The other day, I had a long drive. Not so unusual in general, but unusual enough at the moment that I had to plan my journey. For once, I asked my phone to instruct me, only realizing that it was going to do so in Spanish once I was pulling out of the estate. I had my flask with my tea beside me, the bag of dried apricots to nibble on if needed and could have, if I’d wanted, listened to the radio, a podcast or some music. Instead, I chose to limit myself to the rattle and hum of the car.
When it’s overwhelmed, my brain doesn’t work very well. I find filtering hard. I’m not a natural multitasker. If I try to do anything but cook, the pasta boils over and the onions burn. I like my work – the way I teach is focused and intensive and then done – but thoughts linger, phrases get stuck in my mind. I wonder about dictionary definitions and mouth phonemes as I walk down the hallway and inevitably continue analysing my speech as I step into the next task or sit down for tea.
Overwhelmed me is not a helpful me. Overwhelmed my thoughts are likely to travel inwards. My temper is likely to be shortened. Hence it seems worth making an effort to avoid the point of overwhelm. I would love to be well-informed about what is going on in the world, but all the news stories competing for attention flood my brain with thoughts. Whilst I understand my brain to be an excellent sieve, I also know that if you’re dealing with a lot of flour, you’re better adding it a bit at a time.
The rattle and hum of my thoughts kept me company. To my surprise, I didn’t have any trouble with the Spanish instructions, thanks possibly to my practice navigating a friend around Murcia I did back when I was first learning the language. The standard Spanish voice lacked warmth, but robots aren’t known for their tenderness. I would have felt the same about the English no doubt.
Simplification seems to be my answer to most problems right now. I can’t deal with a complex life. I don’t want to be juggling things all of the time. I want things to be structured and organised. I don’t want to have to go searching for the things I’ve mislaid. I need to know where to find old documents and details. I’m constantly sorting through things, paring back my belongings, limiting my purchases with the exception of books. Thinking ahead.
But this all takes time, and it takes thought. And for my brain to work it needs sufficient quiet. Just the rattle and hum of life trundling along.
You see I was rather loud in my breaking of a glass, outside
of the Casera’s bedroom door, at seven in the morning. Making noise at 11pm is
normal here. The kids in the apartment above run up and down the hallway. The
‘grandmas and grandpas’ in the ‘grandma and grandpa club’ hold a weekly disco.
At seven though the apartment block is in silence. As there are no carpets, and
few curtains, every sound, especially my clunking door reverberates throughout.
When you smash a glass of yogurt and then proceed to clear
it up, cut your finger and wrestle with the cat who is very much awake and
bored, you get into trouble.
History would suggest that I wouldn’t even think of being up this early
However something has changed. For reasons unknown to me I’m doing morning. I’m up early drinking coffee made in my new, tiny Italian moka (pot that you put on the hob to brew coffee). I eat breakfast. I have a short yoga routine. I practice my Spanish. And all before heading out to school.
Waking up, doing yoga, meditating before bed…
These are all things I have wished to do in an elegant habitual fashion for many years. Doing them though didn’t happen. I lacked the willpower to force any of it to happen. There were odd days, once every six months or so where I would wake in a spritely fashion and have a remarkable morning. Odd days. A good intention of executing efficient and energetic morning routines everyday would gestate in my mind. I’d tell myself that this would be a new beginning. The beginning would never get started. The next day I would find myself wondering what devil possessed me to set my alarm clock so early.
So when, at the beginning of January I found myself waking
up, and feeling awake before seven, I figured that it was a temporary
aberration. I would soon revert to my clumsy bear-coming-out-of-hibernation
style getting out of the front door. Brushing my hair would return to the
wayside. My hair would revert back to its messy bun. Coffee would wait until
A few days later, when I was still getting up early, I began
to worry. Yes, I could now touch my toes, what with all the yoga, but the
awake-ness was weird. It was abnormal.
The teachers at school were still recovering from Christmas
They bumped into students as they passed them in the corridors, eyes not quite open, cheeks limp. In classes, the students folded their arms and lay their heads down to rest. The teachers forgot what they were supposed to be teaching and their already Spanish timekeeping took a turn for the worse.
Meanwhile I was bouncing. The children were drinking
chocolate milk and eating cookies for breakfast, but it was me who exhibited
the characteristics of a nine am sugar high. I experimented with decaffeinated
coffee in the mornings, but it made no difference.
I began to worry. When I have too much energy, or when I
sleep for fewer hours, I tend to be charging into a wall. I decided that with
so much energy, the outcome could only be a catastrophic crash and so, wiser
than I once was, I decided that I needed to implement emergency measures.
I figured my emergency measures needed to reflect my resources
I’m practical like that. And January has been sunny. Daily, I have a bright blue sky, a warm yellow sun and I have to wear a moisturiser with UV protection. On a tangent here I’ll add that it would be embarrassing to burn. The colloquial Spanish word for a Brit is ‘gamba’, which means prawn. Back to my resources, I have sunshine and access to a balcony. So, on arriving home from school, I pop the kettle on and migrate to my plastic chair in the sunshine. The heat can be so intense that I have to turn my back to the sun, but it’s a place good for relaxation.
Here I engage in the very serious task of winding down.
This is important as at school I am a fountain of energy
I have no idea how to persuade a teenager on too few hours’ sleep who hasn’t had a decent breakfast to tell me about his life in a language he feels foolish speaking in without spurting stories. My tactic is visible, genuine fascination. I smile; I laugh. I am a caricature of the English. They tell me that in their free time they play football, see television and play video games. I tell them they watch television and ask what position they play on the pitch and how they win their favourite video game.
In England I would be pretty self-conscious about the bursts
of extroversion that spew from my mouth each day. I cross the threshold of the
staff-room each morning with a cheerful doubling up of my welcomes: “¡Hola!
Morning! How’s thee? ¿Qué tal?” When I do speak Spanish, I find that putting it
across with a bubbly extroverted spring is much more successful than with
self-doubting, quiet articulation. Nobody understands doubt within a voice.
Everyone understands grandiose gestures.
All this is exhausting
Exhausting, excessive bubbly behaviour and changes in my sleep pattern are to me like a sick canary in a mine shaft. They’re a warning of trouble.
Hence, when I arrive home I curl up in the sun and read. I
choose to slow down. Sometimes I have a siesta. I cook and listen to a podcast.
Instead of writing on my computer, I pick up my journal. In fact, I avoid my
desk. There are so many ways to get sucked into the computer that feel good,
but are, after a while, quite draining.
Sometimes I go for a walk.
I have no idea how regular folk manage their energy
I work less than twenty hours a week and it still takes me a lot of effort to manage that small demand on my time and energy.
So far though, I haven’t crashed. I’m still doing yoga each
morning. I’m still meditating before I go to bed. I’m still making a fool of
myself at school in such a way that the children can’t help themselves but engage.
I am happy.
I’m wondering, if, maybe, just maybe, I’ve cracked this
As long as I don’t disturb the Casera’s sleep with any more