I wanna be free: out with productivity books lining my shelves and in with chaotic freedom.
A missive in which I consider my readings and thoughts on time, living, and freedom and declare intentions for 2023.
Happy New Year y’all. What a time it’s been. I hope you and yours are spending this holiday exactly as you wish. I will likely watch a holiday movie and be sleeping by 10 pm, just like I like it. In case you’re interested but haven’t managed to buy a subscription, these are the last hours of the half-off, $25 for the year rate.
To those who’ve purchased one: thankyou, thankyou. And thank you for supporting this journey. To new free subscribers in the last couple of weeks thankyouthankyou. To those who regularly read, share, like: thank you thank you and thank you. Just, generally, THANK YOU.
They may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!
—William Wallace, Braveheart (1995)
I’ve been thinking a lot about TIME this year (not the magazine). I watched Braveheart at a friend’s house back in sixth grade, I think. (That’s 12-yrs-old.) And honestly, I was surprised just now to find that it’s only a three-hour cut. I remember it being an excruciatingly long six hours. I think my friend got up in the middle to have a quick shower. But I’m probably misremembering the timing of that as well.
It’s not that I had anywhere else to be or even that I felt bored or irritated with the film itself, just something like the sheer audacity that a movie could be that long. That we’d been sitting in the dark for so many hours on a sunny summer’s afternoon (not that I wanted to be outside or that I hadn’t sat inside playing Mario 3 like every day before this one).
But somehow it was still light outside when it was all over though it felt as if it should have been dark. And maybe even that I’d spent so much time at my friend’s house just watching a movie. Something I don’t think we did a lot of.
Whatever it was, I had become aware of time having passed in a way that I didn’t regularly experience.
The reason Bridgid Schulte wrote Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time (which I’ve been talking a lot about here and here) was because, as she put it, her life had begun to feel like “Time Confetti.” She paraphrases the late John Robinson’s 1997 book, Time for Life, “The brainless rushing about [of contemporary culture] makes us feel time-starved, which, he writes ‘does not result in death, but rather, as ancient Athenian philosophers observed, in never beginning to live.’”
Does that terrify you? It terrifies me. I mean, not that I want us all to be terrified, because that’s not particularly useful, but have our lives been taken from us? Nevermind being or feeling free, do we feel alive? Do I? Am I really living?
Of course, we all have different ideas of what it means to be alive. Some enjoy hiking while others love films. Some dabble in both. What I do know is the hours I put into solitaire do not feel like living.
I’ve spent a lot of time considering who and how my time, and subsequently my life, was taken from me. The Puritanical Industrial Revolution’s legacy in capitalism and neoliberalism has been the obvious contender. Screens, of course, and social media, are troublesome.
And Schulte highlighted how under patriarchy I’ve been trained to protect men’s time while devaluing my own. It is disappointing to find this is true considering I’ve spent most of my life avoiding relationships and traditional work strictly in defense of my time (and life), and still, I don’t feel completely free to put my full attention on my own time.
Case in point:
I typically work on the sofa during the day when my parents are at work and the other day I got an idea just before Dad got home. And so there I was typing away when he sat down. He asked if I was working and I said yes, clearly engrossed in whatever I was writing. A few minutes later he called for my attention. And I snapped at him, “Could you please stop talking to me, I’m working.”
He did then but went off grumbling something butthurt about how he’s always working. Rationally I felt in the right. It was painfully clear all in one blow how I spend a lot of time trying not to disturb him when he’s watching TV, working from home, thinking, doing anything, (I mean as is or was typical, when we were sick at school, he was never called to retrieve us and he never stayed home with us) lest he snap at me because his time is important and valuable and whatever he’s doing is more important than anything I could have to say or anything I need.
It’s a real mood killer, that.
For all this time and energy I spend valuing his time and attention, that he feels he has a right to mine though I made it clear my attention just then was on my work, and distraction for a writer in the middle of a long thought is potentially deadly to a piece, seems completely absurd to me.
But folks, I still felt bad! I mean really bad. Snapping at anyone is never my best self, but snapping at my father calls for a grounding, doesn’t it? The rest of the fifteen or twenty minutes I was writing, my mind was half thinking about how bad I felt and what my apology was going to be, though he’s never apologized to me for the abrupt boundaries he puts on his time and attention and they never come with a “please,” however pointed mine was.
So the patriarchal time/value rules were reinforced by my parents. The US public school system is still pretty much a product of the needs of the Industrial Revolution: showing up on time is more important than thinking for one’s self, as I oft paraphrase Noam Chomsky.
Thinking about these things. Dissecting the systems that bind us; getting inside of them, good or bad, is how I operate. It helps me to deconstruct my programming. I know it can be tedious for many and sometimes gives folks some negative vibes, but I am as I am.
The next phase is reading on logistical ways to take back time. Maybe we’ll call this the Western answer to our time-starvation. Books on productivity, books on not giving a fuck, books on organizing my shit, books on setting boundaries (A Room of One’s Own, anyone?). I mean, I read them all, it’s how I came to Schulte in the first place.
And these books, as stated, are also helpful. They point me to tools and ways of being and thinking that I’d previously not considered or been introduced to. Like developing workflows and focusing on that one essential thing (or finding that one essential thing) or shutting off my email. They help me to consider my habits and teach me how to create new habits. And I have a couple of those books still on the shelf.
But I’m wondering if 2023 isn’t time for a different approach to considering time?
I finally got hold of The Freedom Manifesto (2007) the other day. Tom Hodgkinson (who I wrote briefly about over at Medium last year), an anarchist idler who’d just as soon play ukelele and drink beer than make his way to a 9 to 5, and does everything in his power to do just that while also keeping the lights on (mostly) ends the introduction letting his dear readers know that we are, in fact, already FREE.
Well, Tom, this is an angle I hadn’t considered before. Am I free? Are you saying that I was and have always been free? Because I haven’t felt free. And my logical brain started to quibble with him about whether or not Free Will exists (I’m in the camp of yes and no) and it argued about whether or not I could be free if my programming from all this internalized systemic training kept me from feeling free. And of course, am I free if I hardly have a cent to my name? (Tom says yes, which is what most of the book is about.)
Easy for you to say Tom, you’re a middle-class white dude living in the UK where at least health care is free!
There is a laundry list of reasons to feel stuck, trapped, imprisoned by the systems and the literal people in our lives right now that take our freedom. But reading that line, I mean, y’all, aren’t we more likely to move toward freedom, whatever that means for us in our particular situations, if we embody and believe that we are already free?
That’s the thing I felt beyond my logical brain’s disagreements and rationalizations: that believing I am free is the only way I’m going to actually be free.
I mean, in truth it’s been my whole philosophy since before I can remember. The start of my education about these systems back in undergrad was not the beginning of my attempts to live outside them, it just put a voice to and explained the ways in which I never felt free to do or live in a way that felt right for me. To feel comfortable making choices outside of the norm even though I was making choices outside of the norm. I didn’t feel free to wear what I wanted, when I wanted, or to be my fully weird and freaky self.
And though learning about these systems, which may never fully dissolve despite all the hard work so many people do to dissolve them, has been part of my process, I still feel stuck inside them.
HOWEVER, if I’m already FREE it doesn’t really matter what the systems trained me to do or what’s expected of me.
Sure, believing I’m free doesn’t put more money into my bank account or present me with a loving, accepting, supportive partner who respects my time, attention, and energy. Nor does it build that backyard shed I intend to make my house. At least not just this minute.
But fuck it feels good, doesn’t it? To say fuck it all to all that time and energy I waste holding back on the things I want to do and the person I am?
Because I’m a free autonomous agent. My choices are mine. If I want to write nonsense every day and self-publish books, who is literally stopping me? No one! That’s who! Maybe no one reads, maybe y’all slag me off in the comments and reviews, maybe some judge, but no one can actually stop me (barring the internet doesn’t ban me completely)!
If I want to play 30 hours of solitaire in a week, I’m the only person upset about it! If I want to dance in my underwear on Friday nights singing “Shallow” at the top of my lungs, well, I hope the ‘rents aren’t sleeping yet! If I want to eat the half batch of cookies I was sent home with last weekend all in one go, I mean, my tummy won’t like it and I might get diabetes, but that’s totally up to me.
There are of course consequences for my choices, but they are my choices nonetheless, and isn’t that liberating!?
Go on, you give it a go: I am free. I AM FREE. I’m freeeeeeeee! Does it release anything for you? Do you feel resistance to it? Have you always felt free as a bird flying through the trees and this just makes ya shrug your shoulders like I don’t get it, Libby? Of course, your choices are yours!
I hope so! I hope that’s you. I hope you’ve always, every day of your life, felt completely, totally, utterly free. But if not I declare 2023 the year of freedom (including freedom from reading any more books about productivity) and maybe sometime around November, I’ll really have the hang of truly living freedom, like I finally got the hang of “focus & flow” (my declaration for 2022) around the same time this year.
Cheers to a blissfully free 2023 and cheers to you all.
Until next year,