Tag Archives: age

The year of living consciously

I’ve been living by myself a bit over the past few weeks. My flatmate, high-flying financial whiz that he is, has been off in various places around the world, working and romancing, so I’ve found myself living alone for the longest period I ever have, and while it hasn’t been that long, it’s had quite an impact. My mother has always been reluctant to live alone, and hasn’t really done so  for more than a week, I would guess. I never quite understood this fear, as I’m someone who’s always enjoyed my own company and liked to spend time on my own. I’m an introvert, so spending time alone is how I recharge.

However, even the short period of time I’ve been living alone (probably three weeks would be the longest single stretch over the past two months), has opened my eyes to the good and bad of it. There’s nowhere to hide when it’s just you. It creates a lot of space for introspection and analysis, which is good for creativity and self-awareness, and it’s allowed me room to really start thinking about what it is I want from my life, something maybe I would not have done if I was surrounded by other people.

Of course, it also opens up too much space at times. That analysis can start to overwhelm you, and you can become very isolated if you’re not a natural socialiser. There were days when I’d realise that I hadn’t used my voice at all. I’d cook a great meal and find myself saying, ‘Great meal, Ingrid’ just because there was no one else to say it, or I would start complaining to the TV when there some particularly ridiculous news item. It was like I had prematurely turned into a crazy cat lady, minus the cats.

The time alone also made me keenly aware of the mundane nature of life. So much of our life seems to be taken up by personal admin or work. When you don’t have anyone else to break that routine or do those tasks with, it can all become rather mind-numbing. You go to the supermarket, cook meals, take out the recyling, you wash clothes, you fold the washing, make the bed, vacuum, go to work, come home from work, go to the supermarket, cook dinner. On and on the routine seemed to stretch. It just felt like what was the point in all this? I would go to work so I could earn more money to buy more stuff that I didn’t need and on and on.

I wasn’t sure if this was all the result of me not being in a relationship, or maybe it was some weird biological impulse to make me desperate to procreate so that my family could give my life meaning. What is possibly more likely is that it’s caused by the age and stage I’m at in life. In my my mid-to-late 20s (although I’m definitely more late than mid these days) it seems there’s the biggest variety of lifestyles among my peers. Some people are already married with children, some are single, others are engaged, some are living at home with parents, others live in their own home, some are doing well professionally, others are back at university, others are unemployed. There’s such a range of options at the moment, it can be hard to work out where you fit in and where you want to fit in.

Another part of it is that having come to London, I’ve felt a little lost as to what exactly I’m doing with my life. What is it I want out of life and where to from here? I had always envisaged myself moving overseas, most likely to London. Now I’m here. So then what? I hadn’t really thought beyond that.

A large part of that ‘now what?’ is my career. Which I actually feel needs to be referred to as ‘my career’, with the quote marks, because it still feels like a distant, fanciful concept. I don’t really have a career like a lot of my friends do. A lot of them are professionals and have a specific vocation. That’s not to say they’re necessarily any happier, but sometimes limited choices can make life easier, or it appears that way from the outside. When I go to a job website, I don’t know what section to look under. I don’t even know what my keyword is. I haven’t got many hits from ‘really awesome well-paying job that is fun, not too strenuous, fulfilling, in workplace with lots of cute boys’.

I think I’ve come to the realisation that I don’t even know if I want the traditional career. Instead, a patchwork of interests to satisfy everything I want seems a better way to go about it. The job I’m doing at the moment is quite flexible, so I have time to do other things if I want to and I can work from home a lot. It’s created space for me to do other things, like writing this blog, or possibly doing some volunteer work, that I may not have in a typical career-oriented position, but it’s so far affording me a decent lifestyle.

In fact, my current job has opened my eyes to a side of life that while I intellectually knew existed, I never really had to confront. It’s made me realise  how lucky I have been to have the upbringing and lifestyle I have. It’s an incredible privilege that I can sit here and ruminate over the meaning of life and complain about the mundane nature of supermarket shopping.

So my year of living consciously is really about being more aware of how lucky I am to have good friends and family and a place to call home, in London and in NZ; it’s about being more conscious of my feelings, and accepting them, good and bad, and trying to take pleasure in simple things; most of all, it’s about trying to find a way to inject more meaning in my life by finding some way to effect change, to help people. And while this all sounds very hippy-dippy and like I’m about to start singing kumbaya around the campfire, I’m hoping that this year I find a way to make a contribution.

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For life is time, and time is all there is.

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I’ve finally finished a book. I bought James Woods’s How Fiction Works when I was in New York in July/August, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only just finished it now. In fact, I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I haven’t finished anything else since that time. I’ve got about six books that I’ve started and not finished on my bookshelf, and thinking about it, the only thing that I have apparently managed to finish this year is the Twilight Series, and that only took me a week to read the four books.

I do love reading. I love the feeling of getting swept away into another world, the feeling when you have a great book on the go and it almost feels like a secret that you have and you take any spare moment to read so that you can escape to that other life.

But it appears that reading is something I’m not very good at any more.

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I’m not a fast reader, which I find a hindrance. I feel like if I could just read faster, then somehow I would read more. But looking at my pathetic efforts at reading this year, I don’t know if that would really make much difference. I mean, I’m a slow reader, but I don’t think I’m so slow that it should take me a few months to read a book that’s only just over 200 pages! I’m not so slow that I should have only read five books this year, four of them being aimed at teenagers.

What I’ve come to realize is that reading is something that does take a certain amount of dedication, for me at least, and it’s something I’m dreadfully out of practice at. I feel like my attention span has possibly gotten shorter as well. Sometimes I start reading and I can feel my attention drift off to thinking about something else. My eyes are still reading the words, but my brain isn’t taking any of it in, and I realize I’ve read a page of words, but that’s all they are – words. I haven’t learnt or retained anything.

But my problem with making time for reading is part of a wider sense of time wasting or running out. I just sometimes feel that living gets in the way of my life. Obviously I have been filling my time with something for the past year, if not reading, but it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly where your time goes.

There are 168 hours in a week, and I work full time, so 40 hours a week are gone there, and I sleep maybe eight hours a night, so that’s 56 hours gone. So that’s 72 hours left. If I whip 22 of those hours off for some boring things like, I don’t know, showering or eating breakfast, that still leaves me with 50 hours of something resembling leisure time. Even if it’s only 40 hours, I still feel like that’s a lot of time to get something achieved, but apparently my achievements don’t involve finishing books, or sometimes even magazines – I bought the November edition of MindFood magazine last month and still haven’t managed to read it all, because apparently I haven’t had time.

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I have all these ideas of things that I want to do – read more books, write more, learn Spanish, I’ve got the third season of Arrested Development to watch that I borrowed off a friend months ago (sorry, Steph!). So if I’m not doing all of these things, what exactly am I doing?

I know one of the big time suckers is the internet. I have to admit I waste a lot of time there, but I wouldn’t have thought it would be in the vicinity of 40 hours. Surely not! Especially considering I’m on a computer all day at my work. 80 hours of computer time a week sounds a little scary. Internet time wouldn’t worry me too much if it were being used productively, like reading the New York Times or Salon or something that’s helping me learn. Instead, chances are I’m reading gossip posts on Oh No They Didn’t. I actually have that website open right now, although, thankfully, the New York Times as well.

I always wished I could be one of those people that just didn’t need much sleep. That if I only needed five hours a night to function, then I would suddenly be that much more productive, because I would have an extra three hours in the day, but I think I’m starting to realize it would actually probably just give me more time to waste at this stage, and I would just end up looking like crap from lack of sleep to boot. I haven managed to convert myself into a morning person. I now enjoy getting up early in the morning, but I’m not necessarily more productive with that time. I just spend a bit more time lingering over my morning coffee, reading the paper and still manage to be running late for work.

I recently read a letter written into Cary Tennis’ Since You Asked advice column on Salon.com that was asking how to get into a routine. In the reply, Tennis explained that in order to get a better idea of where his time was going, for a few days he wrote down he was doing at 15-minute intervals to try and see what patterns were emerging and where his time went.

I am thinking of trying this, but I’m also concerned that I will manage to skew the results. Chances are I’m not going to waste an hour on ONTD when I have to write down what I’m doing every 15 minutes, but I guess it could be worth a shot. And hey, at least I might be more productive for those two days. In fact, maybe that’s the way to increased productivity – keeping very close tabs on myself.

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It would also be interesting to see a time map of those incredibly productive people, say, someone like Michelle Obama, who managed to have a husband and raise children and work and still find time to work on those gloriously toned arms and looked good. I bet she even found time to read a book or two, although probably not Twilight.

I actually remember thinking that surely one of the only benefits of being imprisoned would be that you had all that time to read. I could catch up on all the books that I never got around to reading. But I think by noticing how much time I manage to waste already, I don’t imagine I would be that much more efficient. I’d probably be gossiping with other inmates and complaining how I still hadn’t managed to finish Crime and Punishment.

Oh, and when I said at the top of this post that I had finally finished How Fiction Works, I have to confess that I haven’t actually finished it – but I almost have, I swear! I will post my thoughts on it sometime soon, and I’m hoping to make a book review a bi-monthly occurrence on my blog as a way to encourage me to actually finish books. I had initially thought weekly, but let’s not go crazy here.

PS: The title for this post is a quote from a commencement address by Gloria Steinem in 1987 at Tufts University – ‘This is the last period of time that will seem lengthy to you at only three or four years. From now on, time will pass without artificial academic measure. It will go by like the wind. Whatever you want to do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is.’

I really love this quote, as it really captures, for me, how the nature of time has changed completely after leaving university. Now that it is completely unbounded by that ‘artificial academic measure’ it is at once seemingly endless and also so much more fleeting than it ever was.

 

 

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