“An artist must have downtime, time to do nothing. Defending our right to such time takes courage, conviction, and resiliency. Such time, space, and quiet will strike our family and friends as a withdrawal from them. It is.”I read this paragraph this morning and had one of those eureka! moments where things suddenly started making sense. You see, despite how crazy my commitments have been, I've been dutifully catching up on my Artist's Dates and trying to snatch a bit of time to myself whenever I can, but for some reason have still been getting cranky, stressed and angst-ridden. Why? Well, it turns out I've been doing it all wrong. I've been doing them out of necessity rather than actually being kind to myself. Dates are a compulsory part of the process; I've been routinely slotting them in like trips to the dentist or testing the smoke alarm, so my lack of commitment has been manifesting as The Grumps. Once the lightbulb went on, I recommitted myself to creating proper windows of space and slowing down the pace.
At lunchtime, whilst fully enjoying some me-time (a latte and slice of lemon drizzle-cake at the library), my mobile rang. I looked at the screen and saw it was a call being returned by someone I've had difficulty getting hold of for the past week, an associate who went incommunicado after running late with a job I paid them to do. I had under 10 minutes of lunch break left, only 3 pages of scene left to complete a read-through of my play, and knew the phone call was likely to be stressful and lengthy. Remembering that I have a right to protect my downtime, I decided not to take it. I'll no doubt end up chasing them again for a response, but my attention at that particular moment was dedicated to myself and not the caller.
I felt good rather than selfish.
After years of working towards super-productivity and interconnectivity, there's something hugely empowering about going off-the-grid and reclaiming my own space. I feel like I've been given permission to abscond from the trappings of daily life at allotted intervals, and — dare I say it — enjoy being on my own with no responsibility for a wee while. I've become less inclined to constantly check in on social networks and have only done so when appropriate, and am less reactive to jumping on emails as they trickle in. I've reduced push notifications on my iPhone from instant to 15 minute intervals, and may set it back even further as I continue to unwind. After several days of reading deprivation I've found I no longer want to read many of the things that I was wasting my days digesting. Just like the physical clutter I felt the need to be rid of at the weekend, I now find myself ready to clear out mental clutter and give myself space.
Julia joins all these dots together in The Artist's Way. She identifies that we feed a “false sense of spirituality grounded in being good” and calls it the Virtue Trap. That's what I've been caught up in, blundering along ticking off the must take time out box on my to-do list every week. I've been doing for doing's sake, but not actually connecting with why I'm doing it. The shift that's now taking place, this sense of having permission to be kind to myself without feeling selfish, is a big deal for me. I've long recognised that my past behaviours were self-destructive as I crashed around helping others pursue their goals with a desire to please them: somewhere along the line, I lost focus and stopped pursuing my own.
Thankfully, that's not a new discovery; I became aware of that trait a while back and have taken steps to protect my own interests already, although I confess the transition has never been fully completed. I still find myself having to think and justify myself when I'm asked if I'll do a favour to help someone out when I really don't want to commit myself to things, and feel guilty until I remind myself it's okay to say no.
Week 5 is about recovering a sense of possibility, connecting with a deeper, more spiritual self who is ready and willing to open up to the plentiful supply of opportunity presented to us by God (Fate, or the Universe, or whatever your theology might be). For the first time in 10 years, I feel grounded enough to say yes, I'm ready, and I've made space for it whatever it may be — bring it on.