Recently, I had to stop following the spunky, slightly foul-mouthed writer Anne Lamott on Facebook, because I just didn’t have time for her four-paragraph-long status updates catching my eye and distracting me while I got ready for work or did other more important things on Facebook, like reading George Takei’s latest meme. With a measure of sadness, I clicked “Hide from newsfeed.” But I had no regret. Lamott of all people understands the value of time. In her book Traveling Mercies, Lamott tells of a time when she and her friend went shopping at the mall for a dress for Lamott to wear on a hot date. She kept obsessing over whether the dress tugged too much or made her ass look chunky, to which her friend responded succinctly, “You really don’t have that kind of time.” As single women in their forties with kids, the implication was that Anne Lamott, and we the readers by extension, just don’t have the time to worry about butt chunkies so much that our bodies never see the light of day, or worry about what people think about us so much that we hide ourselves from relationships. I’ve read a few pieces by Anne Lamott, and I am partially responsible for getting Bird by Bird into the hands (and hearts) of numerous young college students, but of all the wisdom–and there is a lot of it–shared between those pages, the scene in the dressing room has stuck with me for about five years.
Some folks say “time is money,” but they’re just capitalistic jackasses. Time is valuable, though, and, according to most cultures, finite. I’m not in my forties, I don’t have a kid, and I really hate shopping at malls, but there are certain things that I just don’t think those of us in our twenties and thirties have that kind of time for. And, not surprisingly, I made a list of my top ten. Now, these are things that I know I need to work on. What don’t you have time for?
Things We Don’t Have That Kind of Time For
1. Feeling Sorry for Ourselves
Really, truly, it does no good. When something shitty happens I firmly believe in taking 24 – 48 hours and engaging in what I call “dumb girl behavior,” like watching an entire season of Parks and Rec in one weekend, buying yourself a coffee and a cookie and a new book, or stalking your ex’s new significant other on Twitter. Okay, be angry, be sad, be hurt, be anything you feel. Take to the bed. There’s time to process our experiences and emotions. But we just don’t have the time to let set backs–major and minor–cause us to dwell only on ourselves and on what we perceive to be our weaknesses and shortcomings. Yeah, we’ve got ’em, but we’re also fierce and interesting, or at least we can be. So what if you’ve got metaphorical cellulite or physical cellulite? We have stuff to do and people to love and we’ve gotta get out of the sad corner of our heads to do that. (Please note that I’m not talking about clinical depression here.)
2. Letting Fear Dictate Our Decisions
Confession: I know Joshua Radin doesn’t have the most complex lyrics or melodies, but he does have some wisdom here and there. In fact, I might get the title of one of his songs tattooed on my arm: “Have no envy, no fear,” especially if I can’t make that whole having his children thing work out. Anyway, I’m trying to let those words guide my decisions from now on. Am I not pursuing a certain dream because I’m afraid of failing of what other people will think? Will I really lose everything or will I really lose just a little bit. . . of something worth losing? Will that person really hate me for confronting them, or will they respect me more and finally be willing to communicate? Will I really fall on my face with no one to help me up? All of these outcomes are possible, but unlikely.
3. Being Emotionally Unavailable
I can’t tell you how many times my writing group has told me, “That’s a funny story, Koh, but it’s kind of emotionally complicated and I have no idea from this how you feel about it.” To this I would respond, “Well, I don’t want it to be sappy.” Expressing one’s emotions and feelings is not inherently sappy or stupid, or even unwelcomed by those around you. Expressing emotions and being vulnerable with people is often seen as a weakness or over-sharing, but with the right people, in the right situation, you just gotta tell ’em how you feel, or tell the stories that make you who you are–sad, happy, sappy, incriminating, revealing, whatever. Just choose wisely. I can tell you from experience that being emotionally unavailable to the wrong people can leave you betrayed and jaded (leading to more guardedness), but being transparent (in degrees) with those who have earned your trust is totally worth it, though it can still hurt.
4. Kissing without Tongue
This one should be pretty self-explanatory.
5. Reading books we don’t want to read
There is so little time, and the list of books I want to read far exceeds both my temporal limits and my monetary limits, so we’ll start there, and if I somehow come into a large sum of money and live to be really old, then I’ll get to work on the books I am supposedly obligated to read. Can I get an amen?
6. The gossip section/celeb tabloids
Why are the lives, relationships, eating habits, and consumer choices of strangers so enthralling? We should make our own lives that important to us, and save the $30 we would have spent on a subscription to Us.
7. The Harlem Shake
Really? Why is that a thing?
8. People giving us the run-around
Nope. It’s not okay. Whether this person is a roommate, a would-be lover, a family member, a business contact, or the President of the Americas. People need to follow through with what they say. And if it turns out that they don’t really like what they agreed to do, or said they believed, or maybe they don’t love us the way they said they did that one night when the sky was clear and the moon was full, well tough. If they absolutely can’t follow through, then a dose of humility and communication, and effort to make things right, is in order. And maybe they should think their life through when it affects someone else’s.
9. Eating food that hates us
Most of us have at least one substance that, if we pay attention to our bodies, we know hates us. For me it’s lactose. But I have this problem: I love fresh mozzarella and ice cream, and tiramisu, and countless other dairy-infused foods. But I don’t have time for the upset stomachs and ruined days. We also don’t have time for food that doesn’t nourish our bodies. Unfortunately, processed foods and conventionally grown produce is often more accessible and therefore more affordable than organic, non-modified foods, which contain higher concentrations of micro-nutrients. That’s not cool. Dear important people in the food/agriculture industry (I wasn’t planning to say Monsanto), stop screwing us over. It’s bad business.
Don’t hang out with people who spend their time gossiping and slandering or double-talking. Chances are, if they’re talking shit about their other friends to you, they’re talking shit to their other friends about you. Run away from that. Concentrating on what you don’t like about others, or life in general, won’t make life better. And if the people you hang with dwell on the negative, it’s possible they don’t want life to be better or they’re afraid it can’t get better.
Taking my unsolicited advice, I’m switching to a more positive orientation:
Things We Do Have Time For
I try to believe six impossible things before breakfast, and hug six people before dinner.
2. Giving food/flowers/coffee to strangers
Spread the joy. People need it. Even if you’re having a bad day and you’re still having a bad day after giving to others. Get over it. It’s not all about you.
3. Reading/writing a poem every day
Just do it.
4. The Never-ending Story
5. Taking care of our skin
It’s the human body’s largest organ, and allows us to experience the world around us. Skin is precious, relational, protective, resilient, and beautiful. If you aren’t convinced, read this poem, which was titled “Skin” when it was first published.
6. Thinking before we act
Don’t be a hero. Or an idiot.
7. Putting others first (without depleting ourselves)
Honestly, we don’t have the time or the money to chase all our selfish whims.
8. Drinking tea and doing nothing
9. Calling someone we love
It’s my favorite thing.
10. Facing our fears
I’m working on it.
Time is precious, friends. Let’s do good stuff with it. Which for me means eating a taco and turning a sundress I didn’t like into a skirt that I do. Tootles!