Dumplings and chicken

April 5, 2011

Last week in my Vision, Voice & Practice class, one of my professors shared a simple piece of advice that he learned years ago from his fellow painter/full-time-professor friend: adjust your work to fit the time you can work on it. In other words, instead of setting out to do a 10X20 ft. painting the first week of classes, this paint-essor (HA) chose to create many smaller, simpler pieces in the 30 minute slots of time he had. Basic, I know… but it wasn’t until just now as I was lying in bed reading Paradise Lost that it hit me: that very same principle can apply to my writing! It hit me while I was reading Paradise Lost because it is starting to really stress me out how many great books I am reading and not writing about. Even though I love doing classwork, I can’t help but regret not making the time to process each book, or even a few paragraphs in each book, more than I am. It’s like when you’re at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and, looking at all the different types of dumplings, you feel the ache of what could have been if only you hadn’t filled up on orange chicken. (Just to clarify, the dumplings are all the writing I could be doing about the great books I’m reading, and the orange chicken is my homework. Today in our Torrey session we spent an hour arguing over what makes a bad metaphor … I’m pretty sure that one fits the agreed-upon criteria perfectly. I thought of another one about keeping up with an assembly line that I maybe should have gone with.)

We just finished a book by Tsitsi Dangarembga called Nervous Conditions in my World Lit class, and one line from the book has been stuck in my head the past few days:

“At Babumakuru’s I would have the leisure, be encouraged to consider questions that had to do with survival of the spirit, the creation of consciousness, rather than mere sustenance of the body.”              –Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga

The protagonist, Tambu, is a Zimbabwean girl looking forward to going to school for the first time. And, unlike everyone else in her family, she finds value in learning itself, not merely viewing school as a means to an end. Though I expected to have a hard time identifying with a character in such a different cultural setting, Tambu is a fellow dork and the book was excellent (and the first novel published by a Zimbabwean woman!). And though most of the time I am reading such mind-blowingly brilliant stuff that I couldn’t not grow even if I tried, Tambu has been reminding me that my education is designed for the survival of my spirit.

SO… my “duh” moment tonight went like this: “DUH. Stop waiting for 4-hour intervals to write and learn and grow.” And though I know I will lose something in choosing to write in smaller intervals of time (sometimes I don’t actually figure out what I am writing about until an hour in), something is better than nothing.

Also, I am beginning to wonder how many areas of my life this principle of “matching the task to the time you have” might apply. For example, is it the most unthinkable thing in the world to tidy up my desk in my 15-minute slots of nothingness, as opposed to waiting for a dull Saturday when I can empty everything out? (I’m pretty sure this is something they teach you in Freshman Orientation, but I spent that whole week camped out in my room.)