Unstructured time

Yesterday morning my husband took me out for a ride in his fishing boat out on the river where his mother lives, and on Big Wolf Lake. It was a lovely day, a little cool but beautifully sunny and peaceful since only a couple of fishing boats out that early in the day. We always enjoy getting out on the water.

clem in boat
My hubby, captain of the fishing boat

It reminded me of the summers I spent in Bemidji as a kid. Since my parents were teachers, they had summers off. So we would go to Grandma’s house for the summer, on Three Island Lake, and spend time on the water and relaxing with books and lots of unstructured time. I didn’t go to camps or have summer activities scheduled until I was in high school (and signed up for those myself).

Of course, we had chores to do when we were old enough, helping Grandma with the garden, the yard, dishes, grocery shopping and a few house cleaning tasks. But chores did not take up very much time, and for the most part, we had time to enjoy ourselves.

I loved to read, and there was a loft up above the garage that was my sanctuary where I was able to enjoy plenty of solitude and “thinking time”. My sister would sometimes join me, and we would play. Occasionally a cousin would visit for a couple of weeks, and we canoed or hiked with them. We did a lot of swimming on the lake, rowing out to the dock since it too weedy by the shore.

I am so grateful for that wonderful, unstructured time. Today as I consider what I will do with my time, I know that I need to plan things – I will go to yoga, I will spend some time de-cluttering and organizing. I will spend time reading, writing, doing errands and preparing for the upcoming road trip with my sister.

pelicans on big wolf lake
Pelicans out on Big Wolf Lake. Taken August 6, 2018.

There is a huge emphasis these days on productivity, on getting more done every day. I understand it. But I also want to celebrate time when we can just BE not always DO. I cannot remember who said once, “you are a human being, not a human doing.” But how often do we forget this? Our striving and wanting for more can draw us into a frenzy of activity.

Brené Brown writes about this in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” One of the qualities of wholehearted men and women is that they let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. It runs counter-culture to do this, and counter to many of our family admonitions. We saw parents who worked all the time, and saw “hard work” as valuable but play as lazy. Fortunately I was exposed to rest and play as components to a happy life, and I am forever grateful for that.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to enjoy unstructured time off. But it also reflects choices we make and values we have. I will probably forgo some “things” I could have or money I could earn. But I will live fully and gratefully.  I enjoy this moment that is here, and do not postpone my joy for some future that exists only in my mind.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Throwback Thursday: time enough at last

As the end of my time in my current company draws near, I return to a post from December of last year. I am looking forward to the month of August, since I have a road trip planned with my sister, LOTS of reading and thinking time ahead. What a relief! Time enough at last!!

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Do you remember that episode of the Twilight Zone called “Time Enough At Last“? I own the Twilight Zone complete collection on DVD, and this is an episode worth watching if you have ever wished for “time enough” to do what you want.

henry bemis
Photo credit link – episode wiki page

Henry Bemis wants one thing in life: more time to read. I have so much empathy for Henry. There are times when I really long for more solitude, reading (and writing) time. Henry works at a bank but sneaks down to the vault during his lunch hours to read.

But not only does he do that, he tries to read while he is doing his job, which means he does not do that job so well. He clearly feels “put upon” by the world, his job and his wife, since nobody seems to understand his thirst for books and reading time. But I have deep empathy for his suffering.

Prior to my appendectomy in December, I was really wishing for some reading time and contemplation. I wanted some time off from work when I could just read, relax and enjoy some time to myself. I looked forward to the holiday break coming up – my workplace shuts down between Christmas and the New Year. I was feeling rather “put upon” at work myself, and I just wanted an escape. I had in mind a sabbatical, and while I think this was not so practical in my current job, I viscerally ached for this kind of break.

I would not have chosen to go to the hospital to have emergency appendectomy surgery in order to get out of work. But I was fortunate to recover very quickly, so it felt like a blessing in disguise.

One day while reading down in the vault Henry Bemis is knocked unconscious by a shock wave. He awakens to discover that the world has been devastated by a nuclear war. At first he is in shock, walking through all the devastation around him, and he decides to commit suicide. But then he sees the ruins of a library, his paradise!

henry bemis and clock
Photo credit link

Henry gleefully piles up the books, thinking he has a supply to keep him busy for years to come, with all the time he needs. But as he settles to read his glasses slip off his nose and smash on the ground, trapping him in a blurry world forever. “That’s not fair! That’s not fair at all! There was time now. There was all the time I wanted! That’s not fair!” (I found a 3-minute video on YouTube if you want to see that scene. It still breaks my heart).

Poor Henry. Life is not fair. Bad things happen. And yet this is the way of life. We get sick, our plans go awry, and we have to adjust. We must get extra rest. We must slow down and respect our body’s limits. We must acknowledge that we do not control everything, and stop resisting and arguing with reality.

Oh, Henry. I am giving myself the gift (in August and September) of time enough at last! It has been so long since I had more than 2 weeks off for a summer vacation. I am beyond grateful.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Love affairs

I once took a sick day from a temp job because I was reading a book I loved so much I literally could not put it down. That was in my 20’s and the job was in an office, for a bank, nothing I was passionate about, though it paid the bills.

Lately I have been toying with the idea of writing fiction, and there is a story that I have begun getting down on paper, a few paragraphs here & there in my journal. There are a few characters forming in my consciousness, and it is a “road not taken” kind of story perhaps relating to aspects of my own life. But the characters are distinct from me, and seem to have minds of their own.

I’ve been considering how to get more time for my writing. Even though I have not interviewed yet for a position that is kind of exciting to me, I worry that a new job means I would have to focus more on that work, and less on my own creative endeavors. Then I remember the advice that Liz Gilbert gave to a writer during her podcast “Magic Lessons.”  It was to “have an affair” with her art, which in her case was painting.

affair
Photo credit link

She explained that people who are having affairs, despite having busy lives, somehow find a way to fit those steamy encounters into their lives. The affair provides a nuclear energy boost, and even though it is not front and center in terms of one’s time and one’s external priorities. Sneaking away to do this thing is delicious and exciting. And our creativity has a desire to have an affair with us.

This feels like where my writing resides right now, in that “stolen” morning time before I get myself ready for work. It is sort of a sacred time for me, and while I keep up the appearance of a “normal” life on the surface, I like having this other aspect of me. I do not share it with everyone (or in the case of this fiction, anyone), and yet it excites me.

When I stopped doing a daily post for a while, thinking I would give myself more time, I actually struggled with getting the energy to get my “regular” things done. While I know I do not have to post publicly every day, but then I *DO* need to generate my work anyway. Because it sustains me and thrills me.

There is some part of me that knows that if it were the main event in my life, it would not feel this exciting and thrilling. Keeping a life that sustains me, and work that pays well, as long as it is not too all-consuming, allows me to find excitement and spark during these stolen moments with words, color and creativity. And perhaps that is why it is so appealing, because it is a treat I give to myself.

Are you having an affair with your art? Do you sneak in the time no matter what else is going on? I would love to hear if this concept resonates with you. 

 

Energy and resistance

I recently decided to cut myself some slack in not posting as often on my blog, giving myself Tuesdays and Thursdays off my internal obligation to write, so that I could free up time to work on a few other things, like my coaching homework.

Observations so far:
  • Yesterday I felt an urge to fill my usual writing time with media input instead, in the form of podcasts and audio books. I had a hard time turning these off as I was getting ready for the day. It’s like I was trying to get a cheap thrill rather than the nourishment I usually feel in writing.
  • I had a lot less energy for work-related stuff, and even for coaching homework. I felt like something was missing; I sensed a loss of what gives me a zip of energy in the morning, the process of creating something complete, even if short, and publishing it.
  • I had a sense of dragging myself through the day, trying to “bribe” myself to do work, but not managing to stay very focused.  Usually I have a lot of meetings scheduled on Tuesdays, and this time, I only had one. There may be a certain calm before the storm at work, as it is close to fiscal year end for us (April).
  • I did some hand-written journaling throughout my day as I tried to get myself out of this “funk” but it just seemed to weigh me down further. Yuck.
  • I procrastinated on things I wanted to get done, rather than tackling them right away in the morning like I usually do. There was a lot of thinking and noodling around, and some research, but it did not feel very satisfying, and I did not complete anything on my list. Lot of of unsatisfying starting and stopping rather than follow-through…
resistance
Photo credit link

Conclusion: Sometimes time is not the relevant variable in our day. The energy we bring to a task is just as relevant, and the resistance we feel toward doing some tasks can be very draining. I realize that even though I had blocked off time to do the necessary things I’d planned to do, I just didn’t get the “oomph” needed to do them. Maybe it was just a bad day. This is very atypical for me, and when I get going in the morning, I am able to knock a bunch of things off my list by noon, giving me proper momentum in a day.

The other possible factor: I have been procrastinating at completing the budget and finance piece of my coaching homework. I know this is dragging me down as well. Last August I purchased a “Money Clarity” course – there were 10 lessons space over the course of a month. I did the “easy 6” and skipped the 4 hard lessons. It’s time to come back to those now. There is no way I am going to figure out my “next big thing” without getting very comfortable with my money management.
Much as my “inner brat” likes to throw a tantrum rather than work on this, it is time to face the facts and live and spend more consciously, rather than throwing my money away or spending frivolously instead of intentionally. I have done this close and intentional observation work before on food. Like Geneen Roth says in her book Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money many of the principles are the same, but they take hard work at first, until they become more regular habits. It is time!
While it is natural to feel resistance to change, sometimes our long-term well-being depends on it.

Creating vs. consuming

Happy Friday, everyone! Also, happy Groundhog Day for those of you who pay attention to that sort of thing. When I woke up this morning, it was -10F without windchill. Brrrr! No matter what that groundhog says, we in Minnesota know it’s going to be MORE than 6 weeks of winter…

groundhogs
The most adorable groundhogs ever! Or at least I thought so. Photo credit link

So I crawled back into bed with my coffee, expressed gratitude to the universe that I can work from home this morning since I do not have in-person meetings today. I also gave thanks for the web and for remote teleconference meetings, which allow my work to be mobile and flexible.

Then I proceeded to get “lost” in some podcasts for a while before I meditated. When I finally did get myself out of bed and to my computer, I read a bunch of blogs, and really had myself a jolly old time. It reminded me of when I used to read Facebook and email from bed when I started the day, taking in a bunch of incoming stimuli before I’d had a chance to even wake up.

It was not a healthy way to live, and I would find myself in “reactive” mode by starting that way. I was subject to the whims of whatever was tossed at me by the social media “feeds” and whoever had sent emails to me. I have written before about my need to limit media consumption and to limit the noise of outside stimulation.

All of a sudden while reading and commenting on blogs, taking it easy, I realized it was 8am! That is the time I typically start work, even when I work from home. On a typical day, I am up around 5:45. I like to meditate and write before I have had a chance to get carried away by the incoming distractions of other stimuli. My goal is usually to have my post done by 7 or 7:15 so I can then switch gears and get on with the rest of my day.

Writing gives me energy and feeds me in a way I did not realize was possible until my recent commitment to daily blogging. By engaging in some creativity in the morning, my mind feels fresh and rejuvenated. Even when inspiration strikes me the afternoon or evening before, I like to spend a little time editing and re-working a piece before publishing.

Today’s altered routine got me thinking about creativity versus consumption. We live in a culture of constant consumption, and nearly constant invitations to buy things, or acquire more. Sometimes we fool ourselves into believing these things will make us happy, and that they are important. I can even be tricked into thinking acquiring more and more knowledge will make me happy.

To some extent, acquiring new knowledge does make me happy. The human brain is programmed to seek novelty and avoid pain. We get a dopamine hit when we learn new things and encounter new stimuli. But that constant rush of new information sometimes causes a plateau of that feeling. We need a break from it, and it can feel a little like that uncomfortable feeling after eating too much Thanksgiving dinner…

Ugh.

Another impulse we have as humans is to create. Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown have some great reflections on this highly inefficient and yet joyful part of our existence. Human beings are capable of creating things purely for the joy of it, for the satisfaction of making something new.

Music, art, fiction, poetry. These are not critical to our survival on a day to day basis, like food, water and air to breathe. And yet: they are critical to our survival as a species, as a united consciousness of humanity. They are ways we express meaning in our lives, and communicate to others, connect to people and the world around us.

Brene Brown says that creativity is not optional. I am paraphrasing here but she explains that “unexpressed creativity metastasizes.” (This is from her Magic Lessons podcast with Liz Gilbert). Brown has studied the habits and practices of “wholeheartedness” and people who live fulfilling lives. In order to live healthy and full lives, we must engage creatively in some way. We must go beyond working, consuming and working and consuming.

So I ask you on this Friday: how will you engage creatively today? What will you do to express this amazing and wonderful gift of being human? If your work allows and encourages creativity, fabulous! If not, consider how to create something instead of just consuming today. Whether it is a meal made for a loved one, a silly little rhyme made up for a child or a short story you have been dying to put on paper, indulge your creative spirit. Just for the joy of it. I dare you.