This is a bit personal, but the more I think on it, the more I think I should do it in public, both because it bears directly on so many things I write about here, and because I think the public stating will be good for me personally and might serve as a useful example / thought experiment for others.
To gain knowledge, add one thing every day. To gain wisdom, subtract one thing every day.
– Lao Tzu
I looked into the darkness last night (yeah, I had insomnia, for the second time in as many weeks, and the first time in many years, which is definitely a clue), and realized that my life has too much in it. Not just in the academic "HA HA LOOKIT ME I'M SO RIDICULOUS" way that it always has, but actually, officially, functionally too much.
Too much for there to be space for any wisdom. Too much to devote the time and attention to any of the things or people that need and deserve it. As Lao so brilliantly, repetitively and insistently points out, nothing can grow without room. Emptiness is a necessary first factor for the addition or exapansion of any new thing — just like you can NOT put new furniture in your house unless there's a space for it, or you make one by throwing out something old — in life, you cannot learn, cannot make new connections, and cannot grow if you're stuffed to the brim.
The trick, of course, being that we all have finite time (in the 2D direction anyway) to be alive in this form (not making any claims about whereof one cannot speak, here), and doing right by the time we have means making conscious decisions about where to spend the spacetime (samething duh) that we do have. And this, like eating breakfast, cannot be "done once and for all"; it's an ongoing process, and it means re-evaluating when things have shifted; pruning when they've gotten overgrown.
So here I am.
And as always, writing helps me organize this messy mental subsystem SO much. So Imma put a bunch below about the specifics, about what I think is is most important and why, and what I think will have to go and why; mostly for me, but also, as I said, in case it's helpful to anyone else to watch this process. It IS personal, but I'm consciously putting it here, so do feel free to comment (publicly or privately) if you'd like.
And for the rest of you, here's a pretty picture! It's of a stellar "nursery" called IC 2944 and containing the much-better-named formations known as "Thackeray globules". <3sigh<3
I do some things because I believe in them strongly, and I want to devote my life to them: Taiji and writing (more broadly definable as "art", since there are cross-overs, and sub-studies such as meditation and calligraphy, that play into one or both). My art makes no money, brings no material reward at all, and so can be really hard to make time for. However, those things are the broad-spectrum best use of my time, barring meeting my responsibilities, and they need more room.
I have responsibilities. I've learned to not bury myself completely in these — perhaps that works for some people, but for me it eats the above and gathering too many responsibilities hurts my overall purpose, my happiness, and my mental health. I will always give my family what I've got, but I'm very grateful to have learned that I can't give everything, and furthermore that they'll love me just the same for clearly stating where that line is. If they really needed me to take a bullet, they know I would; but all of us are happier if I don't unless it's really necessary! (I do not claim to have never failed them, or that I never will…I am who I am, and I'm sure that in many ways that makes me a less-than-ideal [relation]. But they have their less-than-idealnesses too, and the point isn't to be perfect; it's to love each other for who and what you are, and to do your damndest when it counts.)
I have picked up a social activity, in the form of underwater hockey. I really enjoy it, it's excellent for me physically and mentally I think (minus the bruises, but eh, they fade ;), and I generally like and get along with the people I meet doing it — it's for some reason a very fringe/nerdy sport, and I've met more crazy engineers from playing it than I ever would have expected. Fit nerds — brilliant people who share my interest in physical as well as intellectual knowledge and growth — are the people I generally feel the best about spending time with, and this is a great place to meet them; plus having a fast-paced, competitive, mentally challenging thing to do, and struggle to be better at, is really good for me.
I also do whatever I'm doing to make money. I got good enough at this for a while that I made quite a bit of money, but of course then it ate all my time (especially once The Job started refusing to let me nap), so I cut back to doing just as much as I need to make enough money (ish) to survive. I don't regret this, but for reasons below, I don't think it's sustainable at this point in my life, and have identified it as something that needs to change.
I have a ten-year-ish goal to meet one of my requirements for A Life Well Spent, and that's that it include at least some major travel / seeing-of-the-world. Since I missed the opportunity to do this in young adulthood, and I don't want to make it wait until I'm old-old, I'm making Real Planz to do it when my daughter is done with high school. I've identified where I want to go see (Australia, basically all of it) and what I want to do there (tour the underwater hockey clubs, dive in the oceans, camp in the outback, and teach taiji in the parks) and what it'll take to do that (at least a year of time and about $100K in savings, more or less depending on how much remote/online money I can be making by then). Ten years sounds like a lot of time to plan, but trust me, planning to fuck off to the other side of the world for a while in your mid-forties is no joke, and I'm taking it as seriously as I have any of the projects I plan for money.
And speaking of money, right now I can't even come close to the savings-rate I need to attain in order to have what I want in place in ten (really more like eight or nine) years. I live in an expensive place that I love, and I work not nearly as much as many people have to (thanks to having expensive skillz to barter), but at this rate I simply can't sock away the money I need for 'Strayla while supporting my family and everything else I want to (like the taiji lessons so I can be good enough to teach by then). For various reasons, I'm happy to keep my time open over the summer, but come fall/winter, I'm going to start looking for something that pays really well again (and hopefully taking the extra time to look will let me find something that'll also let me trade my lunch-hour for a nap!). I will want to move back towards being independent from an office over the next ten years, but during that time, I need savings-power: I'd prefer on the order of 50% of my income going into savings, and I won't get that freelancing. I'll be looking hard for the right combination of enough money and enough flexibility to continue working on my other goals (which will almost certainly require napping; I can't imagine chugging full-time and sleeping all night and being able to manage even taiji and hockey, nevermind also writing and paying projects). (And yes, this will require living pretty frugally, but that part worries me least of all; I'm quite good at it already.)
I have my studies: I love to learn and am always doing a lot of reading, either on non-fiction I like to know more about (including a ton of regular study on Chinese philosophy), or on fiction to expand my understanding of how to write it.
And besides that, I have lots of things I do just for love, and because I want to learn more about them: Sailing, climbing, freediving, and cycling are the big ones, I think. It can be difficult to find opportunities to do these things — especially sailing and freediving, which take planning and partners and gear — but I keep my gear in good condition and try to take those opportunities when they come up. (Bouldering and cycling I can usually pull off easily and fill in gaps in my day with.)
Those are the important things. The unimportant ones are, I think, best defined as the various things I do to alleviate some real or imagined pain. If that sounds funny, think about it and I bet you realize you have some too. Here are mine:
Snacking or drinking, either by myself or socially — I find food and drink a great comfort, but can definitely use it in inappropriate as well as harmless ways
Watching things — again, can be harmless, like throwing some footy on while I do housework or pay bills; but can also be a real time-sink when I fall into it as a result of perceived exhaustion (almost always better addressed by napping, meditating, taiji, or addressing a missing need)
Silly social stuff — this is my "big find" arising concurrently with the realization that I need to do some paring down. I have a hard time feeling lonely, and fighting off that feeling even when it's baseless; it irritates me and I tend to reach for anything to stop it, rather than relaxing and letting it be there, which if I did it, would go a long way to alleviate what makes it so unpleasant. All of which means that I spend a rather silly amount of time doing things I don't want to do simply because it gives me an excuse to be around people who pay attention to me in ways that make me feel less lonely. Sometimes I'll wind up in a club or bar, or sitting around someone's house watching movies, or even engaged in a cool-but-for-me-useless activity (like going to spinning/burning events), and spending most of the time there wishing I had sucked up the self-pity and stuck with doing something useful. It's also a waste that wastes more when it succeeds — I wind up with people who want to see me more, who offer me more opportunities to do things that pull me away from the things I should be doing — offers for dates and random events and chill-out time — and then of course, since I'm there to begin with because I'm feeling lonely, I wind up accepting. And sometimes enjoying, to be sure…but at a cost I don't think I want to keep paying. (I'm excluding from this the purely-social stuff that makes sense to do, like throwing a birthday party for a friend, or taking someone out for a drink who needs to talk, etc.)
Correcting for that wouldn't be too hard, I think: I'm not lonely in the whole-life sense, and if I took a little time out to make contact with the people who really connect with me — to call my mom, send a postcard to a friend, or similar — then I could probably assuage that feeling in much healthier, and less time-sucky, ways. I suspect I will feel bad when I start to pull back from the purely-social stuff I do now, and as a result don't see some friends, but I'll be honest with people about being legitimately not able to keep those things up and maintain the things that are most important to me, and hopefully that's good enough. (And if it's not, well, best to pull that band-aid off quickly.)
I think one of the reasons I've started going in a wrong direction with this — just to ponder a moment — is due to the societal perception of singlehood. Getting a handle on how *I* feel about it was tricky enough, but then there's this constant feedback — some surprisingly subtle — that I should be miserably dissatisfied until I have a partner, and that gods forbid I reach middle or old age as a woman without one, I've just sealed the deal on this spectacular form of life-failure. I don't believe those things, and while I enjoy the lovely bits of partnership as much as anyone, I'm undeniably happier now than I was while in unhealthy relationships; my single status today is a success, and one I fought hard for. It does involve sometimes feeling lonely, though, and the combination of my knee-jerk reaction to that emotion with the constant prodding from odd directions confirming all my worst thoughts…well, needless to say, I'm not shocked that this part is proving a challenge.
But what do we do with challenges, Internet?
Yeah. We win them. One decision, idea, and moment at a time.
I believe in "path not goal", in doing the best with every individual moment that you can; because it literally is what it is, and once it arrives there's nothing you can do to change it other than to do your best with it; complaining, wishing things were otherwise, and beating oneself or other people up over perceived failures are the worst kinds of waste of energy. Acceptance and focus on what CAN be done is the important thing.
But sometimes what can be done is to refine your plan, to clarify what direction(s) you want to be heading in, and to make a determination about how your actions should be modified. Once that's done — and I've done it today, here — it's back to making the best decisions and having the best possible attitude in the moments.
Onward! And thank you, if you happened to read this far, for being part of the journey. ;)