Borrowed time: The sad reality that, more often than not, it is the people around you who are really in charge of your schedule.  Therefore, if you want any time for yourself—to go to the gym, say, or spend your lunch hour at your desk shopping online—you need to “borrow” the time from someone who thinks they have a more important claim to it.  This sad reality has led to countless magazine articles in which experts advise you to “schedule me-time” or “put fun on your calendar,” which, if nothing else, at least give you a chuckle.

—Kristin van Ogtrop, from Just Let me Lie Down

I know how addictive busyness and mania are. But I ask [my students] whether, if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement…will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life? 

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If not, if they want much more for their kids, lives well spent in hard work and savoring all that is lovely, why are they living this manic way? …

Will they give me one hour of housecleaning in exchange for the poetry reading?  … No?  I understand.  But at 80, will they be proud that they spent their lives keeping their houses cleaner than anyone else…? Or worked their fingers to the bone providing a high quality of life, but maybe accidentally forgot to be deeply and truly present for their kids, and now their grandchildren? …

I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour.  I promise you, it is there.  Fight tooth and nail to find time to make it.  It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day.

—Anne Lamott, from the April 2010 issue of Sunset magazine

The above definition of “borrowed time” made me howl with laughter.  Perhaps because I’m one of those experts in magazines telling people how I put time for myself on my Google calendar, which is a little like scheduling sex: Once it’s on the task list, the joy is sort of sucked right out of it.

That passage from van Ogtrop’s book is matched by Anne Lamott’s recent Sunset magazine essay, “Time Lost and Found,” also quoted above. It made me weep here just now, sitting in a coffee shop; you really have to read the whole thing for the full impact.

Unplugging from my highly-wired life is both difficult and delightful.  I crave more time to attend to my nagging list of should-dos.  If my iPhone is in arm’s reach and I have even a moment of downtime, I still check it, even though my work email is now disabled.  Look up from your latte and just breathe, I tell myself.  Every single second does not need to be “productive.”

Lamott is right: Busyness is addictive.  And since beginning this series only two weeks ago, I’ve been experiencing withdrawal symptoms that crack me up.  Like someone who checks her wrist for the time even when she’s not wearing a watch, I feel my mind constantly checking for new data:  Do I have new email? Voicemail? Texts? 

I know I’m not alone. Many parents I know are feeling a little out-of-sorts right now, with the routine of the school year shot and the excitement of no-school dying on the vine.  Working mothers feel guilty that their kids are in all-day camps; stay-at-home parents feel guilty their kids are watching so much TV.  But I am finding peace in just the attempt to slow down, even if I’m not exactly living a summer life of badminton on the lawn and backgammon on the porch.

Has anyone achieved that idyllic summer slow-down?  If so, how the heck did you do it? I have recommitted myself to discovering a slower lifestyle—I do, of course, fully believe in the power of poetry and play—but the siren song of a highly productive life still calls compellingly to me.

This week, every single day, I’m going to spend an hour in “guilty” pleasure. Can I steal an hour a day with a novel or other reading that inspires me?  Can I do this without putting it on my calendar as a repeat appointment that I will continually neglect for “more important” things?  Can I instead ignore the impulse that something horrible will happen if I’m not utterly and totally efficient, if I don’t check 1,000 things off my list today?  That is my “Walking the Talk” challenge this week.

I always love company in trying to fulfill my resolutions, so please let me know if you are “Walking the Talk” along with me.  If you are taking time for bliss this week, what is working for you?  How is it going? What obstacles have you faced, and how can you remove them?

© 2010 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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