As a mother who is a freelance writer and editor working from home, I often place my own needs (especially creative diversions) at the very bottom of my priority list. This is not say that I am a self-sacrificing martyr—it is important to note that my time is frequently wasted perusing Facebook and responding to pitches for product reviews that I will ultimately do nothing about (I only review products I am thrilled about, and I am getting harder and harder to please, it would seem.) However, like most creative people I am conscious of the truth that frequent exposure to one’s heart’s desires will rapidly explode creative juices, starting a fiery blaze of inspiration, productivity and sheer joy. Do visits to art galleries keep your own canvases wet with fresh expression? Do hikes by lakes result in gorgeous photos of birds or other wildlife? Do trips to bookstores ignite a dozen new pages of writing?
Read on for Anne Lamott’s wise advice:
“I tell my [writing] students…there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.
Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.
Needless to say, this is very distressing for my writing students. They start to explain that they have two kids at home, or five, a stable of horses or a hive of bees, and 40-hour workweeks. Or, on the other hand, sometimes they are climbing the walls with boredom, own nearly nothing, and are looking for work full-time, which is why they can’t make time now to pursue their hearts’ desires. They often add that as soon as they retire, or their last child moves out, or they move to the country, or to the city, or sell the horses, they will. They are absolutely sincere, and they are delusional.”
Lamott recommends we each take, “half an hour, a few days a week. You could commit to writing one page a night, which, over a year, is most of a book. No one else really cares if anyone else finally starts to write or volunteers with marine mammals. But how can [my students] not care and let life slip away? Can’t they give up the gym once a week and buy two hours’ worth of fresh, delectable moments?
They look at me bitterly now—they don’t think I understand. But I do—I know how addictive busyness and mania are. But I ask them whether, if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement, and then work out four times a week, will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life?
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?
I ask them, is there a eucalyptus grove at the end of their street, or a new exhibit at the art museum? An upcoming minus tide at the beach where the agates and tidepools are, or a great poet coming to the library soon? A pond where you can see so many turtles? A journal to fill?”
Half-hour time-wasters to consider giving up:
- the treadmill at the gym–take a walk in the park, a forest, on the beach, on an undiscovered (by you) path, to a different part of town, anywhere…
- house cleaning–honestly, what’s with all the scrubbing? Are you competing for the shiniest floors? Does anybody really care?
- TV–Lamott says “no one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor.”
- electronic connectivity: Lamott remarks that “cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement. That multitasking can argue a wasted life.”
Thanks, Anne. From this day forward, I commit at least one half-hour per day to my fiction novel. I will also pause to enjoy my favorite things: the lightness of swimming, a fresh-brewed cup of coffee, the scent of foliage in the park. I will also endeavor to schedule trips to galleries and author readings. If it were me showing or reading, I would be thankful for one more attendee, so I can give the gift of my appreciation to others who have completed their art.
Lamott’s books include Operating Instructions and Traveling Mercies. Her new novel, Imperfect Birds (Riverhead Books; $26), will be published this month.