I woke up early last Saturday morning, the light, my dry eyes and my cat conspiring to pull me from sleep long before I was ready. Once I became fully conscious, I reached over, grabbed my laptop, and skimmed through Facebook. There was a posting from one of my friends, who is training for a marathon. While I was adjusting my pillows, he had run 10.1 miles in less than 85 minutes, finishing by 8 am. By reading the post from the new ‘app’ on his iPhone, I could review Dan’s route, his pace, his finishing time.
While Dan is training for that marathon, I’ve been making some (smaller) commitments of my own: to run a five-mile race in the fall, to do yoga or a relaxation tape five days a week, and to write, if not every day, at least every week.
I surfed around and saw how my other Facebook friends were faring, then moved over to my two primary email accounts. It seemed that everyone, or at least those who were not sleeping in, was out being productive in one way or another, before I’d even reached an upright position.
I often struggle with unstructured time, fantasizing about long weekends when I’m sitting in my office in Porter Square, then at loose ends when that longed for break arrives, unsure what to do with it. I pine for a playmate, a companion, or a friend with benefits to share my free days with me. (A boyfriend might be even better, in place of that FWB). But I often resist commitment, even when it comes to making plans for the next weekend, or mapping out my vacations in advance.
Instead I wait, unsure of what I’ll feel like doing when my ‘down time’ arrives. When my vacation rolls around, I feel restless, worrying that I’m making the wrong decisions and wasting my precious moments, like a miser watching his bank balance sink toward zero.
It’s all part of what I call my “Jewish-Puritan heritage.” My father was a workaholic, a six-day-a-week man who cut back to five after his first heart attack, at 44. My brother is a successful lawyer who started his own law firm after earning two degrees from Harvard. Yet I don’t have great goals or plans; I simply want to enjoy my free time and (eventually) finish my book, find a boyfriend, and learn to relax.
The trick seems to be in finding the right balance, and learning that I can both get things done and have fun doing them. On this particular Saturday, I roused myself and drove into Boston, to attend an all-day memoir-writing class. The class consisted of eight students, all interested in telling some version of their life story. The teacher, a bubbly woman of about 40 named Tina, had published a memoir about finding love and (Christian) faith after a long series of trials, which included many bad dates, dysfunctional relationships and New Age healers.
I’d heard Tina speak at a writers’ conference a few years ago, when her first book was about to come out. (She subsequently published a follow up). Initially, I was prepared to dislike her. As a Jew and a gay man, I am wary of “Christians,” and somewhat jealous of folks who have found the love, companionship and literary success that has eluded me.
As a teacher, Tina was bubbly, enthusiastic, and even though the description of her book sounded like “Eat, Pray, Love,” I enjoyed the class. Toward the end of the day, she answered questions about the business of publishing, how she found her agent, and how she got her book deal. Once again, I felt pangs of jealousy –- Tina had a big name publisher, and had gotten a book advance, while I had no agent, only a self-published book that had sold a mere 700 copies.
But over the course of the day, it became increasingly clear that Tina had worked hard for the success she’d achieved, writing and re-writing her memoir until it was ready for publication. And from reading an excerpt, I knew she had worked at finding love, too, kissing a hundred frogs before she found her prince.
I left the workshop thinking about my upcoming vacation, and knowing that many hours of work await me if I wanted to finish that second book. Meanwhile, my inner teenager sulked and slouched; he simply didn’t want to put in the effort to get the damn thing done.
As I look toward my upcoming vacation, I’m reminded that life is all about balance; there are times when a day at the beach or cuddling up with a good book is OK, even when it means that I’m not being productive.
On Sunday, I chose not to write. I went for a long bike ride, read a bit, and watched some bad reality television. I didn’t change the world or transform my life, but I did enjoy myself. And that’s good enough, for now.
Judah Leblang is a writer and teacher in Boston, and the author of Finding My Place: One Man’s Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond.