Stealing Time, Stolen Time

IMAG0513So this pipe used to be in my wall.  Last week the plumber had to cut a hole in my kitchen to remove said pipe after it froze and then burst.  It was kind of a funny day, actually.  I’d been to the gym and had time for a leisurely breakfast before heading to work.  Then I discovered that the pipes had frozen.  As I was running around, cursing and setting up space heaters, the school nurse called.  My son had the flu.

So there went the day and the week.  All of my intentions for writing and work went out the window.  But it was all good.  My son was better after spending two days collapsed on the couch.  We snuggled.  I caught up on all 600 seasons of SpongeBob.  I wore jammies for three days straight.  Also, Ed the AMAZING PLUMBER fixed the pipe, delaying his own vacation to help us. (Thank you, Ed!!)

I also thought about time, as well as the degree to which I wrote about time in my New Year’s Unresolutions post.  I’m greedy about time.  I always want more (to sit in front of the fireplace, drink tea and write) and there’s never enough of it.  Even today, when I’ve been able to write for a few hours, I’m still up against the clock and realizing I didn’t finish everything I wanted to finish before family obligations demand my attention.

To combat the feeling of not having enough time, I go into hyperdrive, trying to be as efficient as possible on every last item in my to do list.  I still never finish the list, but I at least have that heady feeling of control – do what you want, world, I will tackle it!!

At least until I wake up with a sinus headache and absolutely zero motivation.  This happens from time to time.  Like this morning.  I won’t finish everything on my list.  I’ll be behind.  Enter the sinking feelings of disappointment and irritation. And once again, I ask myself the same question I did when I wrote about my unresolutions: does it help anyone if I feel bad about myself?  (The congregation replies with a resounding NO.)

And I remind myself of my intentions, especially the ones of reflection and risk, and the little wisdom I have gained about writing.  Creative work comes from a place beyond scheduled time. I can’t sit down and say, “I have 15 minutes, let’s write this story.”  If anything, that unnecessary pressure chokes my creativity.  But, creative work still needs time in order to unfold.

What to do?

A writer friend of mine, a person I deeply admire, said that you have to steal time from everywhere in order to write – steal from your work, from your family, from yourself.  It’s not easy. I watch my kids grow and I feel guilt over not spending every moment with them.  (Although let’s be honest, I’d feel that way no matter what – hmm, let’s explore this more in another post, shall we?)  I weigh all possible “extra” work commitments in terms of the degree they will impinge on my writing time.  And I have no idea when I’m going to catch up with Sleepy Hollow.  But I’m also taking a risk, one that I have’t done well in the past:  recognize that my writing is important enough to be a major player in how I spend my time.

At this point in my life, I feel like I’m entering a strange little dance with time.  We do a spin around the ballroom.  I take some time here, I give some there.  Circumstances arise that change my plans, sometimes stealing all of my time and other times giving me some unexpected wiggle room in my schedule.  I channel my mania over finishing the to do list into making sure the to do list doesn’t get to be so long in the first place.  There will always be time thieves, often ones I’ve created myself.  But I’m also developing a lovely little network of my own thieves to steal some of it back.

Do any of you have crazy issues with time, too?  How do you cope?

The Tyranny of the To Do List

photo (7)I come off as a fairly patient person.  I can stand in airport security lines without rolling my eyes.  I will play endless rounds of Parcheesi – we only play the preschool rules at my house, however, which means the preschooler always wins. I can even stand at a cutting board and snap the ends off pounds and pounds of green beans until my eyes glaze and my fingers cramp.

It’s all a ruse.  Inside I’m beset by growing irritation, a tightening abdomen and increasingly snarky comments.  (Which I say only to myself – did I mention I’m also somewhat passive aggressive?)

I often feel this way in February, with endless weeks to go until spring and the memory of warm fall days long gone.  I’m booked this entire weekend, which is unusual for me, so tasks I usually ignore until Saturday are already overdue.  I’m behind in planning meals, buying countless Valentines for preschool (not to mention addressing those countless Valentines), and I my kids were sick part of this week, so I didn’t get everything done on my writing to do list.

And there it is – my problem.  The tyranny of the to do list. I work well with specific goals and I’m good at giving myself (and sticking to) deadlines. But when things are chugging along merrily, I tend to give myself just a little too much to do.  “Wouldn’t it be great if I finished two blog posts, a short story, read the rough draft of my novel, made extensive revision notes AND queried multiple agents this week?”

(I’m not kidding – this was actually my to do list this week.)

Oops.

Even with sabbatical (or maybe especially with sabbatical, not to mention having kids), I’ve come to see time as a commodity.  I don’t want to waste it.  My inner narrative goes something like this:

  • I must maximize my time, because in a few months I head back to work and I need to do everything I can to launch this writing career.
  • I must maximize my time, because my kids are in preschool and I want to honor them by writing as much as possible when they’re not at home.
  • I must maximize my time, because “something might happen” to throw off my well-laid plans in the future.

Yep, I’m also a bit of a control freak.  Thus, one of the most surprising (and difficult) aspects of writing: you’re thrown headfirst into your deepest insecurities and anxieties. (Don’t even get me started on the roller coaster of emotional badness I go through whenever I get a rejection.  Actually, yes, do get me started on this – we’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post.)

I’ve been a Buddhist long enough to know that leaning into places of insecurities and anxieties are precisely where transformation can happen, if we’re brave enough to look them in the eye.

So today, at least, I will choose to be kind to myself by examining my overly-ambitious to do list and learn to be more realistic about my time next week.   I will try to cut myself some slack and also continue to explore my relationship (and clinging) to time. Maybe after I watch a few cat videos on the interwebz first…

Barrier: Overly ambitious to do list causing anxiety and irritation

Solution: Step away from the list (go back and review it later), look at pictures of warm, sandy beaches online instead, dream of sun