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Time for Creative Living
Elizabeth Bennefeld

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"You Go Girl" by Claudia Barber

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of discussion about the lack of volunteers for our local amateur radio club's projects. The complaint is that a few people end up doing everything that needs to be done. Everyone else pays his or her dues, but contributes nothing more. This is not just true of our local amateur radio organization. A lot of people are over booked and can't fit one more thing into the schedule. Religious, nonprofit, support and other organizations across the country are suffering from the resulting lack of volunteers.

From all sides, we are exhorted by organizers, politicians, and local activists to "get involved" and "be part of the solution, not part of the problem." But, it's not just the adults who are over-committed. I've listened with horror to parents recounting their children's schedules of school, extracurricular, and outside activities and wondered when kids have the chance to just be kids.

Guilty consciences twinging and old tapes playing in our minds, we make partial or token commitments to worthy causes, lest we not live up to someone else's expectations -- or to our own. And, our world has gotten smaller. International news has become just as relevant as the local radio broadcasts. Too many facts, too many events -- too many emotions compete for our attention and our time. There's more to do, and less personal energy available to invest in any one activity.

Immediate production! Instant results! No more long-term thinking or planning, but, like the philosophies of many of today's corporations, what have I produced today? If I haven't met my quota, I feel called to dump everything else and push a little harder. Cut a few more corners!

Even vacations become tightly scheduled tours with demanding itineraries. How many towns? How many states can I tour in two weeks? Will I see what is in front of me, or will I see what I've been told I should see? Will I get my nose out of the guidebook long enough to observe the forest in its autumn colors?

Spreading myself thin is not the answer. Some things will get done, and others will not be accomplished by me in my lifetime. I don't like dealing with absolutes like having to choose where and how I will invest my time. But to actually accomplish something, rather than simply making dozens of appearances without really doing enough of any one thing to make a difference, I am going to have to choose and then live with the outcome. Otherwise, the demands of contemporary life will move in and take over all available time.

One of the main problems with living a creative life is having to take back and maintain control of one's own time. As artists, we are called to set our own priorities, recognizing that there is not going to be enough time to do everything that we want or need to do and also meet the demands and expectations of others. We cannot be creative without a space of our own. Journaling to maintain a realistic perspective and giving priority to scheduling our own artistic and personal time are musts.

I cannot do everything, and so I must choose the activities that will receive my time and energy. It's time to make lists and weigh priorities. It's time to decide what will stay and what will go. If I don't, I may get to the end of life without ever having accomplished anything at all that is meaningful to me. Further, am I enabling the world by pretending that I am living a productive, creative life on this split-second timetable? Does my silence discourage others who might otherwise work towards establishing more nurturing environments for themselves?

Decision time! With regard to the amateur radio club, what sort of a commitment am I willing to make? I have to figure out what it's worth to me, make the time commitment, and be definite about it. Saying, "Oh, I'll do that!" without knowing how I am going to fit it into my schedule, does no one any good. Neither does saying that I'll do something, just because nobody else volunteers, and then never getting around to it. That's short-term satisfaction, heading for long-term catastrophe.

Are people going to like my prioritizing? No, not at first. Some never will! But, if I take back control of my time and my life, when I commit to something, it will be because I intend to and want to and believe that I can follow through. So, maybe I won't be actively involved in your pet project or worthy cause. Will that mean that I don't care? No! We can learn how to care and support one another's efforts without letting other people's priorities consume us.

I am a writer and an artist. I have the right to order my time and energy, to create, and to experience. And now, it is time to sit for a while and listen to the silence.

Copyright October 1998, by Elizabeth Wicker Bennefeld.

Elizabeth Bennefeld lives in Fargo, North Dakota, with her husband Al and their two cocker spaniels, Rascal and Ladd. She has worked as a freelance writer, editor, and academic style editor since 1984, doing business as The Written Word. Previously, Elizabeth was employed in computer programming and operations.

E-mail Elizabeth at

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