Moving right along ...
“Yes, I wanted you to see how the comfort of all depends on each doing her share faithfully. While Hannah and I did your work, you got on pretty well, though I don’t think you were very happy or amiable. So I thought, as a little lesson, I would show you what happens when everyone thinks only of herself. Don’t you feel that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes, and to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and lovely to us all?”
“We do, Mother we do!” cried the girls.
Marmee is a firm proponent of the benefits of hard work, one of which is that it sweetens our hours of leisure. I can see her point: I am so inundated with marking right now that my leisure has become like a tray of caramel apples. Poisoned caramel apples.
It’s not exactly the case that I spend every waking hour hard at work. It’s more like I spend every waking hour contemplating getting started on the thirty essays that came in last Friday. While I lounged on the couch last night watching Heroes and Journeyman, I made endlessly postponed plans to get up at the next commercial. While reading blogs at lunchtime today I spent half an hour promising myself that I would get down to work after reading just one more post.
A stack of unmarked essays poisons every leisure moment and yet it makes the prospect of leisure irresistibly compelling. I find myself fantasizing about making homemade applesauce or spending a whole afternoon rereading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Suddenly, I am entranced at the prospect of cookie-baking and clothes-shopping, activities I normally pursue as means to an end rather than as ends in themselves.
Back when I was a student, I would survive exam times by balancing present incentives with future rewards. While I was studying, I depended upon M&M’s paired with chips and salsa to get me through the night and promised myself a nice stack of Harlequin romances to read when I was done. During my comprehensive exams for the Ph.D. I kept a list of plans: dates to go out for coffee with friends, movies I planned to see, beach excursions and costume parties. “Let’s plan something for after my last exam,” I’d say. “From then on, my time is my own.”
My time, of course, will never be my own again. Time is something I steal in greedy snatches from my family, sneaking it in small chunks while the children nap or borrowing it on account when hubby takes over for the day.
Despite her preachy tone, Marmee is right about the drawbacks of uninterrupted leisure. I’m usually happier when I’m a bit too busy than I am when I’m not quite busy enough. The great swathes of free time that I’m hankering for right now do not have a proven track record for making me happy. But right now that can’t entirely suppress the longing I feel to pop in a DVD of Grey’s Anatomy (season 2) and watch it for eight hours, breaking only long enough to order pizza.