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My time to waste

Post #761 • March 27, 2006, 4:22 PM • 16 Comments

I awoke this morning to the first Monday in six years that didn't involve my having to go to work that week, or for any week thereafter. The freedom I arranged for myself had arrived. I got up before 7 AM as always anyway.

Last month I bookmarked an article by Philip Greenspun that said:

Ask a wage slave what he'd like to accomplish. Chances are the response will be something like "I'd start every day at the gym and work out for two hours until I was as buff as Brad Pitt. Then I'd practice the piano for three hours. I'd become fluent in Mandarin so that I could be prepared to understand the largest transformation of our time. I'd really learn how to handle a polo pony. I'd learn to fly a helicopter. I'd finish the screenplay that I've been writing and direct a production of it in HDTV." ...

Suppose that the guy cashes in his investments and does retire. What do we find? He is waking up at 9:30 am, surfing the Web, sorting out the cable TV bill, watching DVDs, talking about going to the gym, eating Doritos, and maybe accomplishing one of his stated goals.

I'm not retiring, but much of what follows still holds, or threatens to. After I move in the first half of May, I'm taking a yearlong sabbatical to devote to my painting and to If at the end I have no less money than when I started, I'll take another. I know myself well enough to admit that I will fritter away a huge portion of that time unless I take care not to.

On the flip side, artists need time to goof off. They have to have discipline and persistence, and they have to go hang out in bookstores, read, and sit around thinking. As a teacher I never quite got used to the fact that in order to assign a grade, the student had to submit a certain amount of quality work. Art doesn't work like that in practice. If it takes you six months to make something, but it's a masterpiece, art will patiently wait for you. You spent your six months well, even if you spent half of it playing sudoku. I can't find the exact quote, but I'm pretty sure James Thurber said that the hardest part of his job was convincing his wife that he was working when he was staring out of the window.

Brenda Ueland wrote in one of the best books about making art ever written, If You Want to Write:

Our idea that we must always be energetic and active is all wrong. ...[T]hat is why these smart, energetic, do-it-now, pushing people so often say: "I am not creative." They are, but they should be idle, limp and alone for much of the time, as lazy as men fishing on a levee, and quitely looking and thinking, not willing all the time. This quiet looking and thinking is the imagination; it is letting in ideas. Willing is doing something you know already, something you have been told by somebody else; ther is no new imaginative understanding in it. And presently your soul gets frightfully sterile and dry because you are so quick, snappy and efficient about doing one thing after another that you have not time for your own ideas to come in and develop and gently shine.

Ueland also advises long, aimless walks as a crucial part of the creative process. She only had two rules for herself: always tell the truth, and never do anything you don't want to do. Nevertheless, when she died, she left behind six million published words.

She had it right, and thus I feel reflexive revulsion when I read time management articles that I probably need. The lifehacking community has some gems, particularly Steve Pavlina (Do-it-now People? Check the title of the article) and Merlin Mann, and there are tons of books out there. Maybe one day I'll get around to implementing them. In the meantime, I have some stuff not to do.




March 27, 2006, 5:21 PM

I am all for anyone who can justify and rationalize procrastination, time-wasting, sitting around and taking pleasure wherever and whenever it can be found. I might not really believe it, but I am all for it.

The best way to deal with work is to find ways to get around it. That way, for some reason, you get more work done. Or maybe you get the work done that really must get done.

The blog is an excellent way to avoid what you should be doing.



March 27, 2006, 5:29 PM

Well said.

I agree that this part of the process - relaxing - perhaps insulating, or de-insulating, is a very valuable thing to know how to do. Your Thurber quote was funny, because it is so true. And here comes a lot of trouble injected into everyday lifestyles. More especially if the artist is likely to be underfunded. Hey, but that's all part of the fun.



March 27, 2006, 5:57 PM

Wonderful. So I am not the only one. My favorite thing to do is nothing. But I have to have a few books around, my music and some coffee to do it.


that guy

March 27, 2006, 6:21 PM

Nothing ever gets down by wishful thinking. Everything that exists, is a good idea acted upon. It might take you longer than this little sabbatical to figure it out. Lord knows it took me long enough to learn even a bit of time management, and I still consider myself in the "needs improvement" category.



March 27, 2006, 6:27 PM

I'm also a great beliver in the power of daydreaming. My best paintings are in my head---forming, reforming, mutating,percolating. The problem is when I face the canvas or paper and try to recreate those images, and the inadequacy I feel. And then of course what starts to transpire in front of me is not at all what I am trying to remember, but something completely or nearly completely different, which could be exciting or a total disaster. As Braque said: "A picture is finished when it has effaced the idea behind it" or something like that...


Marc Country

March 27, 2006, 9:01 PM

Free and easy wandering, baby... that's what I'm talkin'bout...



March 27, 2006, 11:29 PM

The term I use for this is "composting" -- letting the scraps rot down into something fertile.



March 28, 2006, 9:24 AM

Franklin, I'm sure Brad Pitt does not work out. He's a star. He has people work him out. You're so lower middle class (relatively speaking).



March 28, 2006, 10:03 AM

"Composting" works. Apt analogy.

True that, Jack. It's okay - I'd look pretty silly with that kind of build. Now, on the other hand, I have always wanted to run a marathon...



March 28, 2006, 3:37 PM

This was a great post. I too adore that feeling to look in a free boundless future. For me it worked out, that I wasted a lot of time (started blogging too ,-)). I did make more art works, when I had more responsabilities and more stress. I have less money, but Iam my own boss. But now, after two years I need again (especially for my family) a reliable financial stability and will face in September a teaching job again, and the wake up call at 7. But the teaching gives me a lot of interaction too, and ideas, so lets go at it again. But it works for everybody different and I really hope, that you will make the jump into free Art successful, and build your entire life on that ! Often Matisse comes to mind, who started very late, but another good example is Gauguin, with his attempts to be a good businessman for his family, and suddenly quit all that shit and did the real work. Hans



March 28, 2006, 9:01 PM

I like "composting" too. It makes the concept more real and understandable.


Cinque Hicks

March 29, 2006, 7:22 AM

Congratulations, Franklin! I hope your wasted time is fruitful!



March 29, 2006, 8:00 AM

Thanks, man! Cinque, you took the plunge a year ago if I remember rightly. You continue to be my hero. How is that all working out?


Cinque Hicks

March 31, 2006, 8:45 AM

Well, as I just told someone recently, it's working out about 70% as planned. Far from perfect, but respectable. I still spend a good amount of time on jobs-for-pay, but the flexibility MORE than makes up for it!



March 31, 2006, 2:12 PM

I second, third, fourth all of it. Too little emphasis is placed on the need for "free and easy wandering." It is crucial. I love this thread! Thank you all painters for reinforcing this necessary aspect of our endeavors.


Marc Country

March 31, 2006, 6:07 PM

Don't forget the sculptors, EC!



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