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 Artblog.net. 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.