“We turn on the radio in our kitchen to wiggle and move to whatever is on. We are horrible dancers, but I’m finally moving and not thinking, literally synching up with time rather than fighting it.”

I find myself battling with time a lot recently.
I have been trying to balance working as an SEN (Special Education Needs) teaching assistant with my creative work and life. The days, hours and minutes stuck in Year 8 Geography or Maths seem incredibly long. But once I’m out of school, the minutes and seconds seem to pass me by. I am struggling to make space for any creative thinking, reading or putting projects together (whilst hoping live theatre comes back to life).

Time passes inconsistently. 

And it’s 5 a.m. and I’m going for a run (whilst listening to something in German, that I’m likely not to understand). Or it’s 5 a.m., and I’m sitting in front of my laptop attempting to finish an application – applying for one of the few creative/theatre-related opportunities that have popped up on artsjobs

And it’s 7 a.m. and I’m waiting by the phone – hoping a school will need someone to supply for them. If the call comes then time suddenly picks up its pace. And I’m running to get ready. And I’m packing a mismatched lunch. Hoping I don’t reach 7 p.m. again without having any water. 

And then it’s all running – running to make the train – running to get to school. I am suddenly plunged into work. 

Being back at school is strange. I’m supposed to be teaching and supporting, but my mind still struggles to grasp why I’m there when I have already done all this before. It’s as if I have somehow moved backwards in time. I am re-learning rules and habits I only just managed to get rid of. Six periods. Six times fifty minutes. A bell between each of them. One comfort break. And half an hour for lunch. One of my students recently told me that teaching is like having to constantly retake school over and over again. I am now adopted by Year 8 and can happily re-learn algebra, the water crisis, and whatever they are reading in English alongside them. But I feel uneasy. I’m not a student anymore. But I’m not really a teacher either. Am I closer to retaking Year 8 than teaching them?

In this strange purgatory, I, like the students, daydream (only standing rather than sitting at a desk). I dream about all the shows I am yet to make. All the performances I am yet to watch. All the conversations I could be having. All the work I might be making. I glance at my watch. I stare out the window. I nod along in the staff room as the other teachers discuss the best and worst ways to cook chicken (I am too shy, too new and too unfamiliar to tell them I’m veggie). I wonder if lunches in tupperware are all we have in common?

And then it’s 3 p.m. And I’m running. I throw my pass in the basket. Sign out in no time. And get out of the school’s gates even before the keenest of students. I am running for the train. And I am trying to read my book. Even if it’s crowded and I’m standing by the door. I attempt to get lost in a world. In someone else’s thought patterns, pace, experience of time, struggles and ideas. Only to then be abruptly disrupted by having to change trains.

And then I’m home. And there’s a steaming cup of coffee. And I open my laptop. It’s my creative time! So how do I get lost in a loop of emails and admin: adjusting my CV, drowning in the sea of cover letters, applying for jobs I don’t even want. No one told me creative work involved this much admin. And then it’s somehow 8 p.m. and I’ve spent almost as much time on my laptop as I did explaining algebra and physics to students. And I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

Time slips through my fingertips and disappears into the keyboard. I jump from one idea to the next. It’s like my brain has all these tabs open, unable to focus on one thing at a time, desperately trying to catch up on everything at once. All these vague thoughts swim in my subconscious, but nothing seems to want to come into focus. I fail to find detail, nuance or anything tangible to hold onto.

And then it’s 9 p.m. and I decide to slow down. John tells me how I should learn to enjoy doing one thing at a time rather than be obsessed with crossing off as many things as possible from my to-do list. (He is right, but I refuse to admit that). We turn on the radio in our kitchen to wiggle and move to whatever is on. We are horrible dancers, but I’m finally moving and not thinking, literally synching up with time rather than fighting it. There is so much joy in moving. 

And then I have no idea what time it is. But I’m having a cup of tea (and a biscuit) and finally falling into my book properly. Reading slows down time even more. And then I remember that I have a call tomorrow with a dear friend and playwright, who I am developing a new play with. Butterflies in my stomach. It’s an idea I’m actually excited about and I get to share and work on it with someone I love collaborating with. I’m also going back to work at another school. But knowing this the night before means that I might get to have a bit of a lie-in. I may even stop battling time for a moment and just let it pass at whatever speed it likes. Or at least I’ll try. 

Written by Júlia Lévai.
Illustrated by John Chisham.