One day to live
Have you ever played the if-I-had-a-million-dollars game? It’s fun to fantasize about what you would do with your life if you won the lottery – where you would live, where you would travel, the things you would buy (for yourself and others), and – perhaps most important to literary types – how you would spend your now ample free time. (It goes almost without saying that our days would be filled with long, luxurious stretches of reading and writing and exploring the world through the senses of a writer.)
The possibilities are endless. Money is no object; your time is suddenly free and clear – all yours. You can do almost anything.
But what if, instead of buying your freedom with money, you bought it with your life. What if, instead of winning the lottery, you drew the short straw and learned that you only had a year to live, or six months, or one day. Getting such tragic news would grant you a freedom of a different kind. Instead of suddenly having countless options, you would have to limit yourself to only the things that mattered most. You would have to make hard choices. You would have to give up your dream of seeing the Eiffel Tower in order to realize your dream of seeing Galapagos. You would have to let go of your desire to learn how to salsa dance so that you would have time to learn how to scuba dive. Or maybe, being a writer, you would finally sit down and write that story you’ve been thinking about for years.
Having all the money in the world may seem to buy you time, but all it really buys you is the illusion of time. There is a danger in that kind of temporal wealth. You start to believe that your time will never run out. You begin to lean on doing things tomorrow, because – well, you know, there’s always tomorrow.
Until there isn’t.
I like to daydream about a carefree life on easy street as much as the next girl, but while those kinds of musings are pleasant enough, I don’t find them terribly motivating. They are, if anything, a distraction from the things that really make me happy. Though some might consider it morbid, I find that asking myself what I would do – how I would spend my precious time – if I knew I only had a little time left a more inspiring exercise. When you look at your life and your dreams through that smaller lens, you are suddenly able to focus with great clarity on exactly what you want to do – what you need to do – in order to live a life with no regrets.
I do not like to dwell on my own mortality, but I do like rediscovering my sense of purpose and passion. I like feeling a sense of excited urgency about my work. What about you? What would you do if you only had a year, six months, or one day to live?
What I’m Writing:
This past week was the first of three camp-free weeks for my daughter. For the first time, we’re experimenting with having her at home while I continue to work on my deadlines. I have to admit that I was somewhat apprehensive about the challenge of keeping a ten year-old entertained (and relatively quiet) without needing to lean heavily on TV and electronics. I’m happy to report, however, that we sailed through the first week with flying colors. She spent the first few days listening to audio books and painting, and the latter half of the week giving herself henna tattoos and playing, among other things, big sister to the three year-old boy next door.
Still, my working mama’s brain continued to search for fun projects and activities to keep my daughter’s nose out of her iPod. And, you know what? I found an idea that is not only giving her something to do, but it’s helping me get some writing practice in.
We – me, my daughter, and my mom – are collaborating on a story. I created a Google doc (in what Google now calls drive), and I wrote the intro to a story. I then shared the document with my daughter and mom, inviting them to pick up the story where I left off. Now, the three of us can go back and forth, each of us adding bits to the story. I’m having so much fun with it, and I am very impressed by my daughter’s imagination and writing voice.
Here, for anyone interested, is the intro to our story:
Things you should know before beginning
There are two kinds of people in the world – those who believe in impossible things and those who don’t. Nearly everyone begins life as a believer, but the insidious pressures of modern life are a stealthy and cunning pack of predators. They first appear as mere shadows of obligation and responsibility, but all too soon they have circled and there is no escape. Fairytales fade, daydreams die, and the language of the wind and the birds is lost forever.
There is nothing extraordinary about this tragic transformation. It is, however, quite extraordinary when a person reverses the journey and makes her way, usually quite by accident, down twisting byways – back to a world that is brimming over with impossible realities. Sadly, most people develop a proverbial blind spot which shrouds the signposts that mark such paths. A person might, for instance, catch a glimpse of an unexpected appendage on a fellow subway rider or be given a particularly pointed look by a stray dog; but odds are that her logical brain will explain these anomalies away before they have a chance to upset the balance of the Real World.
This is the story of a young woman whose life was upset just so. Fortunately for you, dear reader, she was so bored with the Real World that she chose to keep her eyes wide open. Instead of ignoring the improbable events of her fourteenth birthday, she became curious. She hadn’t had anything to be curious about in ages, so it took her a while to remember how to go about it. Thankfully, curiosity, once set in motion, is a force to be reckoned with.
What I’m Reading:
My reading time took a big hit this week, and that was particularly bothersome since I just started reading two great books, one fiction and one nonfiction. Since I’m not ready to share those with you, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite ways for sneaking a little reading in on even the busiest days:
- Read while you eat. If you eat alone (as I often do during the day), invite a book to be your dining companion. I used to grab lunch while I worked, but I never really got much done. I figure my time is better spent feeding my brain than trying to get a few more emails out the door.
- Use a reading break as a bribe. Many writers swear by the Pomodoro Technique – a time management method based on working in a focused way for twenty-five minutes and then taking a five-minute break. Guess what you can do during your five-minute break?
- Read while your waiting in line. At the bank, school pick-up (soon, soon, can’t wait!), at the DMV – always have a book on-hand (or loaded on your Kindle app) so you can get in a few paragraphs anywhere, anytime.
- Read before bed. I used to miss out on this opportunity because I was so tired at the end of the day, I figured I’d just fall asleep. Experts say, however, that it’s really important to “unplug” before bedtime. The typical rule of thumb is to get away from all screens (computers, tablets, TVs, smartphones, etc.) at least a half hour before bedtime. Switching to a good old-fashioned book is the perfect way to segue between the chaos of your working day and sleep.
What’s your favorite way to shoehorn a little extra reading into your day?
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- Inspiration and Wisdom Through Seven Sacred Books – Part 2 by @sarafoley76
- Headphones Are Shortening Your Career via @99u
- 9 Things I Did To Become A Full-Time Writer by Carlos Cooper via @thewritepractice
- Imagining Beyond One’s Own Experience, or What the Fiction Writer Calls “Going to Work” by @THahnBurkett
- Getting Over Procrastination via @NewYorker
- 7 Things I Learned in 7 Years of Reading, Writing, and Living via @brainpicker
- For Email Newsletters, a Death Greatly Exaggerated by @carr2n via @nytimes h/t @danblank
- Writing Tip: When You Get Stuck, Use ALL CAPS and Move On by @mariamurnane via @shewritesdotcom
- The Best Query Letter Ever (Yes. You Read That Correctly) by @GillespieKarin
Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to finding your joy and letting it lead you to success. Happy reading. Happy writing. See you on the other side!
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally – trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.