A confession: I am afraid of free time. It is my estimate that about 70% of the population feels this way, somewhere deep down. (Maybe you are and don’t know it?) I think it’s mostly a condition of not knowing the answer to, “But, what will happen?” because we like to know the answer to that, we majority. And another factor, the ever present concern of, “Will I be able to handle what happens with grace, style and dignity in tact?” The Girl Scouts gave us one answer to that dilemma, but I think that just may have contributed to the epidemic, at least when universally applied.
A clarification: By free time, I don’t mean time that is available to be scheduled. That’s a whole other story, and many of us long for that kind of free time. And as soon as we get it, we know just what to do with it.
What I mean is, unscheduled time.
Looming in the immediate distance, tauntingly close, expansively unsettled.
Potentially amounting to nothing at all.
I wonder if I have always been this way, and I remember the multitude of extracurricular and leadership activities I joined/ran as a teenager. I think, in some ways, having my own child now has both exaggerated and solved the problem. The answer to the question, “What will we do tomorrow?” is now regularly, “Play/feed/shop for/walk with/follow the whim of Q”, though it has also morphed into, “Omg, what on earth will we do with all of tomorrow’s hours with a toddler?!?” delivering notes of panic all their own. Though, at least, most of the time, I can adopt the rather nonchalant (me?) attitude of, “It’s a good day if no one died’ now that Q is in the picture. Time passed, all is well? Win, win.
A plot twist: Now, suddenly, Q goes to school two mornings a week, and I have four hours to myself each time. Minus the walk for drop off/pick up, bathroom and preparing/eating food breaks, and the occasional shower alone, that leaves at least three hours of unscheduled time.
Oh me, oh my.
So, I’ve been trying out various tactics:
There’s the ‘make a list of 20 things and then feel like a failure because you only did two’ strategy, that seems to be the default setting.
You must unlearn what you have learned. – Yoda
There’s the ‘feel it out and follow your whim’ strategy that directly inhibits strategy 1, above, especially when deployed simultaneously, which is apparently the only way I know how.
There’s the ‘phone a friend’ strategy, which inevitably results in a lovely time followed by guilt, and a messy house.
Oh, and don’t forget the ‘big picture list’, on which I’ve written such big ticket items as ‘write’, ‘read’, ‘study’, ‘organize the house’, and ‘self care’. All of which require much more than three hours, so why start at all?
How on earth did I function when all hours of every day were wholly mine to live? Well, realistically, that has happened only twice in my life: in university, which everyone knows is heaven on earth and therefore not a fair comparison, and my travel years, when I don’t actually think I was afraid of free time at all. Hmm, that’s interesting. Not at all? I guess it’s not really possible to a) schedule all 24 hours or b) be afraid of all 24 hours so, there ya go. Travel solves all problems. In hindsight at least. I digress.
An intention: As inspired by Pheobe’s quest for nonselfish altruism (I did pass many of those unscheduled college hours watching Friends), tomorrow I will quest fearlessly after unscheduled time. There is no list written down, and I vow to mindfully bring my attention back whenever the list gets drafted of it’s own accord. I will stay off my phone and social media. I will be open to what the moment offers, or suggests, or calls to my attention.
What is free time?
A chance to live a little differently.
(And an update: Q was sick and did not go to school yesterday. And guess what? I had no plans to cancel, no calendar entries to cross out and reorganize, and no guilt to feel. I was unequivocally available for Q. How’s that for a message from the universe?)