Monday, November 16, 2009

The Perils Of Overdoing It


When my husband and I moved into our lovely apartment as newlyweds two years ago we inherited a lot of character and quirks. The second story of a house built nearly 100 years ago, it is far from up to date. In addition its poor retention of heat is its poor tolerance of power—of any kind.

When we use the microwave, we can’t use the toaster oven, or a combination of the coffeepot and the radio. When we’re using the dryer, we can’t use the hair dryer, or a combination of the microwave and anything else. The landlord’s latest introduction of a high tech heater as a way to cut down on the expense of radiator heat has complicated this power issue further, since we have to remember to turn the heater off before running the microwave, dryer or hair dryer (or any combination of anything else).

Are you taking notes? There will be a quiz afterward.

This would not be a problem if we did not live in such a multi-tasking , quick moving society. I don’t always have time to use only the hair dryer or the microwave. Sometimes I really need to microwave my oatmeal while getting ready for work and maintaining the temperature of the house.

But, alas, that is not an option.

When we inevitably forget to turn one thing off before turning something else on, the circuit blows, EVERYTHING shuts off, and we have to call our downstairs neighbor to turn it on. Thankfully, he is ever gracious and patient with us and our need to rush through things, and returns power to us once again.

He does not seem to ever blow the circuit.


The other night I fell asleep to the faint smell of burning plastic. I had searched unsuccessfully to find the source, and settled my mind with the notion that something weird had circulated through our space heater.

An hour and a half later I woke to the beeping of our heater and the sharp smell of burning plastic. I was being intoxicated by the fumes of burning something, and our heater (sensing the danger of burning plastic) had already turned itself off.

Since it was late, and I was not in the mood to play detective, I settled for throwing open a window (which inevitably involves a lot more struggle and effort due to the age of everything), climbing back into bed with a headache and mild nausea from the smell.

The next evening when I finally had time to investigate the problem, the source was discovered: the plug. You see, our house only has two-prong outlets. In order to plug anything with three-prongs in, you need a converter. Our converter had apparently had quite enough and decided to melt to the cord.



This week as I made my plans for next week's lessons I was shocked to find that I am eight days away from Thanksgiving break.

Eight days!

Since Thanksgiving celebrations lead to the chaos of December, January shows up in the blink of an eye, and then the school year is halfway over.

It is so easy to be sucked up in the chaos of the holidays, or the chaos of my job, or the chaos of all the things I desperately try to commit myself to: relationships, learning, committees, students.

At times I find myself akin to the cord I pulled out of the wall: dead, burnt, far from functioning properly, and (figuratively) smelling things up.

This summer I practiced relaxing and resting in ways I hadn’t in years. I read. I cooked. I sat outside in the sunshine. It was beautiful and cleansing and rejuvenating. I feel so good when I am well-rested and not trying to stretch in so many directions. I am better at serving others as well: my husband, my students, my friends and family. When I am too busy, I don’t do it for others at the expense of myself—they suffer too.

It has taken me a long time to truly understand that reality.

I may keep that melted converter for a while because it’s such a good reminder: when we try to do too much, we break down and stink everything up. Sometimes it's just a blown circuit; other times it's a melted cord. Both are an not only an inconvenience, they are also a warning: Be careful. Tread carefully. You may be doing more harm than good.

In the end it's just not worth it.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like the first house we rented...There was one outlet in the bedroom, one in the kitchen, NONE in the bathroom...and it was perpetually freezing. Lovely.

    I do feel awfully close to "burn out" myself some days. It does take some conscious thought to not become overwhelmed by everything. I remind myself to breathe and find satisfaction in the little daily events of my boys lives. When I try taking on too much more than just the basics (child care, house cleaning, meal preparation) I get cranky and my family suffers for it. This is a great reminder to just do what you can and maintain a happy outlook on life.