The student working on the research paper was well and truly stuck. He walked from the back table to where I sat at the front and asked me for help. “I am really far behind,” he said as if this were a permanent condition. He had the research. He had an idea of what he would say. He told me about what he knew and showed me the research. When I asked him questions about supporting information and about complications, about the opposition to him claims, he was able to answer.He had nothing written down. I helped him create a simple graphic of pros and cons. Then I gave him chocolate and 20 minutes and when I came back his page was completely blank. Time had passed and his fear stared him down.

Last year, when I suggested to a friend that reading for 10-15 minutes a day would result in reading a complete book every 3-4 weeks, she commented wryly, “You could say that about a lot of things.”

Well, yes, I could.

Let me put this another way. If you stayed off Facebook and your cell phone for 10-15 minutes a day, you would have time to exercise, write an actual letter, do some yoga, meditate, cook oatmeal for breakfast, make a salad . . . or read.

Making time is not so hard. It is impossible. Time is not created, it merely passes. How we pass with that time is choice. Recently I binged an Australian television series, walked the beach, played Scrabble with a friend, and laid awake worrying about family in the middle of the night. I wrote blog posts and helped a student with Geometry while volunteering in the local high school library and yesterday I helped a student with his Senior Research Paper. I made bread of bananas just in time, and each morning I read the news. I read novels and nonfiction. Just now there are two books on the shelf behind me.

I never begin a book I do not hope to love. Sometimes I am disappointed. More often I am amazed. Reading transports, instructs, teaches—if I am willing to allow that to happen, if I am willing to stretch and learn, to participate in a process. I am willing to invest the time to read.

A new post on the Brevity blog discusses time for change. The author and her husband have sold their house and are moving to a much smaller house in another state. It is a thoughtful essay about movement, both exterior movement and interior movement, about simplification and change, about making those choices to be somewhere and perhaps even someone new.

My sense is that significant change is almost entirely interior, that large or small house, New Mexico or Florida, and perhaps even near family or far away, we carry ourselves along as the primary baggage. Our capacity for becoming, for changing our lives, breaks down to our willingness to use time in new ways. That is less about external than internal geography.

No matter where we go, there we are.

In the mean time, I have avoided knitting and weaving and a story because I fear I will do projects badly. I have a plan but things are not looking promising. Last night while giving good advice and deadlines to a student, time passed. I experimented with point of view (tried third person thanks to Ursula) in fiction. He eventually had a list of paragraphs to be written and a start. That student had an introductory paragraph, I had 500 new words of a story. Like the student in the library, I had stared too long at my blank page, certain I was doomed.

I was not doomed, I was trying to wait out time. Time merely passes.

As he was leaving, the student said, “I have a month to finish it.” But he doesn’t have a month. He had that evening for an hour, and he needs to use an hour each day until he’s done. If he thinks of the month, he will wait to begin. He will slide along without progressing because there is a month, then three weeks, then less and less time left as he allows it to pass. Thinking like that will land him in the same spot he started yesterday evening, a blank page before him—the way we all end up staring at the same spot because we have an hour to start the work or a lifetime to begin a new life.

It is always there for the start.




  1. Hi Jan,
    Well, we have arrived in FL, having brought our old selves (and our old dog) along with us! I’m so glad that in the chaos of moving I didn’t miss this post! I can’t really explain my need to change my outer world (although I try to in lots of posts on LiveLoveLeave, but that drive emerged out of the years I spent changing the inner. The minutes and hours I carved out of my own busy teaching days to write eventually drove me out of that job and across the country. I’m still catching up, but your post about your husband and about your novel ripped me open. Thanks for writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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