Slackerdom or, The Physics of Free Time
It’s been a hectic few months. Back when I worked 10-11 hour days simply tutoring, I somehow felt like I had more free time. Even if it was only a couple hours a day, at least my time belonged to me. But now that I teach classes at the community college, there are always papers to grade, lectures to write, and disengaged students to puzzle over. You never really stop thinking about these things. Planning. Making mental lists. Turning mental lists into physical ones. Sweet Santa, you should see the crazy lists I make! I even make lists of future lists that need to be made and sometimes, when progress feels unmercifully slow, I put things on the lists that I’ve already accomplished just so I’ll have something to cross off.
To some people, this level of neurotic list-making would seem to be the mark of a Type A, hyper-organized person, but for me, making the list is often the only thing standing between me and complete chaos. I’m naturally disorganized; a slacker. A friend recently asked me what I wanted out of life, ultimately, and my response was “One good day. One day when everything is done, and there are no more responsibilities, no obligations, absolutely nothing else that I should be doing. I want to do nothing and not have to feel guilty about it.” (I’m not sure what it says about me that my personal life goal is to achieve nothingness, a complete obliteration of ambition; on the one hand, it sounds a lot like Nirvana, but on the other, a death wish.) I spend a lot of time doing nothing, because I’m lazy and I procrastinate, but at least I have the consideration to feel guilt about my non-productivity. And when I do get down to work in a sudden burst of efficiency, I rush, eager to return to my natural resting state as quickly as possible.
Time is like money for me; there can never be enough. I always want more free time, more more more, and yet I squander what I have on things that are not good for me. When confronted with a large windfall, I don’t know where to start, and if I’ve learned anything about physics, it’s that when you try to move in every direction at once, you find yourself standing still. Give me a month of a freedom and I will piss it away. Even the simplest goals wither like forgotten houseplants: read more books, start writing again, organize the closet. But give me an hour of autonomy wedged between meetings and appointments, and I’ll juggle three tasks without missing a detail.
Busyness, then, turns out to be an unexpected blessing. When I work 12 hour days and still manage to cook from scratch, run five miles, maintain a social life, and get eight hours of sleep each night, I feel like a superhero. And I don’t even have a spouse or children! When I work two part-time jobs six days a week and teach two classes, essentially commuting to at least three different locations (sometimes in the same day), plus course prep and grading that must be done on personal time — and yet — I still manage to plan parties, watch movies, and prepare numerous job applications. I suddenly understand just how many hours are in a day. The more finite time becomes, the bigger it feels.
As much as I may lust over the promise of the three day weekend or the two week break between semesters, I also greet its approach with dread. I try to tell myself, “This time it will be different. This time I will work on that project I’ve been saying I would start for the last five years, except every time I’ve had the opportunity, I spent two weeks in bed marathoning How I Met Your Mother or reading about weird crimes on the Huffington Post.” But those are hollow words. Even before vacation begins, I know that the outcome is preordained. Summer ends with the three stages of free time grief: disappointment (It’s really over, just when I was finally working up the motivation to do something), regret (I can’t believe I wasted all of that time napping on the couch when I could have been swimming/seeing old friends/finishing my novel), and finally, shame (I am the most useless being in the universe; I don’t even deserve to have weekends off).
Right now I’m in a weird in-between place. One class I was teaching ended a few weeks ago and the workload for my other class is slowing to a trickle. I still work two part-time jobs and teach one class, but each day ends no later than 6:30 so I have moderate swaths of unstructured time. It’s hard to know what to do with myself when I get home in the evenings, which is an unwelcome state after two months of constant engagement. I never used to fear free time when I was younger. Sure, I felt bad about all the things I could’ve should’ve would’ve been doing, but there was a sense of complacency about it. Time was expansive, never-ending. Somewhere in those billions of seconds ticking away — or still waiting to be ticked — there was a perfect time in which things would just get done. Things would happen. But I’m older now. Not old, just older, and there’s that part of me that is desperate to make some mark on the world, even if that mark is just an unintelligible scribble in an obscure corner. The way to make things happen is simple: just do something — anything — and even if you are going to do nothing, do it with purpose. Shaking off stasis is hard, though. I love to be lazy, but it’s better to remain an object in motion than surrender to rest.
Writing this is sort of a scribble, at least until I have something more important to offer. There are four items on my list of things to do today, but most of them are not urgent enough to demand my immediate attention. After I submit this post, I am going to cook Aloo Gobi and probably watch a movie that Netflix thinks I won’t like (two stars). The production value will be low and the dialogue laughable, but I will love it. It will be my new favorite movie — this week. At that point it won’t even be 10 pm and I’ll still feel anxious about what to do with the rest of my night. Irony of ironies: the only child, an introvert, has never been comfortable being alone with herself. My constant search for distraction has kept me from ever really putting my mind to something. Maybe I’m lonely, maybe I’m bored. I think I have ADD. Is this ennui? Why does a concept so empty have a word that sounds so glamorous and inviting? I like my life, I like my jobs. I have cat and I like him, too. I started writing a blog post, but ended up with a prose poem. I’ve been remembering all of my dreams for the last few weeks. I think I use “I” too much. I think I should go. Hello, chaos.