellow AU students. Maintaining such a schedule without burning out is a challenge, yet somehow we manage. Some insight into how we accomplish this was brought home to me at the Peer Support conference. During one session I had to fill out a “compassion satisfaction/fatigue self test for helpers.” Among the key indicators for lowering one’s susceptibility to burnout are “?finding life satisfying’ and “?feeling that you are achieving your life goals.’ The satisfaction and sense of achievement we get from our studies keeps us sane!

Next week: The Peer Support Conference.

1. Pocklington, Tom & Tupper, Alan. (2002) No Place to Learn. British Columbia University Press.
2. “Research push cannibalizes other budgets” October 23, 2002 Edmonton Journal

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University

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