I mean, when you think of it, there isn’t any such thing. Your life is measured in minutes the number of which you know not, but surely that 118 that just went by while you were playing FarmVille were part of it, weren’t they? So they weren’t free. Or maybe they came to you free, but they have intrinsic value, and when you gave them away, did you get as much in return as you might have? If you’re anything like me, you perform that little calculation all the time, and aren’t always happy with the math.
My job(s) are not confinable to particular hour blocks. I have a friend that’s a pilot, and when he’s in the pilot seat, he’s working. When the plane lands, he’s done. When he’s logged x hours over y days, he’s done. He goes home, and that’s it. He has free time, as usually defined. My job, like it or not, doesn’t have that at all. Some days I have no specific thing to do. Some days I have specific tasks that must be performed all day long and off into the evening. There is, in other words, no pilot seat. Or maybe better said, I usually have one cheek in the pilot seat at all times.
Recently I’ve become better at not being perpetually on call for work, even during the day. It’s also true that I’m a lot less constantly working than most of my competition. I never work Sundays, for any reason, and I’ve worked less than 10 hours of Saturday per quarter ever since I can remember. I rarely take calls in the evenings, no matter the state of the file, though of course there are exceptions. But what I discover is that that doesn’t help that much. I still don’t have free time.
My work life splits into three main channels, mortgage stuff, PerfectHome stuff, and writing (yes, all you that have urged me for years to do more writing, you’re getting your wish. You have been for a while, you know – I have over 500 posts on here). Any one of those three things could expand to fill the known universe, and all three threaten to do so practically every day. It’s only recently that I realized that writing was actually work, and that it had to be treated as such, or I would never do any of it. Because, see, if I wait to write in my “free time”, I find that free time never comes. So I have to schedule it like all my work.
So I go “off shift”, and then I don’t do mortgage stuff, unless I have to, or PerfectHome stuff, unless I have to, or writing, unless…well, okay, I’m nearly always writing. But I can put it aside to read to my kids, or what have you. So that means when I go off shift I have free time, right?
Sigh. I’m afraid I know the answer to that question.
I mean, once I’m off shift I can theoretically do whatever I want, so that makes it free time (ignore that that statement is true of every minute, no matter where I am). But in point of fact, to be a good writer I have to read a lot and research a lot more, so I have a stack of twelve (and counting) books that I need to read (and want to read), four of which I am actually in the middle of right now. Then there are the fun projects I’m contemplating doing, like writing a sci-fi screenplay, because I think I’d like to learn to do that kind of thing, so I have reading and writing to do for that, too. And I’m in the process of remembering how to play the piano, so I need to practice. The garden, which I love and which feeds my soul, needs weeding. I have eight children, all of whom do better with at least small doses of Dad every day. And then I married one of the most interesting, vital, and lovely women on earth, with whom I could cheerfully spend every waking moment, making plans, baking bread, just talking. I do better, I AM better, with a large helping of Jeanette every day. Being LDS, I know I need to attend the temple and read the scriptures, plus ancillary religious material. Rapidly, considering all the different roles I play and the person I think I really want to be, it becomes painfully obvious that I have no free time at all. To not do the things I listed would be to abandon roles and responsibilities that I cannot abandon without becoming someone else.
I thought through this this morning as I chatted with la belle Jeanette, and we were discussing doing something, and I said “I can do that in my free time,” which she giggled at slightly, because she is kind and despite all her perfections, loves me. All day I’ve thought of it. All day I’ve added things to and subtracted from my day, and invested the time I have a little more wisely, knowing that there were things I wanted to do that I wouldn’t be able to get to – ever – unless I were tighter with what I did now. And then a second ago, I remembered something I read from C.S. Lewis (how I love that man), writing as Screwtape, the demon. It goes like this:
The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift… He is also, in theory, committed to total service of the Enemy; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse…. he would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said “Now you may go and amuse yourself”. Now if he thinks about his assumption for a moment, even he is bound to realise that he is actually in this situation every day. [emphasis mine]
One day, I’ll be strong enough to relate the journey of the last month, as I came to realize for the first time since I achieved sentience that I am possibly not a huge disappointment as a person. That’s for another day. For now, suffice it to say that I’m coming ’round to the idea that I don’t have any free time at all, and never will have. I never really did, if it comes to that, though I didn’t know it.
This is going to have consequences.