Throw Out 50 Thoughts #24 – That was a waste of time

hourglassTime is a gift. Time is fleeting. That’s a half hour of my life I won’t get back. The tape loop cycles in my head.

Tape loop, will you please, please, shut the hell up?

When I was a management consultant, I kept track of my time in 15 minute increments. Time without a code was overhead, and overhead brought on the managerial grouchy-face, so was best avoided.  I never really lost the mindset. The habit of packing time like Tetris blocks is reinforced by our outcome-oriented society, and face it, a to-do list with lots of to-done items is satisfying.

I’m neck-deep in editing a novel in hopes of finding an agent. It’s painstaking, exhausting work. I want to finish, not just because it’s a painful process, but because it represents a milestone in my journey as a writer. Last weekend my husband was out of town. My son was supposed to be out for the evening. I was going to edit like no one has ever edited before.

It didn’t go well. I’d spent the better part of the day buried in words, and I was mentally exhausted. I was writing stuff just to write stuff.

My son came home early. Way early. And then he didn’t go back out. He camped on the sofa and watched the ballgame. I wandered out for some soda water, and never came back. I sat down next to the Dude, got a beer and popped some corn. After the game was over we watched a couple of hours of Modern Family. Like Law and Order, Modern Family is always on, all one has to do is find the right station. Soon it will have it’s own variants, Modern Family – the Minivan Chronicles, Modern Family – Live Poetry Readers.

The next day I was kicking myself. I was behind. Did I not care about my book?  I was a sloth, and a slacker, and way too old to be a Gen Xer (Most Gen Xers are way too old to be GenXers these days). I would never finish. Never.

I’ll admit. I don’t always align my choices with my values. But am I really honest with myself about what I value?

I treasured every moment of my evening with the Dude. I was happy, and before long, he’ll be in college and I won’t have the opportunity at all. Is there more virtue in sitting brain-dead in front of my computer, convincing myself that I’m actually getting something done when I’m not?

The time is only wasted if I’m not embracing what I’m doing, and the only person who can assess the value of my activity is me. If I spend an evening playing 2048, that’s okay, as long as I’m present and happy playing 2048, and my score is higher than everyone else in my family. I totally rule at 2048.

So, I can stop with the self-directed managerial grouchy face. I can’t see it anyway, and it gives me wrinkles. I will save it for the Dude, who should be studying, but is throwing a tennis ball against the wall outside my office. What a waste of time.

Photograph – “Time” by Alexander Boden © 2007 Creative Commons/Flick



The Late Lamented Me

I have become a person I never thought I would be. I am habitually late.

When I was working, I was never late, and I mean never. I worked with people for whom time had no meaning. Specifically, other people’s time. Their time had value. Mine was expendable.

I’m sure one of the partners that I worked with would have “Meeting ran late–Be there soon,” on her tombstone. It would be accompanied by the Muzak you get while hanging on a conference call. Rather than continuing to stew with a soundtrack, I adopted a 15 minute policy. After 15 minutes, I was done waiting, and she’d have to reschedule. It didn’t change her behavior, but I felt better about it.

One partner told me that if he expected me for a meeting and I wasn’t there, he knew that either a) his clock was broken, b) he had the wrong time or date on his calendar, or c) I was dead. He opined that even if I’d been hit by a bus, I’d drag my battered body through the halls of the office, saying “You can call 911 later. I have a meeting.”

Once I stopped working, most of my appointments were social, and I discovered no one actually shows up on time. It’s only grown from there. It’s not like I’m sitting around filing my nails–I’m generally writing, and just want to finish a thought, a sentence, a chapter before I leave, because I know the idea will be gone unless I get it down on paper.

My son has a friend who is always late.  He’ll tell my son that they’ll meet for basketball at a particular time, only to find that five minutes beforehand his friend is somewhere else, 30 minutes away and won’t be home anytime soon. My son would get really angry, feeling like he was perpetually on hold. As frustrating as it is, however, it’s not deliberate. I think his friend wants to do everything, sincerely, so he figures somehow the space-time continuum will fold, allowing him to be everywhere at once. We’ve termed it “hopeful time.”

A lot of people operate on hopeful time. Project timelines that assume frictionless operation and perfect synchronization.  Doctor’s offices that don’t have slack to accommodate inevitable emergencies. Pick up plans that don’t factor in my son chatting up some girl rather than coming directly to the car.

Last night, my son asked when dinner would be ready. I said ten minutes, and he asked, “Is that real time or hopeful time?” Yup. Apparently even I operate on hopeful time. I want dinner to be ready, but it always takes longer than I wish it would.

So I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. I will go back to being on time. I will be someone you can count on to be where I say I will be.

Oh crap! Gotta go. Running late.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Kaja Kozlowska © 2008 Creative Commons

Two Selves Dancing

Have you ever had a friend who seems to read your thoughts? Someone who just *gets* you? Sarah W. Bartlett is like that for me. We often seem to be pondering the same questions at the same time, even though we live hundreds of miles apart.

Sarah is a poet and teacher and a philosopher and a mentor to women–and luckily for me, a generous and enthusiastic collaborator. We’ve both been wrestling with the topic of wholeness–healing the divided self. So instead of haiku, today I share with you a poem that she and I wrote together.

Two Selves Dancing
I rock, sway in this dance of selves
one drawn to dally, drift, dream;
one pulled to tasks – none essential
though demanding Do! Deliver!

One drawn to dally, drift, dream
pinned down fast by expectation
though demanding Do! Deliver!
these tasks – naught but noise and vapor

Pinned down fast by expectation
I struggle to be free from all
these tasks – naught but noise and vapor
better to be the stuff of dreams.

I struggle to be free from all
Merge dancer and work weary other
better to be the stuff of dreams
Idea and action reunited

Merge dancer and work weary other
one pulled to tasks – none essential
Idea and action reunited
I rock, sway in this dance of selves

Words by Jeannine B. Everett and Sarah W. Bartlett

Photograph by Sebastian Fritzon ©2008 Creative Commons

Flea brain. Do they make a collar for that?

Last week a fidgety mind was seriously messing up my productivity. It happens to me from time to time. I call it flea brain. When I have flea brain, It doesn’t seem to matter what I’m doing–writing, practicing, cataloging music–my mind darts from one place to another, not settling on one place long enough to focus or engage.

It usually happens when I’m anxious, when the tasks on my list tug on my skirt like a toddler. Pay attention to me! No, pay attention to me! I’ll be doing one thing, and realize I should be doing something else, then on the way to do that thing, get distracted by some other task and forget what I wanted to accomplish in the first place.

The thing is, I’m not anxious. Sure, I have lots to do, but my son is at camp and I have nothing but time. I know my priorities, and even the logical steps and pathway, but it’s like my planning functions and execution functions have been disconnected. My rational self says, time to write. My behavioral self says, let’s look at kitten videos.  Or worse, I’ll stare at the blank screen, thinking Write something! Anything!

I’ll get a shiny new thought, but I can’t pin it down. Like mercury, it breaks into bits that scatter, liquid and elusive. I type what I can and go for a run. When I get back  I look at what I have written down.

Joshua Bell/Jealousy

Have enough/Never enough

Book about sisters/crap, crap, crap

All I can think is, WTF?  What did I mean by any of that? I have six or seven unfinished posts like this on my dashboard.

So I went to see my acupuncturist.  Typically, my flea brain is caused by a slump in wood energy. Instead of moving forward, I run around in circles. This time the source is different. She tells me I have a block. My mind cannot hear what my heart has to say.

Funny, I distinctly heard, Write something! Anything!

No, you idiot, my heart says. That’s not me. That’s fear talking. Don’t you know the difference?

Apparently not. So, Heart, what do you say? I’m listening.

You don’t have to find the words. They are already here.

Well, how about that.  So they are.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Beatrice Murch

It’s About Time

There are so many things I’d accomplish if I just had more time.  I’d finish my novel, my house would be clean and I’d have a rockin’ hard body.  There would be a shorter pile of books next to my bed, and I’d master that excruciating violin etude I’ve been working on for the last six months.  Six months.  No joke.

I convince myself that time is a wild horse and if I could only break it, I could hurdle over the fences and fallen logs that block my way.  I try to lasso my hours with my Google calendar, plotting and allotting, but having a rope isn’t enough if you have lousy aim.  It doesn’t help that lately I’ve had the attention span of a gnat.  I blame menopause for that one.

Time, however, is life’s big red herring.  I used to tell that to my clients all of the time.  When consumers say, “I’d floss my teeth/dust my furniture/read books if I just had the time,”  they are lying.   Not to me, but to themselves.  The truth is, that if I could magically give them another hour each day, they wouldn’t spend it doing whatever I was asking them about.    They’d watch an America’s Next Top Model Marathon or play Farmville.

I’m no different.  I’ve been known to play Angry Birds until my phone was near dead and my hands had lost circulation.  In fact, I have to turn the sound off, or  I’d never stop.  The oinking pisses me off.  It’s like the pigs are gloating.  My son (who has been known to lose a few hours to Call Of Duty) gets annoyingly preachy and calls me an addict.  My response?  “I’ll quit once I pass this level.”  I am also lying.

Time is a more than just a measure of moments that pass through the gateway between present and past.  Time is the currency in which we measure the value of activity.  So does that mean the entertainment provided by an America’s Next Top Model marathon is more valuable to than flossing?  That Angry Birds tips the scale versus finishing my novel, or pinning down that etude I’ve come to despise?  I really hope not.  So why don’t I use my time better? It’s about fear.

It is far easier to slingshot parakeets than it is to face the truth that I might invest a lot of energy and personal esteem into dreams that might be out of reach.  That I might give it my best, and still far very, very short.  It’s more soothing to the ego to say believe that time is my nemesis rather than my inexperience.  Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft.  If that’s true, I have a ways to go without a horse.  Putting it off won’t help.  The pigs will have to wait.

And after I’m done writing for the day, I’ll finish that etude. If I can find the time.

Photograph – Eternal Clock by Robert van der Steeg