Thursday, 11 December 2008

Time is money - busy producing, or busy consuming?

I have written this particular blog countless times over the past month or so. I’ve done any number of drafts; turned random phrases into coherent sentences; taken a jumbled mass of thoughts and transformed them, with the most awesome of eloquence, into words that have almost overflowed the page.

But only in my head.

See, the thing is, I haven’t had the time to actually sit down, and put that all down on paper. Each day, I would have the best intentions in the world, but somehow the hours all seemed to be swallowed up, mostly by work, with household chores and arbitrary errands coming in second. Oh, there’ve been little pockets of free-time, there always are, to squeeze in a quick chat on the phone, a couple of hastily composed e-mails, or a few hurriedly-made moves on Scrabble. But never really enough time to actually get my mind in gear (believe me, that takes a while) enough to make anything sensible appear on my computer screen.

I have an uncle who nearly always greets us with the question:
“Are you busy producing or busy consuming? If you’re not producing, then you must be consuming!”.
I guess that pretty much sums up what my days seem to have become since I’ve left uni – a non-stop conveyor belt of producing, 5 days out of 7, and the rest of the time, consuming as though my life depended on it.

And that is the way it’s seen, isn’t it, as this complete given – you leave school, you start work, end of. The 9-5 (or in my case, 5.30), investing in the economy, spending, and working hard, to save up, and spend some more – that’s the way of the world, right? Because where would I be without all the money I earn? I need to work all the hours God sends, because, other than the necessities, there are just so many things I need to spend money on – new books, holidays, eating out with my friends, live music and comedy. How do I even manage on the rate of pay I’m on now? Working for a charity’s all well and good, but I’m never going to be earning enough to get myself on the property ladder. I really should be striking out for a better-paid job, get myself back in the NHS or maybe go private – sure, it’s not what I want to do, but at least that way I’d have more chance of a rise, maybe work my way up to manager, start earning enough to live the life I’ve always dreamed of…

Or maybe not. I remember once, my mum bemoaning this fact:
“You children nowadays, you don’t seem to understand the importance of money”.
I’ve tried, I really have, to understand the great press that money gets in comparison to free time. And also to understand why people seem to consider free time such an indulgence, a luxury that we don’t really have that much time for, compared to the necessity of earning a living.
I know I need enough money to pay bills, to pay a rent, to put clothes on my back and food in my belly. But beyond that, do I really need that much more? I do like to go out with friends, expand my library, add to my music collection. But, to do this, do I really need to be working as hard and spending as much as I do? For a long time (probably as long as I’ve been working full-time…) I’ve felt that the answer to this really should be no. Surely it’s just a matter of looking for alternatives?

This summer, I went to visit a friend on the
Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. I travelled by train and ferry – it took me nearly 24 hours, and was the prefect way to reach the island, with a gradual introduction to the stunning beauty of the place. On the ferry, I had conversations with friendly strangers, and during the few hours I spent waiting for my transfer bus, I had a few more. The week on Lewis was spent roaming the beaches, hiking, and visiting a few of the towns. We ate out most days – picnics of cheese and tomato sandwiches and squash – and evenings were full too – cooking together, playing music, and talking – lots of talking.

And during that week, I had a vision of how life could be if people really were to move away from ‘working’ as the ideal, and towards ‘free time’ as the alternative. I know it was only a holiday, and almost like taking a step out of the real world, but what a beautiful step, and surely not so far removed from how things could possibly be. I found that I interacted with people more – shop-keepers and café owners didn’t treat me as just more money in the till, they seemed genuinely interested in our little chats as they served me. Being such a remote and scarcely-populated place, I expected people to be strangers to one another. Instead, there was a close-knit community feel that I very rarely find in London - I don’t really know the people who live in my block of flats, talk less in the community around me.

So it was that my little trip outside of the real world set me even further along the path away from the idea that money is the be-all and end-all. It supported all my ideas that living that little bit simpler could be a possibility, and a happy one at that. It set my resolve to actually start working my way towards that new ideal, instead of just dreaming about it. Free time, here I come.

To be continued…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your uncle missed out: waste, sin or inefficiency in his producer consumer dichotomy. There is a world to run. So dont beat yourself up about thinking the product could be pure. Even the product turns into final waste. If you're sensitive you will be in pain. Some tasks are more pleasant than others. We have to clear out the sin; a job which will in future occupy a lot of time. How to extract the waste before it is recycled?