For decades, I dreamed of getting free from the demands of the newsroom – meaning any paying 9-to-5 job – so I could concentrate on what poet Gary Snyder aptly dubbed the Real Work.
That goal entailed something resembling financial independence, which was hardly likely on a journalism income.
As for 9-to-5? It never fit the places I was employed, sometimes straight salary for 60- to 70-hour weeks, and even when I’d left management and joined the union, it was typically nights and holidays or a double-shift on Saturdays.
I had hoped for a breakout via a bestseller book, and some of my non-fiction projects might have turned the trick, though I found it difficult to respond rapidly when I was tied down by other time-consuming obligations.
The closest I did come in those years was a year’s sabbatical I gave myself between jobs back in the mid-‘80s, when I submerged myself in drafting what later emerged as my novels, after much revision and the openings finally provided by ebook publication.
One thing I learned from that experiment was that I couldn’t continue at that pace – I required more balance in my life. My bank account wasn’t the only thing that was depleted.
One of my annual exercises after that involved setting goals for the year ahead, usually by season. The categories included things like Home, Relationships, Creative Projects, and Quaker Practice – I’m starting to see a forerunner of the Red Barn, eerily – but also had me thinking about how my daily life might look if I ever “made it” as an independent writer.
Part of the impetus was a fear of letting my life just kind of ooze away. I suppose it goes back to some of the sermons heard in my youth, the ones about time being God’s gift to us.
In response, how much could I rely on a tight daily routine, starting with an early morning rise for meditation and then hatha yoga before a light brunch and maybe an hour with the Boston Globe and the local paper followed by a big block for writing and supporting activities?
That thinking was countered by a recognition that I couldn’t fit everything I desired into straight days, so I also played with chunks of time staggered through the week – Topic A on Mondays and Wednesdays, for example, with Project K late on Wednesday.
And then, I still couldn’t fit everything in.
After I’d remarried, my wife caught one sight of one of my schemata and reacted with scorn. She saw so much daily reality I wasn’t including, such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, time for others, and even myself.
Now that retirement has finally provided the independence I sought, I’m having to admit I still haven’t achieved that ideal, intentional scheduling. Instead, so much has revolved around big projects like the novels and random to-do lists.
Still, it built upon the bones of daily Spanish lessons and half-mile swimming and a weekly commute to Boston for choir practice, in addition to Quaker worship and committee work.
But then Covid hit, followed by the move to Maine.
Quite simply, I still haven’t hit on the balanced pace. Maybe now, that the last book’s in place? Or maybe after I stop blogging intensely?
The biggest surprise for me in all of this is how much the Internet has changed the picture. I want the early quiet of those early hours for my writing and revising. What happened to the meditation? As for regular exercise? The nearest indoor pool is in Canada. Or for spreading out with a newspaper? I do most of my reading online, even books, no matter how much I love ink on paper. Even interacting with others occurs largely via email.
One thing I don’t feel is “retired,” but I will say in all of this I feel more engaged than ever.
Naturally, that won’t stop me from tinkering with a routine. I’m sure whatever I come up with will be far superior than what the nursing home would arrange.
How do you arrange your days and weeks? Any secrets to share?