The Best of Times

I’m a troglodyte. However, I’ve embraced modern distance education with a passion.

It’s a tumultuous affair carried out over vast distances interjected with?or so it seems to me?long periods of silence. There are days when my email inbox welcomes me with a cryptic ?There are no messages in this folder? as I wait expectantly for my latest assignment’s return.

Each morning fills my day with good intentions that drain away untested. Distractions, inertia, and procrastination devour my time. I allow complacency to set in, knowing that tomorrow my cup will overflow with good intentions once more.

For a troglodytic, self-employed husband and student, good intentions are as prolific as red-pencilled editorial notations on a manuscript.

Some would even say that a refusal to embrace technology is a form of procrastination. I promise my daughter that I’ll dispense with my quixotic aversion to modernity. She wants me to learn how to use her cellphone so that She’s not embarrassed by my fumbling attempts to dial in front of her friends. I don’t own a laptop, DVD player, digital camera, or an iPod. A shaving mug, brush, and a non-electric razor sit atop my bathroom vanity.

I persist in writing with a fountain pen that stains my fingers blue. I also cook, wash the laundry, and vacuum the carpet because the demands my wife’s career place upon her, combined with my office-at-home lifestyle, make it feasible for me to do so.

As well, I’m studying English literature at Athabasca University and participating in its thoroughly modern approach to education. I am, in some respects then, quite the modern man, but being modern is challenging.

The challenge is in keeping the various aspects of life in balance. My spouse teaches mathematics full-time, studies part-time at Ottawa U, and periodically augments her skills with supplementary courses through Athabasca University. Consequently, our relationship comes under siege at times; therefore, spending a few precious moments communicating with each other is critical.

We walk in the park and I listen carefully as she shares the events of her day. She listens to mine. My career, if I allow it, can be a relentless adversary that wants to consume me. Each workday offers eight hours and when a particularly demanding task crosses my desk, I restrain myself from sacrificing that evening’s stroll. To lose a few minutes here and there appears innocuous, but the moments are irretrievable.

I set my own schedule, but with the demands put upon me by family, work, and school there’s a paucity of time to waste. A family member’s ?I’ve run out of gas? plea interrupts a busy afternoon. A sister begs: ?My mover didn’t show. Will you rescue me?? A friend emails an invite for an espresso at Starbucks.

These are honourable defeats, but they remind me why I envy my mentor, father-figure Adam. He rents office space somewhere in town. The room is, according to Adam, small and dingy with a crack-checkered window that looks out over an industrial wasteland. His office is sparsely furnished with a desk, chair, and bookcase, file cabinet and the ubiquitous coffee pot. There’s no telephone, but he avails himself of a computer. His name isn’t on the door or occupant list.

Adam spends his days immersed, without interruption, in his writing life. I envy him. However, he confesses that there are days when he envies me.
?You’re lucky,? Adam says. ?It wasn’t possible to combine school with working at home when I was young.?

He’s right, of course. I am lucky. My student/career/home life is exacting and sporadically arduous. I appreciate, however, the opportunity to learn under the guidance of skilled, readily available tutors. Clarity is the gift that these educators give me. My world view is clearer and maturer.

Periodically these responsibilities are daunting. I sometimes complain about the demands juggling family, career, and school place on me, but the rewards are incalculable.

Charles Dickens states my sentiments succinctly. As he proclaims in his novel A Tale of Two Cities: ?It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . [but] we had everything before us . . .?

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