“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
–Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke
-Fair warning: rant ahead!-
Plans are masticated with regularity. Contact with reality never ends well for plans or people.
Some time in the last fifty years, American society shifted to a high-speed version of capitalism that has eroded free time everywhere in the country at an alarming rate. Story after story continues to crop up about people who can’t figure out when to take a vacation or how to manage their workload. At best, four-day weekend retreats are wedged into the framework of spouses, houses, and children. Smartphones constantly on and in a sweaty grip surge forth with our heroes and the question foremost on their minds: “is there wi-fi where we’re going?” All this while the rest of the world participates at the same level as America and enjoys more free time. Oftentimes, work hours and time off are insisted upon by their respective governments to protect citizens from overzealous companies.
After I married my lovely wife, we embarked on a three-week honeymoon from one coast of America to the other. It was one of the greatest vacations I’d ever taken. Since then, we’ve experienced nothing but a steady decline in free time (and income) and a steady rise in the financial demands. Ever since we made the foolish decision to have children—twice—our little island of time has shrunk twice as fast. Where does it go? A large chunk goes into the commute to and from work and school, preparing meals, cleaning home and clothes, homework and other parental duties. But I’ve noticed another noticeable chunk goes into administrative duties. An entire market has sprung up to “help” us all streamline our lives: apps, web sites, personal services, etc. The worst part is that businesses have adapted to this phantom market. Departments adopt services that help them with their workload, but add to the workload of other workers. The cycle is barbaric in it’s efficiency.
Since the popularization of the Internet and “downsizing” disguised as profits, we’ve all had more of our time eaten up by administrative tasks. Automatic payments need to be set up and monitored, like, every day. There is no peace of mind or convenience in these things because something goes wrong somewhere in the chain at least once a month. Every day requires a phone call to some utility company or hospital billing office. (We have kids, medical visits are inevitable and costly.) Money comes in at an agonizing pace and goes out with terrifying speed. Any errors uncovered, whether they are the result of our actions or not, require our intervention. Lengthy, dogged intervention because of the automated systems one must navigate to finally get a human being on the line. This frustration and time is multiplied when a company commits a financial error and must reverse it. Even if it’s their fault, reimbursements take up to and beyond thirty days to fulfill despite the seconds it took the company to claim the funds. Case in point: the DMV overcharged us for some registration changes and have owed us money for over two months. And this is “rush” status because they acknowledged the error. Daily calls are now evolving into a planned incursion on DMV offices. Time, time, time, time, just eaten away. [UPDATE: we now know they can take up to six months to reverse the charge.] A constant erosion of time and money. Calendars, task lists, email reminders, auto-calls—all of these automated things just beeping away, keeping us on the go, all of its purpose is to bring efficiency into our lives and give us more time to… What?
I want to write. And draw, and create. Writing and illustration can absorb hours per day. Comic illustration especially, guarantees an entire day to pencil one page. Many authors maintain a “day job” (Some have a night job) to put food on the table and keep the lights on. There aren’t many undemanding jobs that pay well enough to support a family and these gigs are getting more demanding. Where is that time subtracted from? Writing. Reading. Being creative. Thinking.
Daily, I find myself trying to figure out where and when I can write, at what time can I have uninterrupted creative time? It is far too frequently a zero sum game. I am a morning person and I do get up early. Up by 5:15 A.M. to prep for a commute that starts at 6:30 A.M. That means getting dressed, breakfast, lunch, and anything I can do to support my wife and kids getting out the door as well. All day at work and back home by 6:45 P.M. on a good day. My train ride is about an hour, so that’s not a bad amount of time to write when I can get a seat. It’s a very public setting, however, and can get a bit awkward when someone is shoulder to shoulder (almost zero elbow room) and my screen is full of…horror…or something that’s no one’s business to see. Yet. The rest of the evening is usually taken up with being a father. Bedtime is at a decent hour and then it’s time to be a husband for a little while. Bear in mind that, as a family, I spend more time away from my wife and kids than I do with them because of work and the commute. (My wife is a close second because money.) What follows then is usually some administrative task—downloading, signing, scanning, and emailing a document; figuring out how to make a last minute payment; sorting out medical invoices; taking care of the house; prepping for the next day—usually something that will take more time than expected.
What’s the lesson here? I don’t know. There is this, however: “To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed. And I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” –Bill Watterson
It took three four days to write this post.