A couple of weeks ago, I attempted to convey a growing anxiety I’m currently experiencing to my youngest sister. Bearing in mind that I have just turned forty (a big milestone) and my baby sister is ten years younger than me, you can understand why the intensity of my struggle got lost in translation.
“Time is flying by!” I said over and over again. What I should have said was, “I’m running out of time!”
I went on and on about how busy I am, how little I get done, and how much more I need to do. I could hear myself spouting clichés, and I felt completely impotent in communicating the seriousness of my angst.
The older I get, the faster the earth seems to spin. What if I run out of time?
I asked myself this question: If you were given a magic wish, Nats, one that would grant you a single new skill (a mastered skill), what would that be? Answering the question would highlight my next step, I thought. Languages or Music, the Stock Market or Tap Dancing? Which would I prefer to have mastered at this current moment?
I’ve always wanted to speak two languages other than English— French and Russian, I think. French, because I live in Canada and it would be handy, and Russian because I fancy myself as some sort of femme fatale; Russian is so kicked arse.
And then there’s music. I don’t want to get to fifty years old and not be able to play an instrument, or in the very least, sing out loud without fear of mortification. Playing with song is magical. Writing and making music is about self-expression and self-awareness. It’s medicine for the soul.
This ‘next step’ question has been a bad one for me. Answering the question has not alleviated the anxiety. After all, I’m already taking new steps in my life.
The difficulty I have, and the cause of my anxiety, are all the little tasks which seem to clutter up the pathways that lead to mastery of new skills. Cleaning the house, volunteering, running errands, these are the time consumers making me feel anxious. I should be doing more important things, I feel. These tasks make the time pass way too quickly, they’re time sappers!
I’ve been reading a book by, Anne Lamott. It’s called Bird by Bird, and it’s specifically about writing. It also seems pertinent to other areas of life. The main lesson of the book and the meaning from which the title was derived is simply to tackle the very next task in front of you. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Skipping steps will only create gaps. Daily chores, all the seemingly unimportant tasks, are not interruptions, they’re stepping stones. Without them, our paths will be riddled with potholes.
When I look into the distance and consider all the thousands of little responsibilities that will pave my way, life does not seem short. Life is long. All the big jobs— raising kids, learning languages, writing books— all of them are made up a million little ‘to-do’s’.
I’ve been trying to slow time down— watching clouds move through the sky, pixelating, taking the time to stretch. All these things are good, but I think I’ve underestimated the everyday stuff. Consuming my mammoth of a life one bite at a time, doing the laundry load by load, mastering writing one sentence at a time, this is how I slow things down. I won’t feel accomplished at every second, but I imagine looking back on a month full of ordinary minutes will feel successful. I’ll give it a try this next week, and let you know how it goes.