Guess what, guys! I took the whole week off last week!
It was a huge splurge of precious leave, but given my enduring frustration with having so many projects I feel compelled to do, it was worth it. Because while I have a job so I can pay the bills and the content of that job is decent as jobs go, the activities that I perceive as creating the most real value are those that get relegated to “free time.” Well, my primary takeaway from the week is that my projects, despite being deemed “hobbies” by standard twenty-first century American discourse, could readily fill the space of a 40+ hour a week job, frequently with overtime. Perhaps that’s why I was developing some stress-related physical symptoms that provided the final incentive to take a vacation!
So after some reflection, I’m asking myself: was this use of vacation time a success?
The question demands further refinement. Is the question whether I accomplished everything I wanted to do, or whether I gained anything meaningful in the effort?
Lesson One: Dreams Expand to Fill the Time Available
The first question’s easy to answer. Did I accomplish everything? Not by a long shot. See, adding 40+ hours of freedom to the week seemed like so much time beforehand that instead of picking just one or two projects and dedicating the whole week to finishing them, I got my hopes up too high and spread myself too thin. (And this is after trying to scope my week effectively to start! I limited myself to five projects. A project a day! When you’re used to scraping a couple fatigued hours out of each evening, that seems like the height of temporal luxury. But each project is bigger than one eight-hour day. As it turns out, “establish democratic socialism” is not a reasonable goal even when one has the whole week off. Ha ha, I’m joking, of course! So I scaled it down to merely developing one course on Alternatives to Capitalism in the Real World. On which I’m not an expert, but would like to be, so research is the first step. Now, that’s reasonable, right?
Ha ha, NO. Not unless it’s your only project for the week. I did manage to get a bit of research done, but need several more days to keep digging and following threads. Unfortunately, when you only have one week to Accomplish Your Dreams, your dreams have to fit inside it. And mine don’t. This is not a surprise, of course, but understanding something conceptually and actually experiencing it make a different impact. As Max suggested, “They talk about a meaningful life, not a meaningful week.”
That’s a pretty weighty lesson. With significant implications.
Lesson Two: As Usual, I’m
Weird Not Typical
You know, the header image for this piece is rather misleading, because it suggests relaxation. And that’s what many people thought I was doing. In talking about my plans, I discovered that very few people readily understood the idea of taking a week off to get important creative projects done. Most people ended up saying something (perhaps with a look of envy) about how nice it would be to finally clean out those closets or refinish the deck. Hey, I have chores, too: that’s part of why I took time off to get to the meaningful stuff.
On one hand, these people’s reactions—and the fact that we’ve created the word staycation in the first place—give weight to my argument against the 40-hour work week for everyone, not just people with an intense creative drive. But the fact that I had to append the word creativity to it to convey my intention suggests something else.
So another lesson I learned was just how few people were able to relate to this kind of intense creative drive. I’m aware that I’m unusual (hence my frequently referring to myself with the self-disparaging term “weird,” as some of you readers have called out in the past), but the degree to which many people totally failed to comprehend why I’d take a week off still surprised me. Is this experience with intrinsic motivation truly so unusual? I mean, growing up in my family, I knew that I was the only one who ran three series of stories on the Web, but my sister also can fill time quite readily with culinary creative projects. I didn’t think intrinsic motivation was the weird part.
Maybe it’s merely unusual among professionals with secure white-collar employment. The optimist would suggest that they have found fulfilling professions that meet their need to create and contribute. Is DC just full of self-actualized people living the dream?
On that note, let’s just say I’m skeptical. Other people may not get twitchy from being unable to make progress on “hobbies,” but I do know so many others who could use more time simply to manage their lives, rest, develop friendships, and contribute to culture, even if they’re not planning both novels and revolutions.
Two distinct tangents could spring from that observation, but I’ll let them both be for now. For now, I’ll merely note that while I like the header image a lot and went for form over function in this respect, this image of “freelancer” gives you a better image of what I was doing:
(Except in this picture, the cat is satisfied to sit on the woman’s head and watch. My cats, on the other hand, thought I was staying home to give them unending attention. Oh yeah, and I use Linux, not Apple. But who makes stock photos of Linux users? That would be weird.)
Lesson Three: Set Aside 10% Time for Inspiration
Thomas Edison is quoted as saying that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. And while I agree that perspiration is the bulk of it (more on that later), I find it beneficial to set aside more time for inspiration.
I have intellectual overexcitability, meaning my brain reaches out and tries to digest the whole world at once, which can lead to mental indigestion pretty quickly. So it’s obviously necessary to pace myself and pick a project on which to focus. But the first step needs to be playful and not super-goal driven. That’s where the inspiration comes in. Where serendipity takes over! It pays off splendidly by enriching the later focused productivity. For example, last Thursday afternoon, as I was researching some alternative economic ideas for that Alternatives to Capitalism class I’m developing, I stumbled across a fellow who came to some of his projects through what seems to be an experience of positive disintegration. (Which says a bit about how my political ideas tie in with my work on Dabrowski, if you had been wondering about that.) And now I have another very fruitful idea to pursue, but it must simmer for a while before it gets focused attention.
As a corollary lesson, I’ve learned that I probably have three project spaces in my mind. Two can be active and one “empty” one at any given time, to be filled with whatever captures my attention in a big way—i.e., the seeding of new ideas. I have to rotate the fields of my mind (as any multipotentialite will understand). If I had more time each week, I would rotate weekly through the project spaces, rather than trying to cram five research projects into a single week. I think I could thrive doing that.
Lesson Four: But 90% of the Time Must Still Be Perspiration
The main thing I ended up doing during my week off was, frankly, polishing stuff I’ve written during weekend ten o’clocks over the past several months—you know, those 47 draft posts (I’m up to 50 now) that I talked about in a recent post. Basically, I finally made time to do what I said I’d do in a post last August:
Given that I can in fact go back and refine what I’ve written in response to comments or just in response to thinking more, I’m going to try to take advantage of it and willingly post more garbage in the hope of also producing more gems. I’m going to spin more unpolished gold with the expectation that I can polish it later.
So during my staycation, instead of having wonderful ten o’clock flow times of new content every morning, I made progress toward finishing things—blog posts, other writing projects, research for still other projects, e-mails I mean to write, et cetera. I don’t do this during my weekends often enough, see, because weekends are my main opportunity to spin that unpolished gold and that’s my favorite thing to do with my time. But what good is that if I never polish it? While I have been spending some time doing that, it’s nothing near the 90% it probably has to be, as the fifty saved drafts suggest.
It is hard work, and it’s why I don’t do it more often. When I had 40 more hours available in a week, however, I thought I’d surely have enough to get all that sanding down of previous projects done. Did I finish all the things I’d hoped to? No, of course not. I did do significant work on three posts (one of which I published; two require still more work), but even most of those aren’t visible yet. That’s one of the ways the week was a “failure.”
But the lessons of the prototype creative week surely outweigh those “failures” in the long term. I won’t be able to magically speed up creative output, and I’m still trapped in capitalism and I don’t own any means of production. But it might be that I can make some life adjustments. And looking back at Lesson Two, it appears I’m going to have to figure this out for myself, because each person’s path to actualizing potential will be her own.
What about you, readers? Do these lessons ring true for you? Have you learned other lessons through the pursuit of your own intrinsically-driven creative projects?