An eon ago, back in the early days of mixed media, back when Teesha Moore first began to publish her fantabulous The Studio Zine, I wrote a piece for her with that title: “Where Do You Find the Time?” It was, I think, in 1998 or 1999–I couldn’t find it this morning when I checked, but I found another one I did for her right around that same time. And I almost didn’t get in here to write this because, honeys, let me tell you: those back issues of The Studio are still some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life. If you weren’t around when Teesha began publishing them, you can’t imagine how life-changing they were, back before blogs, and–well, I talk about this in the piece about Teesha in the July/September issue of Somerset Studio, so I won’t wax rhapsodic here.
Anyway, I wrote the piece about finding time because it was a question everyone asked me. I’d meet someone, they’d ask me what I did, I’d tell them–I always had several jobs and was making stuff and sewing my own clothes–and they’d invariably ask, “Where do you find the time?” in that tone of voice, just slightly accusatory, that implies you’ve found some secret you have so far neglected to share. So I wrote about it. One of the things I talked about way back then, something that seemed a little odd at the time but that worked for me, was wearing my pajamas when I left the house. Granted, my “pajamas” were long cotton dresses, and leaving the house in them was not exactly scandalous or even noticeable. I said if you slept in something you could wear to the bank, you could get up in the morning and get started without having to take time to find something to wear. Something simple like that. No big deal, but nobody else was doing it, and so I thought I’d toss it out there.
Now, a little more than a decade later, everybody and their dog leaves the house in their pajamas, and, boy, do I wish I could take credit for that idea! I wish they were all doing it because I put the idea out there, because then I could issue a bulletin and say, “Hey! Forget I mentioned it! I take it back. It was a lousy idea. Please put on some underwear and take off those matted fuzzy slippers. Thank you.”
Alas, you can’t copyright an idea. You can’t claim that because an idea is Out There, it’s your idea. People didn’t suddenly start wearing their Green Bay Packer pajama pants to the mall just because I suggested it was a way to save time. I wish it were that easy.
And, just in case, let me say: I’m sorry. I had no idea. Really.
I think about this subject a lot (time, not pajamas). I wrote about it in Creative Time and Space, so, yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how people can squeeze creative time into days that are filled with so many, many other things. I spent a lot of time thinking about time.
I’m not a time-management expert–I always feel compelled to point out that I haven’t done studies or gotten grants for Important Research–but periodically I like to urge people to think about how they spend their time. I know other people’s lives aren’t like mine and that everyone has a million things vying for their time and attention, but seeing how someone else has arranged their life can sometimes spark an idea for how you might make some changes in your own. In that spirit, here are some of the ways I find time to get done all the things I do~~
~~I don’t watch tv. Now, I know a lot of very productive people adore television. I’m thinking mostly of my friend Roz Stendahl, who loves television and watches what she claims is a lot of it (I have never actually seen her do this, but then I have never actually observed her sitting down, either, so what do I know?) and still accomplishes more in one day than most people do in a week. Still–most of us are not like the amazing Roz, and watching tv can be the biggest time-suck ever. I’ll spare you (for now) my Anti-TV Rant and just say this: I don’t watch it.
~~I don’t surf the Web. I spend a lot of time online working, but I don’t wander around aimlessly, reading blogs and following links. Many people are offended by this; they think that if you have an online presence, you owe it to everyone else to participate by going and seeing what they’re up to. In a perfect world, where everyone had a ton of time, this would be fine. But in the real world, where time is something almost nobody has in excess, spending two hours a day reading blogs and looking at people’s photo streams means you’ve lost two hours when you could have been painting or stitching or learning how to cook ratatouille.
~~I don’t read newspapers or news magazines. As my mother aged, she felt compelled to keep up with what was going on in the world and would read the daily newspaper, front to back, column by column. On Sundays, this could take the entire day. My friend Wendy Hale Davis, an artist and professional bookbinder, once went several years on a news fast, and she learned that if something was important, someone would tell her about it. Because I have friends like Wendy (who long ago ended that fast) and Roz, and a husband who keeps up with the news, I’m pretty well assured that if there’s something huge, something I really need to know about, someone will tell me. People ask how I can be so uninformed, how I can allow other people to decide what I need to know, and I have to ask, “You don’t think other people *always* decide what we *all* need to know? You think we get all the news in the world, unfiltered by someone else? Please.”
~~I don’t participate in any social stuff that I don’t love. I love going dancing with my husband, and we do that every couple of months (thirty-five years ago, we went every night). We like live music, so we make an effort to find and attend jazz concerts and blues performances. But we don’t go to movies and we don’t eat out, we don’t visit in other people’s homes, and we don’t have company. These are not things we enjoy enough to make time for them. I’d much rather be home stitching and watching a movie on Netflix than listening to someone talk about the sorry state of the economy and who’s to blame for that, you know?
~~long ago, I set boundaries. This is where it gets tough. The truth is, people will treat you the way you teach them to treat you. If everyone you know is always calling you and asking you to do something for them–take something to the dry cleaners or pick up their kid from soccer practice or listen to them complain about their boss–chances are it’s because you’ve taught them that that’s OK, that their time is more valuable than yours and that you have nothing better to do than to stop whatever you’re doing and text them for 20 minutes about what a jerk your brother-in-law is.
And here’s what it all boils down to: your time is your own. You may not believe it, but it’s true. Sure, you have to work, and you have to eat and sleep. But almost everything else you do is because you choose to do it. You choose to cook meals or not. You choose to clean house or not. You choose whether or not to make yourself available to everyone for whatever they need. All of those choices are fine, if that’s how you want to spend your time. Maybe you love to cook. Maybe your social relationships are the most important thing in your life. Only you can decide that. And only you can decide how you’re going to spend the hours in your days.
I’ll talk more about this next time. I’ve written more about it in the book, of course, and you can always go back to Chapter 2 and read more about how the contributing artists, including Roz, wrangle their own time.
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