Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A New Paradigm

All of you know that since I retired I feel as if I'm wasting time. Lately, when I count the things I've been doing, I almost start to think it probably isn't wasted time at all. I've come to the conclusion that this is one of those timey-wimey thingys that Dr. Who talked about. Bear with me as I elucidate why I'm in this state of mind. I apologize if some of it seems repetitive.

For more than three decades, I worked to a schedule. I got children up, dressed, and off to school or some function. I cleaned house, cooked meals, did dishes, made clothing for three people, remodeled rooms, refinished furniture, and went to church three times a week. I also read copious amounts of books, taught myself to crochet, and wrote in my spare time just for fun.

I went to college (in my 30s) where this continued while carrying a full load as a history and journalism student. I learned to structure my time and use a calendar during this phase and it was a habit I carried into the workplace upon graduation. A short war came during that time and I dealt with teenagers and an absent husband. I went to work and for 20 years I continued the pattern, but I sewed less and stopped crocheting.

My husband became sick and there were bouts of work and hospital time. I got sick and I still worked and took care of my home and cooked, cleaned, and did laundry. Children came and went with spouses. I read when I could and wrote when I could. Then, my spouse died and I learned that I had to kill bugs for myself, take out the trash, cut the yard, trim hedges, repair broken windows, handle car repairs and plumbing issues ....on top of my income producing job. There was also drama from grown children, a grandchild, but I stopped reading as much. Still, I managed to get it all done, although some things took longer than I'd have liked.

My own illness forced me to quit my job. Suddenly, I couldn't get anything done. Laundry piled up. Housework seems beyond me. I need repairs I can't do. I can't carry things that I used to be able to carry. I can't sweep or mop for long. But thanks to the riding mower, the yard still gets cut. Writing is going better, but I know that one bout of an RA flare will wipe that out. Compared to the amount of work I used to do, I'm basically useless, at least, that is what part of my brain tells me.

I needed some validation so I glanced back over the last month to see how much time I've wasted. I use apps to keep track of my time these days, along with that trusty calendar. Rescue Time and Grammarly give me reports showing how I've spent my time. The goal is to reduce waste.

Grammarly reports that from June 1 until July 5 I wrote 38,356. I'm stunned. I can't believe that, but it also includes Gmail, Facebook, G+, Blogger, and any items I responded to online. I rarely use it for writing on my computer because I have to upload it. I don't do that. But that's a lot of writing.

Rescue Time clarifies this in terms of time. On writing programs: Blogger, Open Office, and Scrivener I spent 39 hours. I'm pleased with that but it could be better. My goal is a minimum of 2 hrs per day. I've only managed to average 58 minutes per day. On Social Networking sites: 36 hrs. I have to reduce this even more, although, RescueTime calculates that I've averaged only 30 minutes a day. For July only, I've spent 8 hrs on writing pursuits and 7 on social networking. This doesn't include Gmail.

For June/July: I've also crocheted one Barbie dress and one throw. I'm working on a second throw and a dish towel. I've read about 4 novels. I read my Bible for about an hour in the mornings. I have done laundry weekly and have gotten better at putting it away (I hate putting laundry away). I wash dishes every day by hand ( I hate dishes). I've cut the yard weekly. I've watched a lot more t.v. but while I'm crocheting, not just mindlessly sitting. I never did that anyway. I always read a book during commercials, but there are no commercials on Netflix.

I've walked 1.5 miles about 4 times in the last month. I've had two writer's meetings. I'm working on 30 short stories in 30 days, and the anthology story. I'm preparing a workshop for the writer's group meeting in 2 weeks. I spent a day taking people to doctor's appointments.

It all looks good on paper, doesn't it? Yes?

No. When I look at this the Alpha part of my brain tells me I'm not doing anything important. Alpha says I should get the rooms painted. I should clean every day. I should consider getting a part-time job so I can do something besides sit in the house all day. It tells me I sleep too much, even though I'm severely fatigued and in pain. Most days I need a nap of about two hours. Pain is not an acceptable past time. If I got up and moved around I might not be fatigued. Life is too short to waste in that fashion. I need to exercise more. I'm spending too much time on writing and a writing group and not on really important things, like fixing drywall and painting walls. If I went to work I'd have the money for paint. I might even be able to pay someone to paint for me and allow me to do more real work. I should probably volunteer for something, too, you know, to make me a better person.

Yes, this is a real conversation. Stop looking at me like that.

Now, the Beta part (for want of a better term) says I'm constructive. I'm creating useful items for other people. Throws for gifts, doll dresses for Sarah, dishcloths for gifts and myself, study guides for the church school. I can write all I want at last. I can go to lunch with people I like and who seem to like me. They come to visit me, too. I can run a writing group. I can walk when I want, even in the rain. I can take a trip if I want to visit family (well if I had the money, which Alpha says I'd have if I found a job).

After writing this, it occurs to me that our brains are wired this way over time. We are not born drones.  We're created as playful beings and we come into the world wired for learning play. We spend the next 20 years playing and learning, generally with great joy and excitement.

Gradually, the  playing stops and we learn some more. We learn we have to work. No one is happy about this, by the way. Most of the joy and excitement begins to drain away through the holes in our head. Still, if we want to be able to play, less frequently, we have to work more frequently. So, life and college rewires our brains to this new concept of work. We work more so we can have more toys but less time to play.

We find we must structure our days to fit around this phenomenon called work so we can function effectively. We throw ourselves into it with verve and can-do spirit. We get calendars and clocks, something we had no use for in childhood. We sync our brain to these items by getting up day after day, at the same time and going to the same place day after day. We check the calendar to be sure we aren't missing something. We become slaves to time. And if something goes wrong - the clock breaks down, the calendar gets lost, our spouse dies, or we lose our jobs - we lose our sense of purpose and direction. We become zombies who can't function without a handler. We're worn out and old and no longer remember what play is.

That's where I am. I've realized that I have to start over and rewire my brain to a new paradigm. This is traumatic. Really, it is not a good feeling at all. In fact, my brain is resisting the process. I don't know how to not to do things. The old construct states that for adults, play is non-productive. It does not contribute to the betterment of individuals, society, or the world. Play is wasteful and directionless. To be a real person with value, you must work. You must produce to be useful and you must do it forever.

It is a very difficult process to rewire your brain to do something you spent years teaching it not to do. With each project, I have to tell myself that what I'm doing has purpose and value. I've been trying to adjust for seven years to a new way of life without my spouse. It has been hell. Really. Now, I am forced to readjust that life once more, to something else.

I'd really like to just sit on the beach.

That'd just be a waste of time.


  1. I see ads for the two jobs I loved and wonder why I shouldn't apply for them, knowing that even with age-discrimination laws in place I'd be giving an interviewer one huge laugh. Yet - either one of those would be my beach. Not because it would make me "productive" but it was fun. Your writing can be that beach, I promise!

  2. Yep, I think rewiring your brain will be hard but not impossible. You seem to me to be doing plenty but I understand what you are saying. I have said before to both you and Wendy that as long as you are happy then whatever you are doing is not a waste of time.

  3. Oh you have expressed just how I feel but far more eloquently than I could. I know exactly what you are going through. Don't be so hard on yourself. Look at what you are achieving rather than what you didn't get done. You have lots of time now to get things done gradually. Yes some things will be more urgent and you have to focus and get those things done but if nothing major needs doing and you want to sit and write/crochet/blog/watch TV etc then don't feel guilty about it. That's what retirement is about - you worked long and hard to get to this point.

  4. I think you need to get Beta to have serious words with Alpha and tell her to stop being such a bore and chill out a bit. I'm pretty sure, Beta ( along with the rest of us) appreciates all the creative stuff you do and doesn't give a toss about the housework and the chores.

    1. LOL, Forgetmenot525, you're probably right. I've been trying to do that the last few weeks. I've been reminding myself that no one is paying me and I don't have a job so it doesn't matter if I do certain things. I suspect it will be a long process to undo years of indoctrination.