the things we are doing take time

2014-06-09 10.48.26

photo by Jane Walsh


First, a confession: I woke up the other morning feeling like a thoroughly incapable human being.

It was a wretched way to start the day, I’ll admit, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. Some days dawn ripe with opportunity for self-doubt and self-pity.

On this particular morning, the realization broke that everyone I know seems to be doing more, achieving more, and generally wringing more juice from the fragile fruit of everyday than I do.

So, naturally, I wasted a perfectly equitable sunrise battering myself mentally. What on earth is wrong with me, I wondered. Am I just inherently lazy?

Over breakfast, my daughter was gentle, true to form. Pay attention to how you spend your time today, she offered. Only consider the day before you, the moment before you. Stay away from the Internet. By the end of the day, you’ll know if anything needs to be done.

I suspected my malaise could not be eased by a day minus online distraction. Still, I vowed to honor the advice with an emergency reboot of digital simplicity.

Then, after taking my wise child to school, I picked up the phone and called Harry Bliss.

I was scheduled to interview the famed cartoonist/illustrator before his presentation at the South Dakota Festival of Books. The conversation quickly turned to, for lack of a better term, his creative process—mostly because I have a long-nurtured fascination with how artists, musicians, and writers do their work in the world.

On any given day, Bliss might spend two focused hours working on a single cartoon. Then, he surfaces from this creative depth to do something physical, such as working in the yard. Then he might return to his desk. For some reason, this image made me think of a child on a summer day (no homework, no bedtime) playing with toys for hours and then dropping his plastic cow on the rug to run outside and play.

It made me remember my own childhood days, cradled in the branches and hidden by the leaves of my favorite climbing tree. Shirking chores. Writing poetry.

And then I exhaled.

All at once I felt all right … more than all right … I felt sonically aligned with the pace of my day, as if someone had rung a bell that resounded throughout every cell of my body.

That might seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not. If the description sounds a little far-fetched to you, I don’t mind. Go ahead. Roll your eyes. The fog cleared, that’s all. And I was awake enough to notice it.

I talked with Harry Bliss for a good long time. Then I put down the phone and my pen and I went outside. I never did turn my computer back on that day.

In the evening, I found there was even more to learn, this time from my dad, who has spent most of his summer visiting with doctors, rearranging his life as he deals with the shifting sands of his health. This process, as you might imagine, has altered the weight of his “daily accomplishments” considerably.

“It’s not that I’m not doing anything,” he told me. “It’s that the things I am doing take time.”

There it was. The trifecta of wisdom I needed to satisfy my hunger:

  1. Honor the minutes, turning away from the distractions of our age.
  2. Work unapologetically on your art, on doing what you love to do, then get your physical body  moving, preferably out-of-doors.
  3. Finally, above all else: The things worth doing—creative things, sacred things, things with meaning and purpose and impact—they all take time.

What did I get done that day?

Well, I spent a lot of time listening. I spent even more time hanging out in the kitchen with my teenage daughter who, not incidentally, still digs hanging out in the kitchen with her mom, chatting about books, friends, and how we spend our days.

I spent the day writing—filling blank pages with with notes and ideas, even a few sketches. I stepped outside more than once to sit in wonder at the adoration of the bees as they bid their farewell to summer.

(My dad told me, when I was younger, that you always know summer is ending when the bees are out looking for new homes. I’ve never forgotten that. It’s not over until the bees tumble over themselves saying goodbye.)

Basically, I spent the day welcoming the voices of wisdom around me as well as the voice of my own wise self, who had simply gotten out of bed a few minutes later than usual.

I don’t know how other people have time for their abundant accomplishments. Maybe they don’t. Maybe it just seems they do when I peer at their lives through the thick glass walls we install between ourselves and others.

I only know that conversation takes time. Writing takes time. Healing takes time. Love takes time.

I only know that I’ve got plenty of time for that.




  1. Sigh…that was beautiful. You made my day.

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