I looked out my window just now and had the thought that when the solstice hits in one month, it will be even worse. The darkness will mount around 4PM, and when I wake up, as usual, around 6am, I will have several hours before dawn makes it fully a new day.
But there’s nothing “worse” about it. It just is what happens this time of year, and the better approach is simply to mark it and move on. I might view it differently if I lived elsewhere in Canada. I might be switching gears more profoundly to truly winter weather, winter troubles, winter pleasures, but really here in Victoria, it just boils down to shorter days and a need every day for my parka, hat, and (maybe) gloves.
I will not have Pacific Northwest gray and dark as relentlessly as many here, since I will be gone in January and February, first in Southeast Asia and then in Micronesia, but I am feeling philosophical anyway.
There is good in every season. I had a glorious summer and fall, and now it is time to be smaller, to be more inward, to withdraw a little and just be with myself. I haven’t written anything here for a while because some things about my life are too private and complicated right now to share. In that sense, I think I started winter very early this year. But every season of mind and spirit has its own benefits to offer.
Though I am not Christian, I think often of the line from the Gospel of John about “having life and having it abundantly.” As I walk along forest paths turned spongy with this season’s fallen leaves (photo below of my latest walk), i see the vanished green life at the edges of lakes and streams and remember that sometimes to choose life, you have to withdraw, to cocoon, to hibernate. it is a good thing to seek a cave from time to time, or in my case, to seek a restorative place where I can walk and just let the changing season speak to me. These are all ways that life chooses itself again and again. And so do I. Let the days grow shorter. I am ready for the life that waits within this fallow season.
The formal season for reflection and atonement is now over, but I have a piece of unfinished business and a story to tell.
A reservation mix-up in Montreal caused me to change hotels after my first night there, and when I got to my new hotel, I realized I wasn’t wearing my rather new and expensive Apple Watch. A thorough ransacking of my luggage confirmed that I had left it in the last hotel room. I went to the device finder app and for some reason it said my watch was still at home in Victoria (nope), so that was no help. I called the hotel to ask them to look out for it, and they said it had not been found.
I was still hopeful, and I went about my day trying not to let self-recrimination ruin it. That was hard to do. I have been careless so much in the last year or two, losing more than one phone, and walking away from jackets, bags, etc.. I am not careful about checking spaces I have vacated, and I can’t seem to break the habit. Yes, I check hotel rooms pretty thoroughly but obviously not carefully enough. I am a failure at protecting my possessions, I am getting senile, I can’t justify buying expensive things, I am just not anywhere near the responsible person I want to be—all this was going through my mind.
Then, for some reason, in the afternoon the app updated and said the watch was indeed still at the address of the hotel. At that point I was out of town, and when I returned I headed straight there. To my surprise, just before I got there, the app said the watch was somewhere else, about a kilometer away.
I went back to my new hotel and called to tell the other one that they indeed did have the watch and now it was gone. The clerk and I agreed that it was quite suspicious. The housekeeping staff would have been on site until roughly the time the watch left the premises. The most logical conclusion was that someone had found it and taken it home.
The manager got involved and it was starting to look ugly, because I said that for something that valuable, with the appearance of theft, I felt I had to file a police report. It also was starting to look as if they might have to deal with a thief in a position of trust. Everyone was very unhappy. I was thinking at that point that I would rather have lost the watch than be getting into the spiral of accusations and mistrust I sensed was coming.
Then the manager stopped returning my calls. Were they circling the wagons? Were they on the verge of resolving this with an employee and just not ready to say anything yet? I didn’t know. In my new hotel I found my experience of the housekeepers colored by the belief that the last one had not been honest. Ugly, indeed.
It stood that way for another day, when I called again and was told that the watch had been found in a pile of dirty sheets. Of course, I thought, the person who took it brought it back and ditched it. Maybe they showed it to someone who told her these watches have tracking devices and to get rid of it fast. Anyway, I could come pick it up. I was relieved not just to have it back but because I wasn’t going to be responsible for doing harm to whoever had taken it. Even if it had been stolen, life is hard, and I didn’t want to get anyone fired who was already struggling to survive.
So that is the story as experienced by Laurel. Now I will tell you the true story of the watch. Apparently it was caught up in the bedding when I left the room. The housekeeper had not seen it when she collected the sheets and had thrown it in the laundry. In the afternoon, coincidentally, right at the time the shift ended, it was headed to the laundry service. That was where Its location changed to, not at someone’s home.
But it gets better. Apparently the watch got associated with the laundry of another hotel, and it had taken the better part of a day’s dogged search for my old hotel, the laundry company and the misidentified hotel to all come together and realize where the watch needed to go. While I am thinking terrible thoughts, all those people were coming together to help a total stranger get her property back.
All this was happening in the last few days of the High Holidays, meant to be a time of reflection about our shortcomings and resolutions to be a better person in the coming year. I am still processing the story of the watch in these terms. In Hebrew the word Teshuvah is often translated as repentance, but its more literal meaning is return. Return to a time before we went astray. Return to a simpler understanding of the connection between behavior and principles. Regrounding. A chance to be new again.
I don’t think I was a bad person to think my watch was stolen. I think it was reasonable to draw that conclusion. But I was wrong when I said to the hotel manager that there really didn’t seem to be any other way it added up. There indeed was, and it is a reminder that we can choose between thoughts that reaffirm our faith in humankind, or that undermine it. I chose the latter and for a few days I suffered needlessly and could not be my best self.
I could say that what happened reaffirmed my faith in humankind, but that makes it about other people and in the spirit of Teshuvah, I want it to be about me. Where is my opportunity for return in this experience?
I can return to compassion by remembering that every person I meet has a story, and try harder to have their story be better as a result of crossing paths with me. i can do better at this. I can return to greater confidence that most people are trying to live their best lives, and thus are doing their best to be trustworthy and honest. I can do better at this too So what if I daily see exceptions? I daily see proof as well. It’s there in every one of the people who got my watch back, including—and here I can return to assuming the best in people—the housekeeper who never stole it in the first place.
I haven’t written here since I “finished” my novel. I added quotation marks because it isn’t finished until the publisher says it’s too late to change anything, but a few weeks ago I reached the point where I couldn’t see how to make it any better. That is what I guess any writer would recognize as “temporary finishing,” although already I am tinkering again.
That tinkering is taking place only in my head. I left a few days ago on a cruise assignment in Alaska on Seabourn Odyssey, and as always happens, being on a ship is such a radical departure from the rhythms and requirements of life ashore that I no longer even pretend I will get anything done except what is expected of me (nailing the talks, socializing with guests, and that’s about it).
Yesterday I opened the file for my novel, just to make sure I brought the most current one. I stared at the words and it was like being on the outside looking at a foreign world. I shut it without reading even a page.
I am not sure I ever went directly to a cruise after finishing such a momentous undertaking as a novel, although the prep for talks is quite a bit of work every time. I guess for that reason I should have expected to be in a bit of a daze. Add to that the fact that this is familiar territory not just from past cruises but from my life on Vancouver Island. A cruise usually is a journey into the new and different, but here it feels more like a continuation, a new vantage point from the water of familiar landscapes of rocky shores and timbered slopes. Nothing ho hum about it, to be sure, but a little different from waking up in Barcelona or Singapore, where one is jolted into recognition that this is definitely not home and energized by the desire to go do something about it.
We are anchored briefly this morning in a secluded coastal area so that guests can go off kayaking and exploring by zodiac (photo of them returning below) before we move on to our next port. It is a surprisingly warm and blessedly sunny day, and I have been sitting outside with just a light sweater and shell jacket feeling a pleasant nip on my face that reminds me we are coming into fall. The water is calm and teal colored except where the wisps of breeze turn it sparkling silver. Seals are cavorting off the stern and seabirds are circling to see what the fishing excitement might be. Zodiacs are coming and going, happy voices carrying across the water.
About an hour ago a pair of humpback whales showed up very near the ship. They are, of course, one of the things the guests have traveled this far to see, and that many have hopped onto little excursion boats to go out to find. And there they were! The slick, grey backs arched as the sound of their huge white exhalations reverberated across the water, with majestic Mount St Elias in the background. You
can see a little of the back of one whale in the photo below, but mostly I just watched rather than thinking i needed to document. I took deep cleansing breaths along with them, and it seemed as if I was exhaling for the first time in months. Letting everything go. Returning from the fog into a clear and pristine present. I can just breathe again for a while, just be, and it feels wonderful.
Finishing a book is one of the most befuddling experiences in life. I have just experienced it for the seventh time (five published and one unpublished books, plus this new one), and it is always the same.
Regardless of my vows to keep my life balanced, by the end I have failed utterly, as always. I still exercised, but less, still had human contact, but less, still took care of business, but less. But even a minimum of an hour a day on each of these leaves a whole lot of hours every day to be obsessive, especially considering that the “get up and get back to your book” alarm in my head was going off around 5AM.
In some ways it’s the same as the tail end of any long stretch of concerted mental effort, knowing you must be exhausted but being too wired to feel it. The exhaustion shows up in weird ways, like disorientation even in familiar surroundings. I walked into a plexiglass wall a few days back and still have the tender forehead to show for it, though the lump and bruise have faded. The other day I decided not to go on a new hike with a group because I would have to drive on a highway to get there, and I didn’t trust myself to pay adequate attention to the road.
The late Sharon Kay Penman, an author much admired by historical novelists, once said at a conference, “While you’re writing about the past, don’t forget to live in the present.” She knew how hard that can be. My characters are more concrete to me than my own body, more real to me than the people in my life. It is an extraordinary state to be in, and I am not complaining. It is a privilege to be able to go into another world. It’s the coming out that’s hard.
I look around and wonder, “so, what do I do now?” I have enough neglected business and errands to fill my days for a while. Every day I’ve been pushing forward on my calendar all the phone calls I should have already taken care of, the appointments and reservations I need to make or cancel because the ground is always shifting underfoot whether I’m paying attention or not. it’s been so long since I pulled out the cleanser that the bathroom and kitchen are an embarrassment to myself. The problem is, I don’t want to do any of it. I have been in this amazing place of my own creation and I don’t want to come back to boring things.
Dealing with strangers is the hardest part. I have a few friends who have done a wonderful job of not letting me float off the planet, but I reach a point where I can’t shop for groceries because I would have to speak. The spell gets broken by every little mundanity, and I don’t want to do that.
In a way, this state is much like fresh grief, when being alive doesn’t seem real. I offer this only as a means by which you might glimpse this state, and hope you don’t read too much into the analogy. Maybe in a sense I am grieving the end of something big and important. I don’t deny that. But really, it’s more of the reverse. I have gained something huge—a completed book! My life is bigger because it now has this in it. I will find my way back to a normal that doesn’t feel at all impoverished, but enriched.
I know this befuddlement is brief and fleeting. Unlike grief, I will “get over it.” I’m going to fill this day with healthy goodness and maybe even make a few boring phone calls, solve a few nagging problems, and possibly get the toothpaste splatter out of my sink.
Or maybe that can all wait. The sun is shining, and I’m meeting a friend this morning. The world is offering its welcome, and I am going to stop writing this and step out the front door, letting all my senses remember that I am still here.
i have a lot of favorite places in the area around Victoria. I have gone more times than I can count to Elk/Beaver Lake, Thetis Lake, Witty’s Lagoon, Swan Lake, Mystic Vale, and Island View Park, to name a few, but there’s one that is in a category all its own. it may sound macabre, but I have anointed Tod Inlet as the ’hold my memorial service and scatter my ashes here” favorite.
I have been getting up (without alarm) around 5 and working until 10 or 11 on my new novel, at which point I am worthless to do more for a while. For the last few weeks I have used that as the marker at which I go to the gym to swim and work out, or go for an amble along the shore or in the forest.
Today i finished the heavy duty revision and am down to tweaks and line edits This is such a huge marker point that I decided to go do a forest bath at Tod Inlet. Remembering a promise I make to myself but have always forgotten to this point, I took a picnic lunch. In the final stages of writing a book, the fridge is in pathetic shape, and what I had today was the rest of a precooked chicken, some snap peas from a farmer’s market a few days back, and the last little bit of a bag wine. Perfect! Off I went!
The path to Tod Inlet changes so much over the seasons. At this point, the rushing stream has become a trickle so the woods are silent except for the occasional bird. As I walked along, I thanked the forest for being there for me and realized that wasn’t right. I tried again and thanked the forest for reminding me that I was part of it, and part of everything.
I ate my lunch, and I swear that chicken was far more tender and the pea pods far less past their prime than they would have been at my kitchen table. The solitary wasp that showed up though it was pretty good too.
A dragonfly hovered, and as happens so often, I thought of a poem. ‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame,” I thought to myself and had a good laugh imagining how a book editor would react to that line. “That repetitive K F K F/ D F D F alliteration is annoying—can you rephrase?” Ah, the difference between poetry and prose!
The ground had that look and smell I remember from campgrounds in my childhood—dry dirt and small stones, a little parched yellow grass at the edges. Memories hovered at the edges of my mind but never quite broke through.
The bushes were rife with climbing wild sweet peas. Once when I was in France I saw sweet peas at a florist and was shocked that they cost more than roses. When I asked why, the clerk told me it was because they were “tres raffines.” Very refined? The seeds even a child can grow? I thought of that today as they flourished in the wild. I suppose everything in nature is refined if what we mean is perfectly suited to its place, which is definitely not in a florist shop. You can see them along the bank here
Today was a funny mix of juxtapositions of meaning and being, but it makes sense. Finishing a book is like surfacing, and I suppose it should come as no surprise that today dragonflies have editors and sweet peas have judges. Soon I will experience again the mix of gain and loss that accompanies a project as big as a book It changes me, and I will have to find my way back. Or more appropriately, find my way forward. With places like Tod inlet to go to, that shouldn’t be hard.
I’ve been on the road in British Columbia and Alberta for almost two weeks now, and haven’t bought anything more than two pairs of earrings. Anyone who knows me probably are a bit surprised it was only two, but even those shiny little things are losing some appeal. After all, I only have two earlobes, and I often regret having to choose between several pairs I already have that both look great with what I am wearing. I joke about “need” having absolutely nothing to do with most purchases, and though that is true, even wanting something is rarely strong enough an impetus now to pull out the credit card.
I have lived in Victoria almost two years now and I have yet to do any serious clothes shopping. There are so many boutiques filled with things that are just my style, but so far I just haven’t been that interested. This is largely because with the way I live now, anything I buy will have one of two fates. Either I will lug it with me when I move, or it will sit in storage. Those are pretty big hurdles for any potential purchases, and most things just get put back.
This is not to say I haven’t bought quite a few things in two years, but only because I started from pretty close to zero when it came to suitable clothing and supplies for living in a place where the weather similar to San Diego lasts, oh maybe three months tops, and in 2022 regrettably hasn’t even arrived as we approach the summer solstice. But I really do have everything I need now, and what I could use (a different standard) is now down to a couple of things I will buy if I stumble upon them but I won’t actually make a point of looking for.
I was reading an article this morning by a minimalist who wrote about what she is really most glad she kept, and it got me to thinking about my own “must haves.” Other than suitable clothing, groceries, and the things I can count on being in any place I rent, here they are:
1. My blender. One of the two items I dearly miss when I travel. I do smoothies almost every morning my way. i almost never buy them, because they aren’t exactly what I want.
2. My collapsible microwave popcorn maker—my other dearly missed item. I often just have popcorn in the evening if I have had enough to eat that day.
3. Jewelry! My jewelry is the scrapbook of my life.
4. My desktop computer and printer. The printer doesn’t get used that much, but wow, is it inconvenient not to have it.
5. My own TV. I bought a small, high def television to help my astigmatism, to be able to have it where I want, and to avoid having to figure out the bells and whistles of the one in the place I am living.
6. My waterpik. The funniest thing I ever heard an author say to the ubiquitous question about her biggest piece of advice to other writers, was “floss regularly.” I agree.
7. My electronic photo frame. It reminds me how blessed I am every day.
I bring more things with me—the books of the moment, supplies, and personal items mostly—and there are a few things that will make it onto the ‘must have” list in the unlikely event they don’t come with the rental. I have to have a way to make excellent coffee (usually I bring my own even if there is something decent there). I need good hair products, not whatever bargain basement stuff they might supply, I need back support pillows because many places don’t even have one ready-made great place to sit. I also bought one of those little electric coolers that work with ice cubes to cool just an immediate space around me—helpful with the heatwaves in a place where air conditioning is rare. Fluffy slippers and candles for winter nights. And, of course the final must have—a corkscrew! Come on over for wine and popcorn! I’ll even give you the best place to sit.
I have been thinking about peace today as I continue a road trip through British Columbia and Alberta. I arrived this afternoon at Waterton Lakes National Park, which is part of what is called the International Peace Park, because it is contiguous with Glacier National Park in Montana. Together they form the only cross-border national park in the world. It is also Shabbat, which is always paired with Shabbat Shalom, the Sabbath Peace.
It was a good day to ponder what peace means both abstractly and personally, and as is often the case, a poem—this time “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerard Manley Hopkins—popped into my mind. I have a lot of favorite poets, but no other who has been a favorite in my teens, twenties, thirties, and every decade of my life. He’s not an easy poet for a lot of reasons—unusual use of language and meter, great leaps from one image to another, and very heavy Christian messaging (which I tend to ignore unless there is a bigger idea, which there often is).
I was driving through an area burned by a wildfire five years ago (see photo), and noticing both what is irrevocably dead, and what is now alive and thriving. The immediate connection I made with the poem was upon looking at a beautiful patch of golden wildflowers amid the white skeletons of dead trees. The line I thought of was this: “Whát I dó is me: for that I came.”
Those flowers came into existence to be flowers. The trees came into existence to be trees. They are doing, or did, it well. It is the simplest of thoughts, but there is a whole world of meaning to it.
The larger context of that line is this:
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
So to translate a little (I told you he isn’t easy), he is saying that every living thing has as its purpose to manifest what it innately is. A magpie must express its magpieness, a willow its willowness. “Myself,” they all speak and spell. “I came here to be me.”
Sometimes when I see a living thing, I will say out loud to it that it is doing a great job of being a whatever it is—a squirrel, a butterfly, a trout, a poppy, a redwood. I did this once when I was with a friend and she thought I was a little nuts (well, maybe there is something to that). But it’s true. Everything in nature does a beautiful job of “selfing.”
Except humans. We are terrible at it. We are the only ones who are confused about what we are, and what we are supposed to be. We are the only ones who get our past selves tangled up with what we are now, or who project future selves we may never become. It’s hard being human. We so rarely are at peace.
Maybe the key to peace is in the Daoist principle of wu wei, often translated as effortlessness. Doing what comes naturally. Going with the flow. For humans, this might mean learning to hear what our deepest “indoor” self is trying to tell us, and manifesting that as our “outdoor” self. Perhaps peace lies in “selfing” as a verb, not just any old self, but the self that we are truly meant to be. The one that fits in this world. The one that doesn’t fight to be something or somebody else, the one that doesn’t need to judge, compare, control.
But how? Hopkins suggests something really profound. ‘The just man justices.” How can I walk around “justicing”? How can I walk around “peacing”? Can it reach a point where I don’t just practice these things, but become them? This is what the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad did, (peace be upon them all), and it’s important to remember that we don’t have to make it all the way to Nirvana or believe in heaven to find at least glimmerings of that perfect peace just by trying to be our best selves
Someone once said “God is a verb”. I think what I am saying, and what Hopkins is saying, is similar. When we can say “what I do is indeed truly me,” when we live the verbs that bring us into the harmony that every other creature participates in, we will indeed know why we came.
if you are interested, here is the whole poem:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
My relationship with time continues to evolve. On the one hand, I recognize at age 72 that even under the best of circumstances, I don’t have all that much left. I read somewhere that people like me are in the fourth quarter. We just don’t know how far into it we are. So just in case that airhorn sounds soon, I don’t want to be caught off guard with important dreams and wishes unfulfilled.
On the other hand, I am amazed at how relaxed about time I am. I think I am more aware of that now that I am working on another book, because there is always the temptation to pack a maximum amount of writing into a day. But I haven’t been doing that at all. Sunday I took the whole day off to drive up Vancouver Island for the day. Monday, I spent a half a day combining a two-hour walk around a local lake, with lunch, and dropping a friend at the airport. She kept mentioning how aware she was of how much time this was taking away from my writing, and I guess it boils down to needing a much wider sense of productivity in my life. I want to produce happiness, vitality, pleasure, companionship, health, not just words. It was time far better spent than writing all day. Tomorrow my son comes to visit me in Victoria for a week, and much as I love finding out what’s going to happen next in my new book, I don’t care if Iwrite a word while he’s here.
Right now, I am sitting at the Toyota dealership getting my Prius serviced. They asked if I wanted a taxi or bus voucher so I could go home and back, and for a hot moment I considered it. Then I realized I don’t mind waiting for my car. I don’t really want to go home for an hour or two. Just sitting for a while and walking over to the mall across the street to pick up a few things I’d need to stop for in the next day or two anyway both seem like a pretty good use of my morning. I’m listening to some oldies on the sound system in the lounge, singing along (only in my head out of mercy for others) and having fun remembering back when. And of course drafting a blog post. It probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to do that today, and writing these posts is one of the most reliable ways I have to get in touch with myself.
I think about expressions like ”taking time,” and ’making time,” and i want to laugh at how much we cannot do either. We don’t really even ”have time” or to “not have time” to do things. We don’t own it that way. Time moves along and we move with it doing our best, or not, to bless this gift of life by using it in ways we value.
It’s not just waking hours that count. It’s feeling at home in one’s day, whatever that means at the moment. I don’t think I have ever been in partnership with time in quite the same way I am now. I want a full life but I see no need to fill up my days. When I manage simply to be here now, I notice how full they simply are.
There’s nothing more exciting than a rush. There are rushes of emotions, rushes of experience, rushes of insight. Forget the bad rushes. The good ones are what make life birth itself again.
There are several rushes in my life now. I am back living in my favorite place, one block from the cliffs at Dallas Road in Victoria (photo of a part of my walk below). I walk almost every day for a while there to center myself, and I am always overwhelmed with gratitude and joy that I am here now. That I am still alive to the sea air and the sound of the waves, and the cliff faces, and the piles of bleaching logs, and the pebbled beaches, and the colors, and the brightening sun, and the sounds of people, dogs, gulls.
There’s another rush now, because I have reached the point in my new novel where the characters are starting to come alive, where they tell me what they are thinking, where they tell me what to write. It’s what always keep me going, this sense of surprise. Today, for example, my main character revealed to me how angry she was at her husband, how ready she was to respect herself by not finding her identity in his wake, and she makes more sense to me now. The subsequent story will follow on the energy her voice is generating. The husband will be revealing himself too. I just have to wait for it.
I don’t know about other authors, but when I begin writing, I use the first draft to find out who my characters are. First drafts for me are about thoughts and dialogue. Even a complete first draft is, I think, maybe 60% of the way to the finished product. I draft quickly, and then I worry later about things like the weather, or whether my characters are walking in the park or eating while they talk or think. I care even less if it is breakfast or lunch, and if breakfast, whether it is pancakes or eggs and how the eggs are prepared. I don’t care if they are hungry enough to eat or if they just pick at the edges. By the time you read the book, all those details will be there, but it is the discovery aspect of the first draft that thrills me the most.
Wow! I just didn’t know until the fight in the hotel room broke out that my protagonist and her husband were that much at odds. I didn’t know until she rationalized her own affair how much his philandering affected her self esteem. I didn’t know that she was contemplating leaving him. I didn’t know until she broke away from her mother how strongly she felt about not letting anyone else dictate her life, and how she would have to defend herself against that again in her relationship with her husband. Yes, these are real people, so I am reading things into their story, but there is another kind of truth that a writer has to reach for when the known facts simply run out, when it’s up to me to make the facts make sense.
I have set something powerful in motion and I can’t wait to see what happens next. That’s what makes it a rush. The final rush will be sharing it with you with a cover around it. Don’t hold your breath. Right now the creativity is enough. Kind of like the wind blowing in from the sea today. Who knows where it goes?
When I was still teaching, I always appreciated Convocation Day at my college, which occurred immediately before classes started in the fall. I don’t mean that I liked sitting in a room listening to administrators telling the faculty about this and that. That was often excruciating, and I was really glad for a side door when the lights went down. What I liked about it was that it signaled a return to structure in my life. From then until Christmas, I knew on most days where I needed to be and what I needed to do.
The lack of structure between semesters always presented challenges, but a far greater challenge for me emerged when I became a novelist and started filling every available hour on a book. I was glad to have absolutely nothing I had to do in the summer and on breaks, because it meant I could write, write, write till my eyes swam and my knees buckled when I stood.
It wasn’t good for my health or anything else about my life. Having too liitle to do and doing too much of one thing are both hazards, and I developed a way of dealing with this that has served me well not only while I was working but even today. I call it “Categories of Time.”
The concept is simple. I make a list of four to six activities that are essential to what I see as a balanced, satisfying life. Then I commit, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, to spend at least one hour on each. As long as I fit that hour in, I can spend the rest of the day distributed however I wish among all the categories. Of the roughly 16 hours a day I am not sleeping, I still have 11 that have no strings attached.
In the past, when I was actively writing, my categories looked like this: Writing, Exercise, “Laurel Maintenance” (anything from taking a shower, to paying bills, to grocery shopping), Promoting my Writing Career, and Wasting Time. Yes, I even built in the requirement not to be productive 24/7.
Then, as long as I did my hour of each, I could do whatever I wanted. This worked amazingly well for me because it would get me out of my desk chair if it got to to be mid-afternoon and I had done nothing but write. Four more categories before bedtime! Gotta get to the gym, gotta get those bills paid, gotta work on a blog post, even gotta play solitaire, or watch a movie. I stayed healthy, happy and, most important, well balanced by following this truly unburdensome approach to time.
I have very little I have to do for the next few months, as I don’t really need to start thinking about my fall cruise assignments until the end of July. Working on a new book, though, sets off alarm bells because I know, combined with no daily structure and no real demands on my time, how obsessive I can get.
So the other day I figured out the Categories of Time that are going to get me through this spring and summer. They’ve changed a little as my life has changed and also because my sense of what is important has been altered by the events of the last few years. Here are my 2022 categories:
Connect with Others
Waste an hour
Yes, it really works. Right now, if someone were to ask me “How was your day?” I can answer the best and happiest way possible: Balanced. Try it!
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