No Time?

April 16th, 2009

Paul Goldstein’s great CREATIVE LIVING post (and Dana King’s response to it) got me thinking about this business of “not having time” for the things that are important to us — writing, for example.

And, as is so often the case, the universe sent me a message via special delivery, in Annie Dillard’s transcendently beautiful novel THE MAYTREES.  Here goes:

She took pains to keep outside the world’s acceleration.  An Athenian marketplace amazed Diogenes with, “How many things there are in the world of which Diogenes hath no need!”  Lou had long since cut out fashion and all radio but the Red Sox.  In the past few years she had let go her ties to people she did not like, to ironing, to dining out in the town, and to buying things not necessary and that themselves needed care.  She ignored whatever did not interest her.  With these blows she opened her days like a pinata.  A hundred freedoms fell on her.  She hitched free years to her lifespan like a kite’s tail.  Everyone envied her the time she had, not noticing that they had equal time.

Okay, it’s great writing.  But it’s also worth reading over and over again because Annie Dillard, as those who have read “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” know, did pretty much exactly this.

In other words, it’s possible.  I spent years looking for reasons it wasn’t possible.  Wish I had those years back, now that I know how to spend them.

9 Responses to “No Time?”

  1. Merrilee Faber Says:

    Wow. That’s inspiring and just so beautifully written. I will have to look for Dillard’s work – she hasn’t crossed my radar before. Thanks Tim!

  2. Thomas Says:


    Your last paragraph got me thinking. I haven’t read your biography but if I get you right, I think I’m in a similar situation in the sense that I sometimes look back at my younger years and I think that maybe I could have taken better advantage of my time. But then, every time, it reminds me that almost everyone who has something interesting to say has been alive longer than I have, been to places I haven’t been to, read books and seen movies I haven’t, been through joys and tragedies and love and losses that my imagination can’t put words on. We develop a little bit every day. What I like today may have been unknown to me a year ago. What I liked a year ago may seem trivial today. I recently looked at some older writings I found in my desk drawer and it came back to me that I took immense pride in those words when I wrote them, thinking they were substantial and that they meant something. Now, when I read it, I want to put it in the shredder because it’s just plain no good. My point is this. I can do better today, in most respects, than I could when I was younger. I don’t want my twenties back because I had nothing to say back then. Maybe I still mainly produce gibberish; I probably do, but I enjoy the process of getting better and I can’t wait to see what will happen to me and my writings as I get older. Maybe some day I will actually have something meaningful to say?

    I think it’s a mistake looking back at the past, saying you could have done this or that. If it took all those years to learn how to spend them, then so be it. As my favorite televangelist hypocrite, Benny Hinn, likes to say, “If you sow the seeds, you will reap the harvest.”


  3. Lisa Kenney Says:

    I loved this particular passage and THE MAYTREES is one of my favorite novels of all time. We spend far too much time believing we have to do things that we don’t.

  4. Dana King Says:

    I have gradually but somewhat ruthlessly prioritized the things in my life that are worth doing, without realizing it until I was almost done. My job takes twelve hours a day, including getting ready, working, and transpostation. I need about eight hours of sleep; no less than seven on a consistent basis. That leaves me four to five hours each weekday for my life. I don’t have time to spend it with people I don’t like, or activities I won’t remember tomorrow. I write, read, watch an occasional movie or DVD, and a couple of sporting events a week, aside from the necessities of life like bills, yard work, etc.

    Sometimes I think back on things I used to find time to do and miss them a little, unitl I think of what I do now that I’d be willing to trade. Then I get back to it.

  5. Sphinx Ink Says:

    I love the Dillard passage and the sentiments underlying your blog post. Right now I am trying to declutter my life, bogged down in years of accumulated items I don’t need and never use.

    I have packrat neurosis, however, and it’s tough letting go of things that “I might need someday.”

    I’m working on it.

  6. Rachel Brady Says:

    It’s all true. Some of finding more time is learning how to say “no” to external demands. For me, a larger part is learning how to saying “no” to self-induced distractions. Procrastination is the thief of time.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    This struck a chord, I guess. Most of us, it seems to me, live as though life is a permanent state, and there’s no exhausting it. With regard to what Thomas says, I don’t regret much — I’ve had a fascinating life, and even when I was putting my energy into making money, it was a remarkably interesting job — but I wish deeply, deeply, deeply I had let go of all that years earlier. And by “all that: I mean not just the job but also all the STUFF that I owned, which, as Dillard says, “need care.” I wish I had given myself completely to writing twenty years sooner than I did. For me, free time means time spent with my wife and time spent writing, with some reserved for reading. And that’s all I want at this point in my life, and if you don’t could hours on airplanes, it’s pretty much all I do.

    But I wish I’d started earlier, even though I know changing the past is on the difficult side.

  8. Pia Poulsen Says:

    All we have done in the past leads us to what and where we are today. Without what we did in the past, we cannot even begin to be today.

    Yes, we waste a lot of time on things that does not matter and we could clear out. Procrastination is a word of the times which rings so true with many. We tend to distract ourselves with what is not truly important because that’s much easier than facing the important things which might hurt, might thrill, might lead to success. Such scary concepts and ideas, to become happy by truly doing something we like? Auch, better not. Better to procrastinate and focus on all those superficial things in our lives.

    It comes down to prioritizing and realizing what we need to do in this moment now. To be able to build the base we need in order to write fully. This doesn’t mean finding excuses not to write, not at all. But after all, we need a roof over our head, we need the life experience, we need the support or stability to truly throw ourselves into the waves and dedicate our lives to writing.

    I personally know it’s not the right time for me to write full time and bet my life on it. I need to make a secure income so I don’t end up starving my daughter. I need to do a few other missions first. And yes, I call them missions for they are that, just as my writing is. Perhaps, when it comes to it, the various missions I have are one and the same, one cannot be without the other. Only time can truly tell.

    It’s about keeping opportunities open, keeping a positive outlook, believing in ourselves and truly sit down and discover what is important to us right here and now. What our mission in life is right at this moment.

    I’ve got the drive to write, and I write. But not the novel I have in mind, barely the poems which pop up. But articles about my passion, about wellness, about massage, about anything related to those topics, politically, informatively, educational or you name it. I can’t stop it. I need to write and I combine my passion for writing with my passion for wellness and educating the world about it.

    Does it all need to be novels and books we write? 😉


  9. Sylvia Says:

    Last weekend someone told me how jealous they were of the places I’d lived. I felt guilty – really it was more selfishness than anything I was doing right.

    But I guess there is a kind of selfishness required – an ability to say, no, this is not what I want to be doing. So there’s a further question of keeping it within bounds.

    And then there’s my personal fear that I’m inherently lazy. Could I spend all my writing time reading classic novels? Hmm, I don’t think so but I’m not sure I want to test that one.

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