A new no normal

Wes’s alarm went off at 4:45am. He peeled back the single bedsheet we’d pulled up at some point in the night, moved to the foot of the fold-out bed, walked three feet across the floor, and tapped a small battery operated puck light in the bathroom. This was enough to illuminate the trailer in the early morning darkness.

4:45am is a strange time because it’s too early for me, but not by much. I can be persuaded to get up at 5am for something cool. 5:30am is an easier sell. And, here in the desert, the earlier I’m awake, the greater number of hours I have to do something outdoors while it’s hospitable out. The contrast in my energy between morning and afternoon is significant. Even as someone whose IQ usually drops in the afternoon, here in the blazing summer of southwest Utah I am stupid by 2pm.

I decided to get up. Not just to drive him to work and then come back to the Airstream to go back to bed. I was going to get fully up-up. I started fumbling around for pillows, stacking them on the small corner table and stuffing them to the side so I could fold the mattress back in on itself and scoot the pullout frame back in to half its size, thus creating our couch by day (queen sized bed by night). The sheets got stowed in a cabinet cleverly installed at the head of the bed just under the front wraparound window, iconic to many Airstreams.

Awake though I was, I made Wes drive the truck to his work, over in a nondescript warehouse about 10 minutes away. He grabbed the Utah Gazateer from the dashboard, which I grumbled about because I imagined I might need it although I have looked at it all of twice in the month since we bought it. He got out of the truck, dumped his gear for the week on the ground, kissed me, and walked away toward the warehouse where he stages trips. I hopped out and pulled myself up into the driver’s seat.

I slowly navigated the truck back to the trailer in the still-deep darkness and refreshingly empty roads of early morning in St. George. Turn-signaling here, and waiting for the light to go green there, I immediately missed Wes who’ll be gone for a full week. But I also felt excited for the enormous energy and focus I knew I’d be able to expend with my significant other out of the daily equation for six days. The temperature gauge on the truck read 70 degrees.

Back at the Airstream, I made myself coffee and actually took (significant) time to wake up. I decided I’d spend my best, early morning energy today, Monday, catching up on consulting. I’d just finished an original painting yesterday and had just enjoyed an entire week of hiking, painting, and art/life related tasks.

On my second cup of coffee, I cracked open my Dell laptop, the company-owned one I use for consulting, and realized that something that typically happens when I do that was not happening: my heart wasn’t racing. I didn’t feel like something was about to chase and pin me down.

I prodded myself mentally. “Email!” I thought, reminding myself what was about to happen when I clicked that icon. My heart raced only a tiny bit. I decided not to overthink it, and if email wasn’t stressing me out, let email simply happen.

A few things: I share all of this to illustrate not a typical, but a typical-in-that-there-is-no-typical morning. Some of the features are similar if not the same: the wake up routine, the immediate need for caffeine to catalyze me into a coherent and pleasant human being, and the weighing of how to best use my time and energy in a day where I’m the one largely making decisions on how to spend both.

I also share this to illustrate my changing relationship to work. The lack of the feeling of being chased was a big deal moment for me. No, there’s no one actually chasing me at work, but for the longest time I’ve felt that email is something out to try to get me. I’ve felt a lack of real choice in what I do with my time, in a world where I’ve entered into agreement that I get paid a certain sum in exchange for my work. This is particularly heightened in consulting, where the hours I’m paid are directly correlated to the work I bring in or accept.

Now, I no longer have a salary. I’m hourly. The agreement of my employment is explicit in that some days and weeks I might work a whole lot; others I might work very little or none. The flip side is, almost all of the responsibility to bring in and sustain work rests on me now, and if I work very little in consulting, I make very little. But in that I have freedom. I have a lot more grounding when I look at my inbox to know that I always have the option to say no and feel perfectly okay and ethical about it. That gives me great peace of mind.

Today I worked a little over four hours on consulting projects. I’m smack in the middle of one, asking some questions so I can follow up; another project is coming to a close in the next two weeks and I’m emailing reminders of what we need to complete the work; another one is just in contracting and startup phase, so I’m drafting a list of things I need to discuss with the client this week. It feels exciting. It feels manageable. It feels like I’m giving something I have to give, and am competent in.

Then, I spent a couple of hours on Alli Harvey Art related writing projects and social media.

I had it on my list to paint. But you know what? By 4pm, I didn’t have the energy anymore. I decided not to push myself.

I sat down and wrote this instead. There’s still tomorrow. And the days after that.

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