Time and how to spend it
I had an email from a friend which touched on something I often think about: time and how to use it and how to share it. I have quoted her original email below because she expresses the questions so well.
"I was wondering - you've recently (relatively) been released from many heavy obligations and demands. How are you managing your freedom? Are you able to just enjoy or do you have duty voices in your head, cutting across any 'holiday' feel.
There's always enough to be done. So it's easy to always be thinking 'I should be doing this, that, the other....' Do you? Or have you beaten that? I'd love to know how if you have, so I can learn.
And C is just about to retire and be here full time apart from walking. I find his activity ... reproaching and disturbing. This is me - he doesn't bug me if I'm not being busy."
Two separate but related questions here and both of them particular to this stage of life I think. When you are running around raising children and holding down a job and spinning constantly from one thing to another you simply don't have the luxury of thinking about time and what to do with it. There is no time to do anything other than do!
I left my ridicuously demanding job a few years ago precisely to have time for other things and almost immediately had to devote much of it to looking after my elderly father in law and then father. So the time and freedom I now have has come at the cost of their loss. And my mother has gone too, my mother who was the best person I have ever known at making the everyday sing, at feeling the sun on the skin, at making the really good coffee, at being in the moment. So this time and this freedom is both glorious and freighted with their loss. Perhaps that makes me more aware of using it well, or of trying to.
So to Anne's question: "do I have duty voices running in my head"? Of course I do. Living somewhere like this there are always jobs to do: there is always work in the garden and in the house; there is always work waiting for my Spanish Open University course; there are still things I do that are work related even if I am no longer paid for them; even writing this blog can feel like a duty as well as a pleasure; and there are other things that are both a pleasure and a responsibility, principally to do with looking after myself physically with things like yoga and pilates and walking. And is the family time a duty? Looking after a grandchild? Visiting a brother or a daughter? I am not sure that is how I think of it and these duties, if that is the right word, are not ones I want to be without. In fact I don't want to be without any of the things which might be called duties. They are my framework. They give shape and meaning to my day and thus, presumably, to my life.
So the balance for me is between the pleasurable duties and not packing my day with so much to do that I simply become a task machine. It is easy to be so busy with "jobs" that the yoga, the walking, the pilates, the time with friends all get shunted down the priority list and that is not what I want. What works for me is to distinguish between the things I want to do that only I can do - family things, Spanish, writing - and the things that take a lot of time but can be done by other people - gardening, meetings, jobs in the house. I think this was something which became very clear when my father was ill with the Motor Neurone Disease which finally killed him. It is easy to be so busy with work or with activities that you lose the sense that there are bits of your life that you cannot delegate and on the whole it is those things which really matter. Nobody else can be me. Somebody else can weed the garden although I might not always want them to. Someone else can go to a meeting, iron a sheet or clean a bath. Spending time with my father, looking after my grandchildren, learning Spanish or walking the hills, those are things which are me, which require me. I do not mean that there were not other important people who visited my father or who look after my grandchildren, simply that my relationship could not be delegated. My relationship needs me.
I try to fill my days mainly with the things that are me, that require me. And when I look at it like that the yoga clearly trumps the weeding. If I want the calmness of mind and the flexibility of body which yoga gives me I have to do it. I can't send someone along in my place. I don't benefit myself because my friend went to class when I stayed home and watched the television. If I want to speak Spanish I have to learn even though the world is full of other people who speak Spanish already. If I want to sing I have to open my mouth and let the sound out. If I want a close and happy relationship with my children and grandchildren I have to spend time with them. So in a world where the hours are finite and the days and weeks and months and years that remain are finite I can only spend my time once. So sometimes somebody else will have to weed the cutting garden, even if they might pull up the self sown poppies.
I definitely don't get this right a lot of the time. One of the great things about travelling for me is that it removes me from all the things that need doing at home and makes me be in the moment, undistracted by the lengthy to do list. And when I return from travelling there is a real pleasure in doing things again and in engaging afresh with the practicalities of life. In fact nowadays I have practically stopped running a to do list after a lifetime of lists for both work and home. Every few weeks I might write down half a dozen things which really need to be sorted out and then take satisfaction in working through them and ticking them off. Mostly however I find that I will do the really important things because they are important and if I keep a diary of my commitments to myself and other people, on the principle of which parts of my life require me, things get done and people get loved and words get written. Meals get made. Swallows get watched playing diving games above the pigsties.
So that is how I manage the voices of duty in my head, mostly. Which parts of my life cannot be delegated?
Now the question of how you live alongside somebody who manages time in a different way is another question altogether and one for another blog I think!
I would love to know how other people at this stage of life, or any stage really, manage the complicated issue of what time is for. How do you choose, and indeed do you feel as if you choose, how to spend your time or is the choice out of your hands? How do you prioritise? Do tell me!