Finding Time from Time

Whenever I have a day to myself I imagine the writing I will get done and the reading I will indulge in. But everyone knows that the busier person is more productive, that the vacuuming will only ever happen minutes before the guests arrive. We find time in the most unlikely of places, squeezing any last drops, draining it out of impossible taps. I’d like to propose an alternative. What if we found time in time itself?

A five minutes in front of the mirror, smiling at the face you once knew but have recently forgotten to take care of. A fire is made for watching, but when did I last sit, as my cat does, in front of it for hours? That moment where you’re leaving and remember you needed to put that thing away for the fifth day in a row but there’s no time now? There’s time in time. What if we made time for time.

I ask you to indulge me in a fantasy: an hour being 60 minutes, each of those minutes 50 seconds or more. What could you make of that, if you lived it?

I’m learning to play the ukulele. It’s been a while I’ve been learning, but not a while were you to tally up all the minutes of playing. I play ukulele the way I live: it’s a thing I’m constantly doing but not always actually doing. I joined an advanced class thinking that might kick me in the butt, in whatever way, and it has so far in several. Being inspired to practice more, I notice the blooming of time when I’m practicing, as though it’s just opened up and offered itself from itself. Where was that hour before? It just appeared, seemingly, out of every day life.

It helps to watch a cat live. There is no time. There is no apparent purpose. There isn’t, like, enormous heaps of joy either, but there is a life there. There is a life there worth considering.

Time with those I love feels precious. Why doesn’t time alone have that same quality? I cherish writing, reading and daydreaming as some of my favourite and most important things I believe I should be doing. So why do I do them so little? I think if we all put a bit more effort into stealing time away from itself, not into slowing it down but into expanding it, we’d notice the special effects of relativity: that the experience of time depends on the speed of the observer, and not the other way around.


Because I Told Someone I had a Blog

Because I told someone I had a blog, and gave them the URL, (which is that really a thing anymore?) I think I should write a post today. Because also I read a few previous posts and laughed at them, so can recognize that at least this blog pleases me. Because I have been writing a lot lately but maybe not thinking a lot about my writing. Because I have NOT been writing a lot lately, and where did that sentence come from?

Here is what writing has become to me lately: sometimes when I’m trying to fall asleep but can’t I think about my novel, then I fall asleep.

I opened another blog to be more professional. It has my name in the URL (which has to still be a thing) and it has pictures of me and it is meant to promote me as a serious writer. Unfortunately, I am not one, so the blog didn’t work! I am a writer who also got lost into being a teacher and being a person who buys a house and being a person who cooks and does dishes. I am being a person, and writing is hard to fit into that framework!

This is not my professional blog. This is my tree fort of complaints. This is my childhood room of insecurities. This is my diary of questions, left open on the corner of my expertly-cluttered desk, begging you to read me with few expectations and a little embarrassment (on your account, to be reading it).

B-log it is not. This is not a book, or a log. It is not a thing! It is a place I go to when I want to think about writing but feel that the empty page, the blinking cursor, is too much right now. It is the place I go to for 3 likes on Facebook, for a boost in robot stats, for a sense of accomplishment from releasing something into the world that isn’t a sneeze, that isn’t a piece of my hair blowing out behind me.

Because writing is this thing I do and I need to do it, and stop just not doing it all the time.

Faith in a Sentence

To write well, I need to have faith in a sentence, faith that by the end of it I will know why it is I started it. It comes with some grasp (and passion for) English grammar. It comes with having written a lot of sentences that relied on little faith – boring, terse sentences that had a fully-formed plan behind them.

I hope that my passion for those sentences that come from nowhere (nowhere a synonym for faith) is not just pleasant surprise at having a sentence land before me. I hope there is something of quality about them that comes from the way they were created: from a sincerely creative place inside me.



Every place in me that is not creative seems like a wasted place. I resent the cautious places within me, those that steer me away from ideas. I fear the weak places within me, those that deter me from going further. I am so frustrated at those anxious places within me, those that use backspace, and worse – delete! – as a weapon.

There is so much that we do every day that relies on faith, so many decisions (and decisions to go out and make decisions at all), that writing becomes like a practice for life. I fear the next sentence – the quality of it, the meaning of it – but I am always better for it if I leap on it through faith than if I crawl through it with logic. I am always more moved, more taken, more encouraged to go on.

Strict Notes

The power of my writing is most evident in the brash notes I scrawl to myself on the margins of my drafts. I figure that if I write these clever suggestions down then the work is almost done, the task I assigned myself almost completed.

(taken on my MacBook)

The notes on my first draft are encouragements like “Good,” or kind reminders like “Be wary of time lapses like these.”

Some are questions to a later self: “What should each road trip segment begin with?” Maybe that one was actually a teacher-like prompt to always remember to use a capital letter.

Some notes are sophisticated, out to impress: “Jillian’s pseudo-amnesia should serve a critical plot purpose.”

Then I find these game changers: “I don’t think Jillian’s parents should die,” “Jillian doesn’t work at this bar,” (and later, on the same page, “Jillian doesn’t work here!”)

Certain notes are only for me to work out: “kind of like a trust fund, but not Eastcoast USA.”

Some notes mock me: “I muttered” is just repeated in quotation marks next to the original, to make myself aware I’m writing stupid.

Some require so much work! “A sense of freedom… change words, sentence structure, settings, action…”

Some are from a God-like writing mentor. “Describing people sets the scene just as well as describing the setting or the scene. Be attentive, do this well.”

Often the notes are so vague and indecisive they prove to be no help. “Remove (impermanently) moments that go nowhere.”

Other notes are so stern: “Jillian does not say this,” and “You can’t just make ppl rejoin the group when you never mentioned they left.”

Then there are these beauties, where I sit back and say, yeah, that’s right, and I feel motivated to change things. “Jillian cannot be this bright and okay in a conversation with a stranger the night after her life fell apart even more.”

But then my later self sits down to edit, with a pen and all these sticky notes and pink margin scrawls, and she sits back appreciatively and thinks, what’s the use in changing things when this note was so on the mark?

(“Actually, this ending is really predicatable. But good on returning to the original thought that started off the blog post.”)

Creativity Trumps

Donald Trump thinks everyone that appears on his show Celebrity Apprentice is “terrific, great, fabulous.” Trump also thinks everyone is creative. The proof that Trump is sometimes just flattering people is Dayana Mendoza, former Miss Universe. Every episode people shouted across the boardroom table to Mr. Trump just to tell him that Dayana is not creative. Mr. Trump couldn’t believe it.

(Photo Credit Wall Street Journal)

It became that creativity was the top issue on the show. This got me thinking.

Creativity on Celebrity Apprentice seems to be measured by output of winning ideas, so not Dayana’s ideas. Lisa Lampanelli, Penn Jillette and Aubrey O’Day were consistently seen as some of the most valuable team members because of their ability to brainstorm ideas.

Lisa Lampanelli is a comedienne, as well as a former journalist and assistant at Rolling Stone. Penn Jillette is a magician. Okay, Aubrey O’Day was on Making the Band and in Playboy. But when comparing these celebrities with their counterparts, it seems that their creative day jobs were part of their success on Celebrity Apprentice. Other contestants’ jobs include actors, supermodels, singers and reality show stars (okay, like Aubrey O’Day).

Lisa’s and Penn’s creative abilities went beyond brainstorming: the ability to write helped them throughout the show. Writing was seen as a necessity to the group tasks, whether it was writing a script or doing a better job than Dee Snider at writing words on the background of an advertisement: “itching,” “scratching,” “insulting” were included in an assortment of actions one can do while “Walking with Walgreens.”

That being said, the final three contestants leading in to the Sunday night finale are Arsenio Hall, Clay Aiken and Aubrey O’Day, one late-night TV personality and two reality show contestants. Clay Aiken co-wrote a memoir, so maybe there’s that.

I like that creativity is such an important attribute that it controls how well people do on shows like Celebrity Apprentice. It seems that if any benchmark is needed to judge people on a show like this, creativity is a good way to go. What else is there to judge on? Looks? Personality?

To Sit, Then Stand

I don’t find it hard to come to my chair. I walk here breathlessly. I spill coffee. I ignore other things, and people. I find it easy to come here because I have something to do. I have a book to finish that needs a lot of work before it can get itself finished.

Annie Dillard, in her inspiring book The Writing Life, says “I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.”

(photo credit Susan Stevens)

She also says the following:

“Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. … Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps your and your desk in midair.”

I remember imagining, when studying for tests at high school and university, that I wasn’t just memorizing information or understanding concepts, but “hanging out” with the material. I never told anyone this, of course, but I understood that if I were to just spend time getting to know the material, falling into it and burying my face and my body in it, connections would begin to form. These connections would allow me to understand that material well enough to manipulate it in any form needed for the test. The same, I believe, applies to writing a book. I lounge here, smiling at it.

I am now beginning to see that my drive and success in school was preparation for my writing career. I learned, over the years, to self-motivate myself, to be alone and connect with words, to work with an efficient perfectionism. I also learned to show up and sit here.

I keep hearing interviews and reading articles with Jonah Lehrer, who just wrote the book Imagine: How Creativity Works. Though I have yet to read it, I have read and heard around it enough to know that in it Lehrer discusses  things like Bob Dylan’s writer’s block and creative streaks, Steve Jobs’ ability to make Pixar and Apple creative workspaces, and Q, not the radio show but the quotient of how well you should know the people you work with.

(photo credit

Jonah Lehrer’s most interesting point, to me, is that creativity is at once produced by showing up and making dumb mistakes (Ann Lamott‘s idea I’ve adopted of “shitty first drafts”), but also by standing up. When you are faced with a problem that is causing you to mentally block or give up, do give up. Stand up and do something else. Creativity comes from the moments after you get deep into the material, from the moments when you step away. This is when the connections fall together into a moment of insight.

Recap: sit down, stay there, then at some point stand up. This, I’m learning, is the key.