Making time to be you
It's been a little over seven months since I moved out of the extremely busy house where the rest of the family continues to live with a dog and a cat that aren't helping on the keeping-our-space-clean front. And goodness knows help is often required. But.
Seven months, then. In a lovely (if small) brand-new apartment. Really. I'm the first person to live in it. Nobody had peed in my toilets before. It's got brand-new appliances. Nice clean floors. Pure white walls. Granite countertops. It doesn't smell like a dusty old house. It's new and it's clean. It's also clean and new, which as you might surmise I like very much.
It doesn't have much furniture in it either. Just enough. Bed, dresser, night stands, couch, tv stand, table and chairs, bookcase, desk and writing chair, plus a patio set for the balcony. All new. All clean. Everything screams minimalism, and it doesn't scream it loud either because I'm not wild about noise unless I'm the one making it. But not these days; I'm missing a piano terribly, but I haven't yet figured out which brand and/or model of digital piano (you know, the ones you can plug headphones into) I want to get before making a decision about whether I really can afford to get the one my heart eventually settles on. Unlikely if you ask me. I have annoyingly expensive tastes.
But do you know, I really like my space, which I share with my best friend in the whole wide world and not just because he's neat and tidy although that's kind of crucial. He also pushes me to write (and edit; and like anything related to editing, it's a touch annoying), something for which I can't be grateful enough. And he makes me laugh a lot.
To be tidy and neat and keep the living space almost radically uncluttered is a necessity. I can’t stand noise outside my head unless it’s my fingers hitting some kind of keyboard. The category of “unwanted noise” very much includes the unbearable din knick-knacks, dirty socks, random toys strewn all over the floor and dust bunnies create.
Yes, dust bunnies are loud. You never noticed that?
Physical distractions on the road to human fulfillment are deadly to me. They sap my inspiration, to say nothing of my will to get up and work. I've tried working while I sleep but unfortunately the word counts refuse to budge that way. I really have to get my meat over to the right chair and start typing for any magic to happen.
Which is terribly unfair, when you think about it. But now at least I'm in a physical space worthy of the effort. As I wrote before my move, "I desperately need a quiet room of my own, not too far from my kids but physically separated by a street or two, and a door that locks. A space that stays clean and tidy and where nobody is invited. That’s the environment I need to be able to write."
I've got that now. It's a bit further away than a street or two, but not by very much. I've got the physical thing nailed down. Now it's time to deal with the inside of my own head, or how to make it feel clean and tidy so the real work can get done.
See, as annoying as dust bunnies and clutter are, they're nothing compared to mental distractions when it comes to getting the kind of work done that makes you feel like you're at least trying to justify your collection of cells to the Lord of the Universe, whomsoever he may be.
We all have a purpose in life, and my belief - which is nearly religious in its intensity - is that unless we figure out what it is and get going on it, we'll reach the end of life very unhappy and loaded with metaphysical regrets. Which, you'll agree, is no way to die.
Me, I want to kick the bucket with a clean conscience and a lot of unfinished projects about which I'm still excited even though I can't draw breath without assistance. As long as my mind keeps on going, I'll be busy writing stories. That's my purpose.
Took me an agonizingly long time to figure it out, too. And now, with the zeal of the newly converted, I am trying to play catch-up. Mental distractions have had to go.
For instance, I used to take a lot of time from my days to teach. Everything from math to karate, to the proper way of brewing kombucha at home. I enjoy sharing what I know with people who want to hear it. It's excellent work, and it brings with it a certain glow.
Although it's good and enjoyable, it's not what I'm here for.
I don't teach anymore. Instead, I write. I wish I could do both. I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day. But then, even if there were, maybe I'd need to focus my energies on my purpose regardless.
I don't spend nearly as much time on social media as I used to, even though social media is of critical importance when you're trying to establish yourself online and find your tribe.
It's also fun, but it's a terrible mind-sucker. You didn't need me to tell you that. You already know it too well. I was just reminding myself. For the truth is that if I don't watch myself closely, it's 45 minutes later and all I've done is watch one baby goat video after another. Baby goats rule.
I put fairly strict limits on my social media use. I no longer keep the tab open to Facebook on my computer, and I've stashed the app in a folder with the title "MINDFUL CHECKING" on my phone. It's supposed to act as a deterrent. Having to tap a couple extra times, including once past the word MINDFUL, is meant to remind me that Facebook and Twitter but especially Instagram, are excellent at wasting precious time and not much else.
I thought of renaming the folder "BEWARE DIDDLEFUCK WRITE INSTEAD" but it wouldn’t fit on the screen. Too bad, because it would be the best way to avoid tapping through.
Fitness. I used to spend inordinate amounts of time training my body. It was often three or fours hours a day, seven days a week. Was I fit? You bet. Was I fit enough to justify the time? Probably not. And even if I had been, what would have been the point? To become an Olympic athlete in my late 40s? So that, what, I still can’t find time to write?
I do like daily exercise and I want to stay fit. For one thing, it helps me write. For another, it helps me not kill anyone. But maybe one hour per day is enough. That's what I do now. Just one hour. About the only change I've seen, other than time available for purposeful work, is that I'm not as hungry as I used to be and also not as tired and achy. Ta-da, a better balance thus was achieved.
A few days before I moved out last summer I wrote a list of things I wanted to do less of, and things I wanted to do more of. In the first group was cleaning, bitching, complaining, cooking, and other boring stuff like that. In the second column was writing, reading, laughing, and so on.
It's February and the two columns are starting to feel like maybe they're tempted to think about achieving some kind of compromise on that. Sure, there's always cleaning and cooking in life, and no, I'm not planning to hire domestic staff to peel my grapes for me. But I am pleased to have reduced the amount of domestic chores I used to be buried under. I read and write more, and I laugh too. Not quite as much as I'd like. But I'll get there, I'll get there.
I've reached that bit of success by not caring nearly as much about what people thought or said. By becoming somewhat of a sociopath. By not giving a fuck what other people said about my choices. Better yet, by not giving anyone the chance to tell me what they think of my choices because I simply don't hang out with very many people at all anymore. That's another distraction. I pick my friends very carefully, and take the time to be with them as much as possible. But networking and trying to please others by making small talk? Nope. Not anymore.
When I moved out I gave myself two years to get to a spot where I'd be happy. That meant a writing career that pays most of the bills, a quiet happy clean place to live, health and fitness to make me feel good enough to work on the first two goals properly, and a little extra money for travel and a stupidly expensive piano. We're one-quarter of the way through and and so far, I say, so good.