Sunday, November 18, 2012

# 24 Doin' The Grind

   I don't know about you, but it happens to me a couple of times a year, during November or February. I enter into a world of low extremes, trapped in the grey neighbourhood of "blah". Maybe it's the change in daylight, season, or just the daily routine, but it is obvious to me.  During this period, I am neither withdrawn or overly involved with people or the events of my work day. The days just get a little too predictable for my tastes. However, I do try to combat the feelings with positive responses. I call the state of mind, The Grind.  Here are some recurring observations I have made about the experience.

    It starts in the morning when I have that first look in the mirror. As time moves along I can't help but notice the nasty reality of gravity and the damage it has done. I don't allow myself the luxury of vanity when I'm doing The Grind.  After all, at least all my body parts are there and working, just not in the same place they were a few years ago.

    The other thing that I notice during these times it how disconnected I am from my daily routine. For example, it takes me an hour from the time I get out of bed 'till I pull out of the driveway for the commute. During this hour I do about twenty repetitive tasks five days a week. I have done this routine so many times that sometimes I start my drive to work and the whole hour is a blur to me. I'll have all my tools for the day, keys, phone, lunch, etc., but I don't remember packing them.

    I know there are other people who do exactly the same thing because I see them on the morning commute. Often I pull beside the same car at the stop light and see the same people in the car next to me, everyone staring straight ahead. Sometimes, it's the same woman talking on the cell phone while fixing her makeup in the mirror. I don't know any of them, and I never see them at any other time. However,  I consider them part of my "commuting team!" One time I pulled up beside a guy I have seen a million times before and so I waved to him. He reluctantly waved back and gave me one of those perplexed looks. I am sure I had him thinking about me for the rest of the day.

    I work at a job where I am locked in a room with thirty kids who come and go every 75 minutes. In the last few years I've noticed that I am the only one who ages. For almost three decades everyone has been 14 to 18 years old.  They look the same, say the same things, make the same excuses about why they can't participate in the learning process. Sometimes, I catch myself participating in conversations that most adults would consider "insane". (Actually, I should retract that statement because sometimes I have insane conversations with adults too.) One time I was in the middle of one of these conversations and I said, "You know, you acting like a child." And the kid said to me, "Ah sir, I am a child."  All I could say was "Oh, you're right, sorry" For me, the challenge is to respond to every interaction as though it is my first time.

    When I'm doing The Grind, I don't need people interfering with my mood. So the positive energy people tend to get in the way of my day. There are a lot these manufactured "positive thinkers" in education, as I am sure there are in all big organizations. Many of them artificially develop their attitudes through reading, doing workshops and self-reflection/manipulation. Many, especially the ambitious ones will read all the latest books on how to stay positive, how to make more efficient use of your time etc. I confess, I have read a few of these manuals, but gave it up when I realized it is just a form of corporate mind manipulation. The movement is really about the denial of feelings rather than an acknowledgement of them. It is basically about keeping everyone on task regardless of their state of mind. Once, one of these self constructed robots asked me, "Do you think of yourself as a glass half empty or half full kind of guy?"  I said, "Well that depends, am I drinking or pouring?  They became confused and proclaimed I had an "attitude problem."

   There are many other repetitive tasks I do during the course of my day which are not memorable, like: the incessant marking, photocopying, phone calls, trips to the office, sorting of papers, hole punching papers, stapling papers, loading the photocopier, answering emails, meetings, policing the students, doing fire alarms, picking up after kids, and well, I guess you get the picture. There are times when it all becomes a grind.

    So, I don't think doing The Grind is anything new or unique to my job in particular. I am sure millions of people around the world live it for longer periods than I do. It is difficult to say if its origins are from internal or external environments. For me, the issue comes down to coping with the mental state as oppose to changing it. Personally, I don't think there is a sure fire way. Regardless, it is there. When I find myself doing it for an extended period, each day I try to do something I have never done before, even if it's taking a different route to work or packing a different lunch. I start with little stuff and move up the bigger daily events; I find it helps. However, for people who find themselves trapped into doing The Grind day in and day out for years, and there are a lot of people in this position, my sympathies and empathy go out to you!