On being uncomfortable with free time

There are a lot of words in the English language that make people cringe: "moist," "pustle," "phlegm" and "squirt" are just a few. Want to know what phrase bothers me? "Free time."

I like the word "free" -- in fact, as someone with a liberal arts education, I love the word "free." "Time," on the other hand, stirs nothing in me; I'm completely indifferent. But put the two together, and a small knot forms in my stomach.

For way too long, I've always been short on free time. In fact, since I was in high school, I've always been a juggler. School and work. Or work and part-time work. During my years at the newspaper in Charlotte, I gave my nights either to a part-time gig as a bartender, graduate school or teaching English composition at the community college.

And I was OK with that. I thrived off filling my Google calendar with appointments, meetings and deadlines. The more I could fit into a week, the more accomplished I felt. No one ever saw my calendar, but I didn't need anyone's validation -- I knew how busy I was. I knew I was getting shit done. 

But that life's over now. Due to some unexpected circumstances, it's going to be a while before I can, as my dad puts it, "run around like a chicken with its head cut off." And that bothers me. 

I know I'm not any less competent now than I was when my calendar was packed. I'm not a different person, talent, skill or personality-wise, just because I happen to have the time to watch most of my TV shows when they air live. I know I'm not wasting away simply because I'm not producing/impacting/meeting/talking/brainstorming/working as much as I used to.

But I still feel uncomfortable. I still feel unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line, someone or something taught me that busyness equals productivity equals accomplishment.  Maybe it's that stereotypical Asian work ethic? My mom did, after all, go into labor with me while trying to dig up a bush in the front yard. (She couldn't wait for my dad to do it for her.)

I talked to a friend recently about all this -- the lack of hustle and productivity has me feeling a little inadequate. (Crazy -- I know!) She suggested that maybe, after all these years of having a full plate, this was my much-deserved downtime.

Perhaps the world is telling me to slow down. Enjoy the simplicity of a cool breeze outside. Shut off the noise and appreciate the healing powers of silence. 

And I'm trying to do that. It's just that I haven't figured out how to get rid of that knot in my stomach.

I've been M.I.A. for three months -- here are three reasons why.

It's almost October, and I'm ashamed to say this is the first time I've logged onto SquareSpace since July. Allow me to offer you meme-generated excuses for my absence.

1) After living and breathing my full-time job for nine years, I anticipated a mourning period when I finally left. I did not, however, expect to question my entire identity. I should have seen it coming though. It's happened before.

In seventh grade, I had the highest average in my grade. I brought home trophies on top of trophies on Honors Day because, frankly, I was a nerd who always did well in school. I was known as "the smart girl," and I was OK with that.

The following year, though, I discovered boys, and eventually fell to second place in grade point average to a kid named Douglas. 

I was devastated. If I wasn't "the smart kid" anymore, who was I?

A couple of months ago, I found myself with the same self-doubt. If I wasn't a newspaper editor anymore, who was I?

As a result, I struggled to find the fire and inspiration to publish on this site.

2) When it comes to my own personal affairs, I'm not a great planner. Quitting was the right thing to do, but I wasn't prepared financially. By July, I started to freak out about paying bills, and started focusing a majority of my time on searching for and applying to jobs -- even gigs I knew wouldn't make me happy. Plus, that minor freakout stilted my creativity, and I found it difficult to come up with story ideas for this site as well as for others.  

I'd taken a leap of faith when I moved down here to Augusta, but within only a couple of months, that faith had vanished.

Sometimes I wish I didn't keep up with what's going on in the world. At times, it stresses me out. Take, for example, the last Republican debate. I didn't want to watch it because I knew I fundamentally disagreed with every single one of the candidates on that stage. But I did tune in that night, at the insistence of my boyfriend. And because I couldn't quell my curiosity.

As I listened to Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and the others attack President Obama, Hillary Clinton and one another, I could only feel my blood pressure rising. Not only because I was frustrated at what they were saying, but also because I know there's a very good chance one of those folks will be my next president -- and there's nothing I can do about it.

The feeling of helplessness is what gets me. The amount of injustices and plain stupidity in the world is so overwhelming at times that I want to burrow myself in a dark cave with a year's supply of candles, books and magazines just so I can forget it all.

Metaphorically, that's what happened this summer. I (mostly) stopped paying attention and started coloring. (No, really.) I sought peace. 


But the summer is over (at least, that's what the calendar tells me) and I'm ready to be accountable to something of my own again. Maybe I needed that break to figure out where I want to take this site. Maybe I'm just saying that because it sounds better than admitting laziness. Well, stay tuned.