Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Turn Off Twitter. And Don’t Clean The House.

The title of this post is taken from an article I read earlier this morning by Anne Lamott, a fabulous, incredible writer.    I don’t usually make posts of other people’s writing, but since we’re at the beginning of a new year and since this article by Anne impacted me so deeply, I want to share it with you all.

Before we get to it though, let me just mention that tomorrow I’ll be doing a Wedding Wednesday that you won’t want want to miss!

And now . . . here’s Anne. I’d love for you to leave a comment and share with the rest of us what you thought about what she wrote.



Time Lost and Found

I sometimes teach classes on writing, during which I tell my students every single thing I know about the craft and habit. This takes approximately 45 minutes. I begin with my core belief—and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions—that 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.

This means you have to grasp that your manic forms of connectivity—cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement. That multitasking can argue a wasted life. That a close friendship is worth more than material success.

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.

I often remember the story from India of a beggar who sat outside a temple, begging for just enough every day to keep body and soul alive, until the temple elders convinced him to move across the street and sit under a tree. Years of begging and bare subsistence followed until he died. The temple elders decided to bury him beneath his cherished tree, where, after shoveling away a couple of feet of earth, they found a stash of gold coins that he had unknowingly sat on, all those hand-to-mouth years.

You already have the gold coins beneath you, of presence, creativity, intimacy, time for wonder, and nature, and life. Oh, yeah, you say? And where would those rascally coins be?

This is what I say: First of all, no one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor. Otherwise, you are mostly going to learn more than you need to know about where the local fires are, and how rainy it has been: so rainy! That is half an hour, a few days a week, I tell my students. You could commit to writing one page a night, which, over a year, is most of a book.

If they have to get up early for work and can’t stay up late, I ask them if they are willing NOT to do one thing every day, that otherwise they were going to try and cram into their schedule.

They may explain that they have to go to the gym four days a week or they get crazy, to which I reply that that’s fine—no one else really cares if anyone else finally starts to write or volunteers with marine mammals. But how can they 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? (Here they glance at my butt.)

Can they commit to meeting one close friend for two hours every week, in bookstores, to compare notes? Or at an Audubon sanctuary? Or a winery?

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 tide pools are, or a great poet coming to the library soon? A pond where you can see so many turtles? A journal to fill?

If so, what manic or compulsive hours will they give up in trade for the equivalent time to write, or meander? Time is not free—that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for.

Will they give me one hour of housecleaning in exchange for the poetry reading? Or wash the car just one time a month, for the turtles? No? I understand. But at 80, will they be proud that they spent their lives keeping their houses cleaner than anyone else in the family did, except for mad Aunt Beth, who had the vapors? Or that they kept their car polished to a high sheen that made the neighbors quiver with jealousy? 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 think it’s going to hurt. What fills us is real, sweet, dopey, funny life.

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.

5 Had Something To Say (Just click here!):

Sue G said...

Even in her discussion of the importance of finding time to write, this lady WRITES . . . with such import, such magic, laced with good advice.

I must admit that for me writing is just something I do when the mood hits. I am not obsessed with writing. I don't HAVE to write. In fact, I have spent years avoiding writing because I don't deal well with the positive feedback I get. I simply don't get it...so how in the world could I possibly recreate it?

I do believe that people who have to write...who live to write...must, simply must, set aside time to do it each day. It is a craft to be honed and what better way to sharpen that gift than to keep at it.

I believe we are all writers to some extent. We all have a story to tell. We all have an innate need to communicate (although I could retract that comment if I focus only on my husband!). We all want to connect. And isn't that what writing is...communication that is formed from a need to connect, to share, to purge private thoughts and common threads that bind us together?

I am so glad that you started your blog, Becky...that you took your love of writing and made that leap to be vulnerable and exposed via the printed word. You have done so much to exemplify the personification of faith, family, and fun.

How can we ever thank you enough???

Hmmm, I guess a written note would suffice, huh? :-)

Anonymous said...

I like your writing better!

Anonymous said...

Pre-Script: The following 'comment' is what happens when a literature major reads a blog that concludes by asking the reader what they think about a piece of writing. I apologize in advance . . .

- - - - - -

This made me think of an article Louis Bromfield wrote in 1955, one that my grandmother must have kept and has since photocopied and mailed to me multiple times. Entitled 'What Matters Most,' it begins "If, in this country, we have indulged in one great and fundamental error, it is to confuse the things of civilization and the spirit with the material products of our mechanical age."

Though Bromfield's message is more general and Lamott's is focused on the art of writing, it stuck me that the core of both pieces is so similar despite being written nearly six decades apart. Since Bromfield's writing, the distractions of modern life have only worsened. I occasionally wonder what we're missing, using Facebook instead of letters, text messages instead of phone calls, even (dare I say it) blogs instead of face-to-face discussions. It's wonderful to be able to keep in contact with people who would otherwise probably drop out of our lives or perhaps never enter them in the first place, but the connections are so often superficial.

I've considered giving up these things, and though I'm not Catholic did give up the internet outside of work for Lent last year. Of course, I reverted back to my old habits immediately afterwards. It never occurred to me to give something up in order to specifically make time for something else, however... I think I'll give her mandate a try. Figure out some daily or weekly chunk of time that I can free by neglecting something, and replace it with concentrated writing efforts. I work best with specifics, so I'll figure out a plan today -- what I'll do without, and how long I'll commit to the test run.

Suddenly, this sounds like fun!

katmayo said...

Years ago, when my daughter Jessica was stillborn, I wrote, and wrote and ... I used it to expel the horrid sadness that took my life into darkness. I contineus to write until the miracle birth of my daughter Rachael Lynn. I stopped writing, but so enjoyed reading the wonderful writings and artwork of my sweet Rachael. When Rachael died 3/1/2003, I tried to write again, but my ability with words couldn't touch my sadness. I am still struggling, all these years later, to find release. Writing helped me with the loss of my Jessica, but nothing, so far, has touched the pain of my Rachael's loss...maybe someday.

Guerrina in CT said...

How interesting! Just last night I spoke to a dear friend about making time in her life to allow for a creative outlet, in her case learning to paint wit oils/acrylics/water colors and about the renewal and refreshment that comes to our spirit when we allow our creative energy to burst forth!

I garden...God taught me about sowing and reaping, the truths that HE grows things...I only tend them...yet I reap the flowers and veggies!

I craft...what joy to have a craft night for a few friends that have never done crafts or had put it in the archives of their lives...how sweet to see a 10 y/o SO proud of his accomplishement (FYI - the ages range was 10 y/o - almost 70!). Laughter, stories,
communicating, relationships.

I cook...I live alone...so I learn new recipes and have a few girls over and make them feel special (and use them as guinea pigs for new recipes!)? Homemade bagels! Who would've thought they are so easy to make?!

I believe we all have a need to be creative in some form. Whether it's the art of cooking...or, like Becky, write verse and music that touches the soul as she bears her own (not to mention her written words without music!).

When I look around me, I can't deny the creativity of God, so it's not that far of a leap to believe He placed a creative urge in each of us! However, as Ms. Lamott said, we have to make the time to figure out what they are and then practice.

Uhhhh....great article! Sorry, got a bit wordy.