I wish I could sing.
I can write and take photos and speak a few foreign languages and do plenty of other fun and useful things. But I cannot sing. Not well, anyway; not well at all, though I’m shameless when it comes to karaoke, because who cares?
And it makes me feel creatively hungry and wistful in a way that’s hard to pin down.
See, it’s like there’s this Other Me who strums on a guitar and makes noises lovely enough to stun a room into perfect silence. I can see her up there, singing her heart out.
She’s not real, but there it she is anyway, mocking me with her achievement.
It’s always like that with creative pursuits — those of others, or those of your imagined double: by the time you encounter somebody’s song, or their painting, or their story, it’s been very nearly perfected. They’ve already solved all the riddles. You are seeing the solution they devised after many, many hours of work. And because that solution is oftentimes rather unsophisticated-seeming (as is the very best art), and because time feels deceptively limitless, it can get a person wondering what on earth is wrong with them that they can’t make something like that, too.
The truth is, I probably could learn to sing passably, with time and practice. (Maybe.) And so could you. There’s no puzzle to this puzzle except fortitude and patience and, sure, a little native talent. With all that, plus scads of practice, I could be a singer. I might not be a good singer, but I could learn guitar and I could sit in front of a room and give it my all.
Only problem: there just ain’t no damned time. Not to give your limitless potential its proper due, and that’s a sin. I’ve been pondering this, and I think I’ve got a patch on a possible solution. For purposes of marketing, I’m calling this one, “Maximize Your Creative Time in Three Simple Steps.”
Step One: Acknowledge that “Your Time” is grossly insufficient and you are likely to die without accomplishing much. A few years back, as new homeowners, my husband and I lamented over the ever-growing list of repairs and small livability tweaks that our home required but for which we hadn’t been able to find the time. Hearing of our distress, my mother-in-law smiled and said, “There are repairs I’ve been meaning to do on our house for 30 years, now.” There just isn’t enough time. Not to sing and not to write your 60 novels and not to build that cedar sauna and those recessed bookshelves. It has always been true and will always be true. Even if you live a decade or two past the median, you are unlikely to tick off even 10 percent of the items on your list of Essential Life Goals. Sad, right? Feel that, but then move quickly on to Step Two.
Step Two: Reject Impossible, Defeatist Measures of Creative Achievement. Because you now recognize that there just ain’t any damned time, and because death in short order is not only certain but inevitable, you are now free to scramble out from under the heavy mantel of Life Goals Writ Large. Acknowledge defeat, toss out your previous list, and move promptly on to Step Three.
Step Three: Create Your Own Damned Measures of Achievement. Coming to terms with the constraint of time requires determining what you most want to create and focusing on that at the exclusion of a whole lot of other super-interesting shit. You’ve got to choose! Does this mean we are allotted no time to waste on frivolities? Not exactly. For creative sorts, the frivolous often turns out to be vital: the lost minute spend meditating on a puff of white cloud; the idle afternoon in the company of inspired and sympathetic friends; the long walk home after dark, either for purposes of savoring infinity or merely saving gas money. It does mean we need to get more serious about figuring out what in the world we are trying to get done with the time and resources at our disposal, and practicing compassion and curiosity with ourselves when those lists get too unwieldy and start to smack us around a bit.
Here is a list of Nine More Rather Outlandish Things I’d desperately like to achieve during my time on earth:
· Learn to play the harp.
· Read War and Peace … in Russian.
· Become a licensed clinical psychologist and write books about the brain.
· Climb a somewhat formidable mountain.
· Learn to cut hair.
· Become a respected oil or watercolor painting.
· Give that whole poetry thing a real shot.
· Learn to work with ceramics.
· Spend a year in an ashram.
How many of these will I actually do between now and my death? Probably just a few, and that’s if I get lucky and my health and wealth and sanity hold. It’s certainly possible I’ll do none of them at all. The clock winds ever down, people! There’s not a moment to waste! OK, maybe there are a few moments to waste, but fewer than you might think. And the biggest-time waster of all is fretting over wasted time; wouldn’t you rather admire some clouds instead of standing around trying to figure out how to kick your own ass? Go take a nap instead.
Do what you can with whatever’s left of today, then forgive yourself your sloth and ineptitude and get on with the business of making Really Cool Shit. Clock’s’a tickin’, sweet friends.