Posts Tagged ‘time’

I feel like I don’t have enough time.


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I don’t know that I have any fresh insights to offer on this subject, but at the very least I’m sure most of you have also felt this way at some point in your lives.

I didn’t have enough time this weekend, so by Sunday night I basically collapsed on the couch unable to do anything because I hadn’t given myself enough time to sleep. I couldn’t even respond to Facebook comments, that is how tired I was.

I think of what I’m supposed to accomplish in the next week, and I feel motivated and focused and anticipatory, and also how the hell am I going to do all that, and how can I squeeze in a bit more?

I think about what I can skip, and then I feel grumpy because I don’t want to skip that!

I’m supposed to take a vacation next month, and I haven’t even started planning it. I don’t know when I have time to plan it. And it will be a working vacation, of course, because my novel is running long and there’s no way it will be done by then, and also (hopefully) I might have another project I need to work on by then, and also there’s a bunch of people I want to see and a few touristy activities I want to do. But at least I won’t have to make huge piles of stuff to donate, so, you know, VACATION!

I’m also having to accept my current timeline may or may not be realistic. As in, it’s at least remotely possible that it isn’t.

So what I am noticing during this time of the busy?

The more I think about how busy I am (like while writing this post, for example), the more stressed I feel and the more time I waste. When I focus on the task at hand, I can actually blow through a lot fairly quickly.

I am even more grateful than usual for the generosity, patience, and flexibility of friends.

I feel more focused when I keep my top priorities clear.

I still have to find downtime, or forget about productivity and sociability.

It’s easier for me to move on from things that really shouldn’t be taking up my time. And that by itself is a huge lesson.

These efforts that are taking up my time are all very important to me, and that is an amazing thing to be able to say. Time is precious to me, and to be able to spend it in ways that are aligned with my goals and priorities is very meaningful. That’s why I’m not cutting out more until I absolutely have to.

I feel like I don’t have enough time. But what a privilege to spend my time as I am.

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On Time

I think about time.

Time is real. We measure it. We build highly accurate mechanisms to measure the seconds, minutes, hours, and days that make up the stream. We measure time in sand, in wind-up gears, in digital signals. We solve word problems combining time and distance and velocity.

Photo Credit: psyberartist via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: psyberartist via Compfight cc

We track time. We measure our lives in years and birthdays. We cycle through seasons, through school years, through periodic trips to the doctor, the dentist, and then the rent check is due again at the first of the month.

Time is subjective. Time has a feeling. It slows to a crawl; it speeds so fast it’s invisible to the naked eye. It doesn’t do what we want it to do. Time weighs heavily upon us, or it is so light it’s hard to believe so much of it has already passed.

Time is deceptive. It’s so easy to live in the past or the future, and to forget about the now. Sometimes I sit and let it slip by, second by second. Sometimes I am silent, as if silence will halt its flow.

Sometimes I even cry, but time, it never listens to me. It keeps right on going, as fast or as slow as it’s going to go.

And then it’s tomorrow, and then it’s tomorrow.

And then it’s tomorrow.

And things have changed again.

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What if you knew you were going to die in a year? Would you be doing anything differently?

I read a New York Times op-ed today on this subject. It’s always a little strange for me to see this presented as wisdom, even though I think it is. It’s strange because I’ve been living my life this way since I was nineteen. It’s strange to think that nineteen-year-old me got something so right.

I spent years thinking my mom was going to die imminently, and then she actually did die. This hammered into me the idea that time is precious. For me, it’s more precious than money. I’ve only had a few jobs that I really, really didn’t find worthwhile, and in those cases I was always planning how to make a change.

And for me, planning means looking at reality as clearly as I can. Not in order to discourage myself (luckily I am something of a natural optimist), but in order to prioritize based on the facts I’ve been able to see. And one of those facts is we’re all going to die someday. Transhuman hopes aside, so far the longest a human has lived is 122 years, and most of us live a lot less than that. We can ignore it, or we can prioritize with this basic fact in mind. I’ve always chosen the latter.

Having lived my entire adult life with my eventual demise in mind, I have the following observations to offer:

  • Living this way can lead to intensity, both of experience and of personality. And if you take it very seriously, as I have, one of the most important lessons to learn is how to both keep it in mind and chill the fuck out.
  • You become very, very good at figuring out what you want, figuring out how to get it, figuring out if you can get it, and letting go of the stuff you either figure out you can’t get or for which you are unwilling to pay the price.
  • The saying “there will be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead” is only partially true. Time is not just about quantity but also quality, and if you don’t get enough sleep, a lot of that time will be spent in a less pleasant, less mindful, less productive way. Hence sleep remains a valuable use of time.
  • Building connections with people and animals and spending time with them is one of the most valuable uses of time of all.
  • But downtime has its place too. Not everyone can spend every minute of the day being social. Time to rest, to think, to nurture yourself and get to know yourself, even time to goof off, is also worthwhile. And it ultimately helps enrich social interactions, as long as a balance is struck.
  • You will be more likely to favor bold decisions. As long as you can balance those decisions with practicality, they will tend to be some of your favorite things about your life. Once in a while, one of them will go terribly wrong, but since the rest of them are your favorites, it more than evens out.
  • You are inspired to change whatever it is that is holding you back or causing you unhappiness sooner rather than later. Carpe diem, baby.
  • The cliché “It’s about the journey, not the destination” will ring true to you. You’re never sure you’re going to reach the destination, and you also realize so often the destination is a moving target, so you damn well better be enjoying the process.

If I were going to die in a year, here is what I’d do differently. I might choose a different vacation destination. I’d travel a bit more to spend some last quality time with loved ones who don’t live local to me. I’d maybe skip more conventions and opt for more intimate time with writer friends instead. I’d push a little harder to get Beast Girl out to publishers, and I’d think a bit more carefully about which novel I’d write this year. I’d have to do a bit of work to get my affairs in order. I wouldn’t care as much about things like going to the dentist or keeping my place within a certain standard of cleanliness or buying stuff for myself.

I'd still spend just as much time snuggling this shaggy one.

I’d still spend just as much time snuggling this shaggy one.

That’s it, though. I’d spend the bulk of my time the same way. And I can say that confidently for most of the years since I was nineteen. Of course, this is not entirely from the decisions I’ve made. A fair amount of it has come from being extremely lucky.

Still, for me, it’s the easiest way to tell the difference between what I think I should care about and what I actually care about. It’s why I studied music, why I moved to the UK, why I started a business, why I began writing seriously, why I adopted Nala. It is why I write this blog. It is why I spend time with you.

If you knew you were going to die in a year, what would you do differently? What would you keep the same?

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I enjoy reporting in from time to time from the trenches of making a big personal change. At my current stage, here’s what I’ve learned:

My instincts of behavioral response right now are really kind of terrible.

What do I mean exactly? And what does this mean in practice?

Well, on the bright side, my gut instincts are actually coming along very nicely. I’ve gotten used to paying more attention. I’ve gotten used to noticing my feelings and impressions as they’re happening and remembering them for later. I’ve changed the criteria for what constitutes healthy and awesome behavior. All of this is great.

And when I have time to reflect, I do quite well. I understand basic principles. I can figure out what I’m okay with and what I’m not okay with. I practice saying no successfully. I can think through a situation and assess what’s going on, and then I can figure out how to communicate my boundaries. When I’m concerned, I have friends I trust with whom I can sanity check and get advice on the subjects on which I need guidance. I get support when I need it. I sometimes take a bit of time to get back to someone, but I’m usually okay taking the time I need. Again, all great.

Photo Credit: bernat... via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: bernat… via Compfight cc

But when I get put on the spot, well, I don’t want to say it all goes out the window, but if I’m going to slip up, that’s when it’s going to be. Being tired or hungry or sick doesn’t help either, but the hardest thing of all for me right now is when I find myself in a situation that requires an instant response. Especially if there is additional pressure being brought to bear. I usually know it feels off, but I often can’t figure out how to react. Or I attempt to say no or set a boundary, but when that is countered or rebuffed, I don’t persevere.

And my core instinct of behavior, I’m sorry to say, is to not rock the boat. I want to smooth things over, I want everyone to get along, I don’t want to be involved in a prolonged conflict, and I don’t want to find out if me setting this boundary will result in disrespectful behavior from whomever I’m with. It’s important that I DO find out, don’t get me wrong, but to be honest, it’s pretty depressing when that happens. And sometimes it seems so much easier to just … go along with things. I can and do fight that instinct, but when I’m not sure what the right thing is to do, that is the instinct that is ready and waiting for me to fall back on.

One solution to this problem is to do my best to get myself the time I need. “I’ll get back to you” and its variants are my new best friend phrases, and the more I use them or even just think them, the more quickly they will spring to mind when I need them. Even “I don’t know” can occasionally be helpful. And of course, many methods of communication have a convenient delay built right into them.

Unfortunately, some situations really do call for a more immediate response. Ferrett talked about one such example recently. And he’s totally right in that shock/surprise makes it really hard to respond mindfully, and future modelling does help prepare for a wide variety of situations. If I can anticipate an event, then I can prepare a response ahead of time. (Whether or not I’ll actually be able to deliver it, of course, is another matter.) However, anticipating every situation is ultimately impossible (and sometimes overly stressful as well), so I hope that eventually I’ll be able to build a new core instinct that does a better job of helping me stand up for myself when that is necessary.

I thought this would be interesting to write about because I don’t read articles very often about the difficulties of making these kind of changes when you’re right in the middle of one of them. But I have an ulterior motive: I figure it’s a good thing for people to know about me. I do better right now when I’m given time. So that is a gift you can give me that will be deeply appreciated.

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On Tuesday, Robert Jackson Bennett and I started following each other on Twitter, and we chatted a bit, the way two writers on Twitter are wont to do. He mentioned that he wanted to write a blog post about his anxieties about death at some point, and I encouraged him to do so in spite of his reluctance. In fact, I said if he wrote the post, I would write about it too.

I kind of didn’t think he would do it. But he wrote this beautiful post, which is very much worth your time.

So. Here we are. And I have to keep a promise to write about death.

I’ve been afraid of death since I was eleven years old. At that time, my mom was clinically depressed, and she was suicidal. Death, I understood, could come at any time, and it was very, very real. All of my questions about death, all of my uncertainties, came with the very high stakes of immediate relevancy.

I hear that teenagers have this period of time in their development when they think they’re invincible. I never had that. I knew I could die. I knew life was an appallingly fragile thing, and I knew tomorrow might devastate me, leaving a hollow scream where my heart had once been. I knew tomorrow might never come.

I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I tried anyway, of course. I watched for signs of imminent doom. I learned to read people. I was inconveniently present. I sang “Candle on the Water” over and over. I never let my mom leave the house or go to sleep without telling her I loved her. It wasn’t enough. It was never enough. But it was all I could do.

When you live like that for long enough, it changes you. By the time my mom died of cancer eight years later, I had formed an intimate relationship with death and uncertainty. And one way this anxiety about death manifests itself is in my relationship with time.

You see, I never feel like I have enough time. Surprisingly enough, this hasn’t resulted in me being a workaholic or dashing around an overscheduled life. What it does mean is that I’m very aware of the passing of time, and I care about doing what’s important to me right now, or as soon as possible to right now.

It also means I hate wasting time doing things I don’t think are important. I don’t like running errands. I am the worst carpool participant I know because I calculate exactly how much longer I’ll be driving instead of already being at an event or doing the next thing I want to do. I don’t like how long it takes to clean my house or brush my teeth or cook my food. I get very restless when I’m waiting. Meanwhile, I am perfectly happy spending hours talking to a friend or walking around with my dog or practicing singing or writing or teaching a student or sitting on a plane so I can see or experience something amazing. I am either approaching infinite levels of patience or else I’m struggling to find any patience at all.

Amy and Nala

I know in my gut there will never be enough time. I love the world so much, how could there be? I will never have enough time snuggling with Nala, and I will never have enough time to write all the books I want to write, and I will never have enough time to learn all the things I’d like to learn. I won’t have enough time to meet all the people I’d love to meet, and I won’t have enough time to see all the places I’d love to see.

And most painfully, I won’t have enough time with the people I love. They will all die too soon for me, no matter the circumstances. And I will die too soon to love them as much as I want to love them. And all of us will be wiped away, our lives and loves and stories forgotten.

What, then, is left? How do I deal with this anxiety around death?

I love with everything inside of myself, even if my heart breaks repeatedly. I notice what is precious to me, and I hold it close. I celebrate being alive right now, and I celebrate that you’re alive too. I grieve when you leave because I refuse to downplay your significance in my heart. I laugh and I play and I work and I do things that scare me. It all matters to me, and when it doesn’t matter to me, I ask myself what I need to change so my life will become more in line with what I care about.

Robert Jackson Bennett said: “Maybe this is what I think the human condition is: shrieking and raging at the universe to pay attention, begging it to understand that this matters, and hearing silence.”

I’ve been hearing that silence since I was eleven years old. Bad things happen, and they change how you see the world, and you know it’s happening and you don’t want it to happen and then it happens anyway. And you can never return to that place of innocence that you never appreciated until you lost it.

But we still have choices. We can choose to be ruled by our fears, or we can cultivate bravery. We can give up, or we can work for what we care about. We can be silent, or we can tell our stories. We can close down, or we can open up.

If the universe answers with silence, so be it. We don’t need the universe to tell us what matters. We already know.

Death is always there, lurking in its otherwise deserted corner. Every moment it stays there is a victory. Every achievement I make, every milestone I reach, every hug I give and every connection I strengthen. Every breath I draw, every story I tell, every place I visit, every song I sing, every day I make the smallest bit brighter for another person. Every time I look into your eyes and we have a moment of truly seeing the other person standing there. They are all victories, and they all matter.

I am afraid to die, but I am so lucky to have this chance to live.

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