This Is Leisure?

My job wore me out so much today that if we had other access to healthcare, I would put in my notice and never look back. Driving to my daughters' school to pick up our youngest I gladly left the job behind and in favor of family time. My girl suggested we go for coffee. We picked up her older sister and drove to the coffee shop. Along the way I asked if they would help me clean the dining room later. We're having people over soon and the house isn't Martha Stewart clean. After the day I'd had at school, it was tough to imagine doing the cleaning at all, so it was a relief when they both said, sure, no problem.

(When they were babies and toddlers, people warned me about how difficult girls would be. They weren't. As they moved through middle school, I was warned how terrible they'd be as teens. Nope. Trust your kids, not people's warnings.)

We came home and my older daughter went to work on the dining room. It's where we dump bags, coats, mail, and most everything else. She cleared all her stuff. I swept and dusted and then my younger daughter cleared her stuff. My wife would clear hers later. Finished in the dining room, I took garbage down to the basement, saw the vacuum cleaner, and remembered that the den carpet really, really needed cleaning. Oh, and the washing machine reminded me of the clothes waiting to be washed. I carried the vacuum up to the first floor, got the laundry from the second floor, brought that to the washer, went up and vacuumed the den, and brought the vacuum back to the basement. I took the broom from the dining room and was about to put it away but instead swept the stairs.

Somewhere in all this I got wondering what happened to being tired from my awful job. I scanned my body and mind. Yep, still tired. But instead of collapsing, I was cleaning the house and somehow feeling less tired. What the hell?

For dinner we were set to have eggplant parmesan. I began prepping while still wondering how all this work was energizing me. It came to me that all of it, strange as it still seems, was a kind of leisure, perhaps the best kind.

Leisure is doing what I want to be doing. It isn't collapsing on the couch. It sure as hell isn't browsing the web, reading the news, or flipping channels. My current job doesn't fulfill me because I can't do things I want to do. Coming home to clean, do laundry, and make dinner doesn't sound like a good time, but I chose to do those things. I wanted not just to have them done but to be doing them. Along the way I got time with my girls, time to think, some solitude and peace. The dining room and den are clean, the laundry is washed and dried, and dinner was delicious.

Here I am now writing, listening to New Chautauqua by Pat Metheny, and thinking about the differences between being a vegetable and enjoying real leisure.

Much of the thinking about leisure draws on "Reclaim Leisure" which is chapter six of Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. It's a book I recommend.

Talking Mostly To Myself

I often worry that it seems I'm preaching here. That or trying to prove how wonderful I am. Preaching turns me off to Twitter and people being wonderful is reason enough to leave Facebook. These aren't things I want to be doing in my writing so sometimes I end posts by saying I'm mostly telling myself whatever the post was about. One way I learn is by repeating things to myself until I believe.

Many times I recount experiences I've had or that someone else described to me. This doesn't mean I'm perfect (ha!) or the other person is some kind of guru. It's just that I found whatever happened interesting and want to share. It's that way with phones this week.

I'm reading Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism which is good. I would say it's great, but I've read a lot on this subject before. I imagine it would be an eye-opener for anyone who hasn't been thinking about distractions and focus as much as I have. Reading the book does have me changing things on my phone and the ways in which I use (or don't use) it.

Last night I set the phone to go grey-scale and block all notifications and calls from 8 pm until 7 am. I also set time limits (through an Android app called Digital Wellbeing. I'm trying to make my smartphone dumb and uninteresting. The effects so far have been encouraging.

According to Digital Wellbeing, I use my phone for about an hour and a quarter each day. That's a start but is still disconcerting because I'm losing over an hour to it every day. That's time I could write, enjoy my family, walk, or run. I'd like to get phone use down to half an hour or so. I'll keep at it.

I'm also leaving the phone at home when I go out with family. They each have phones should we need them, but not having mine keeps me from looking at it and in the midst of my loves. Why check email when I've got my daughters and wife right there? I mean, duh.

I'm an amateur at this and there's no telling how long I'll stay with it. The master is: my friend Jerry. I emailed him about getting together at the Carrier Dome for a basketball game. I included a link to a map and told him if he had trouble finding where to park, he could give me a call. He became my hero by saying:

"Much obliged for the map, which I'll use. I don't carry a phone, so hooking-up will be clunky." (emphasis mine)

He did have trouble parking but asked people and got where he needed to be. Watching the first half, I scanned the seats and there he was. At halftime I walked around to where he was coming up the aisle. There was nothing clunky about our embrace. We talked for fifteen minutes and neither of us looked at our phones. We were too busy being together.

Again, I'm writing this down so I remember that a phone is just a tool, not the centerpiece of my living. Do with that information as you will.

Permission, Uncertainty & Solitude

My first message today was from Paul Jarvis. You'd be wise to subscribe to his weekly essays which are brief and useful for creative and independent people. His latest is about doing things on our own without seeking permission. The key line is this:

We've traded gatekeepers for gurus, and continue to seek permission and guidance to do what we want to do with our work.

Instead, we should ask the following questions:

  • Did we create something that other people want to buy from us?
  • Do those same people want to keep buying or can we find new people to also buy from us?

I replace "buy" with "read" but it's the same thing and gets at an idea I have about Twitter.

I got off Twitter last summer but went back on in January to promote my writing. The account hasn't taken off. I don't take the time to curate and promote it. I've been advised to build an audience. Twitter seemed one way to do that, but I'm unwilling to devote the effort to it.

I need to put the effort into learning how to write better. I don't have enough energy to do both.

The second message, from Leo Babauta, entitled The Deep Uncertainty Of Meaningful Work tells of a man wanting to embark on a big project, "But he kept putting off starting." Hmm. "He was like a million others who want to do meaningful work: write a book, fight for those who are powerless, create a startup.... We put off doing this work because of deep uncertainty" (emphasis mine). Yeah, that sounds familiar. Babauta says, "The key is to open up to the deep uncertainty of meaningful work."

The third message, from Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism, is about solitude, which he defines as "a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds." Solitude, it turns out, is necessary for creativity. No surprise.

Though not surprising, it's helpful to hear the following:

  • "all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone,"
  • "conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius"
  • "solitude is a prerequisite for original and creative thought" (Newport, 95-97).

The permission to create is ours to give. We can choose to open up to uncertainty rather than close down. And we need solitude, time away from the input of other minds, in order to be creative. Not a bad trinity of messages to received. They're worth keeping in mind and even more worth to act upon.

Mostly here, I'm writing to remind myself.

Inconvenience & Intention

"...intention trumps convenience" (53)
"...the inconvenience might prove useful." (65)
— Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

I'm typing this in Writer: The Internet Typewriter, a distraction free editor that requires me to remember codes to set formatting and hyperlinking when I post these things to the blog. It's wildly inconvenient compared to the ease of Microsoft Word or Google Docs, but I use it anyway. Part of the motivation is that it is distraction free. I'm typing plain text onto a blank canvas. There are no menus, there is no grammar check, there isn't any good sharing system (though the guy who develops it may add that last "feature"). It's just a way to put words on the screen the same way a typewriter puts words on paper. The only difference is that I can use backspace, delete, copy, paste, and undo. That Writer is distraction free is the big draw for most users. I'm more into the inconvenience.

Using something intentionally inconvenient sounds like lunacy. Maybe it can be, but in this case it puts the focus on intention and in that way the inconvenience proves very useful indeed. Because I can't format anything in this editor and since I have to remember markdown codes and symbols in order to have things format correctly on the blog, I am much more intentional about the writing and about prioritizing clarity over anything else. There is work that can be done without such focus but writing as well as I can demands it. Convenience too often subverts that kind of focus.

I only have a minute left to write. The ziti is about to come out of the oven. I took some time with that too. Boiled pasta, grated cheese, made some sauce, mixed and poured all that in a baking dish. I could have grabbed some already made from Wegmans but I like the inconvenience. It's useful and tastes pretty damn good.