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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Riches of Doing

Yesterday, Merlin Mann wrote a thought provoking blog piece: Re-Potting with Resources: What Would You Make? (43 Folders). He asks the question: If, tomorrow morning, you had 60% of the time and resources you needed to start making anything you wanted, what would it be? And, what would you do first?

Then this morning, my blog-buddy Nudge wrote a piece she called What is Wealth?

These two posts started resonating with each other, forming a chord that was greater than the sum of the two notes. The context, or key (as in the key of G) if you will, is what Mann calls “a blood-curdling recession.” Nudge speaks of the laid-off millions, wondering how they’re going to keep the lights on and their heads under a roof… and Mann asks them all you have plenty of time, and you have some resources… now what do you do with them?

My answer to Nudge’s question sounds flippant, but I was dead serious: screw the dictionary definition, wealth is whatever you say it is — because wealth means not only different things to different people, but different things to the same people at different times. For a long time, my personal definition of wealth was “not having to work for a living” — but that’s a binary definition of wealth. That definition says you either have it or you don’t, when in fact you can have some wealth, but not enough to give employment the finger and walk away. Before allowing myself to be saddled with FAR Manor, we had the old place paid off and no car payments, just a bunch of credit card debt that we were working off. I wanted nothing to do with a mortgage before getting rid of all other debts and building up a decent down payment, so we could make a house payment and still put some savings away. Way-ell… anything that wasn’t “yes dear” was summarily ignored until I wore down enough to say “to hell with it, if we get foreclosed we get foreclosed.”

These days, my personal concept of “wealth” is simply the time to do what I want to get done. Subtract sleep time, commute time, work time, meal time, cleanup time, then whatever little “surprises” wait for me when I’m home, and there’s very little left over for wealth. Sure, I have all the “stuff” I want and then some, but what I don’t have is the time to do much of anything with it. In this vein of thinking, getting laid off would make me wealthier, simply because I’d have more time to work on my own stuff (whatever the heck that is now). The way things are now, I have a hard time taking Mann’s advice to Imagine you have almost what you need. Then, just start something. — if I don’t have the time and materials to finish what I start, God only knows when I’ll be able to get the last remaining time or materials to finish the job. My garage and studio are littered with projects that died half-finished, simply because they got derailed for so long that I either forgot about them or lost track of where I left off and what I needed to finish. I was able to finish the cold frame because I had 100% of the tools & materials, and insisted on making time for it, before I really started. But it’s not really finished; I still need to paint it and I either need to scrounge or buy some paint (and, again, make time to apply brush to wood).

What I can do, though, is make plans for doing things if/when I get laid off. And there are things that I can nibble on a little at a time… for example, I’ve nearly completed FAR Future, a work that will end up at least the size of an average novel, in odd hours or fractions of hours over the last year & a half. Focus on the positive, look for things that you can do, and (most important) use your successes to kick-start the next project.


  1. Agreed, I would also love to have the time to pursue my own interests and finish my many unfinished tasks and projects. Ah, the luxury of time without constraints. I'm also hoping that one of my interests, my paintings, will actually one day generate some income.

  2. FAR,
    Wow, what a small world... I stopped by to see what you were up to and find you had that mention of Merlin Mann!

    He was a student of mine at New College for a couple of years, and I remember him most fondly. He's a really creative (though way diffuse back then) guy and lots of fun to know and talk to. I had to listen to the interview and check his site bio to make sure it's really him, and sure enough!

    Thanks for tipping me off on his whereabouts... haven't seen him in probably 18 years!

  3. Hi guys!

    Boran, in a way your painting is like my writing… we've both found a way to accomplish it in baby steps and finish it up.

    IVG, that's awesome! I've had 43 Folders in my RSS feed for quite a while now… he's got a lot of thought-provoking stuff there, and used to have a short weekly podcast I liked listening to. (He's got a little daughter now, too!)

  4. Hi FAR, b2, IVG ... :)

    Agree w/ you this post FAR ... time, I don't have enough of it to pursue what I love doing -- photography. I have to wedge it in when I get free moments (I guess like your writing) ... and when I daydream about what I would do if I could do anything, it would be photography before anything else -- the time to do it uninterrupted.

    And I'm w/ you Merlin Mann's work ... I fell into his (old) site years ago when I kept hearing people talk about HPAs! LOL ... he's very creative and I do enjoy his stuff. I can't believe you taught him IVG -- how weird is that one!

  5. Very interesting Far. Gee, I'm one lucky bastard to take at least the rest of the month, to have for myself. It's a shame it's 15 degress below zero, preventing me of doing anything much outside... However, I'm not going to feel guilty about it as it'll be soon enough were I'm putting in 13-15 hrs a day, 7 days a week, for months on end.

    When I am working, of course, there's a lot that goes undone, maintance etc., until I have the time and resource to do them. I've always tried to be as "net creative" as I can be in everything I do. That is, having the time and resource available to complete the job at hand. What value does six uncompleted works have?:)

    What happens when for many they "wake up" the next morning, finding they have 100% of the time that they would have spent at their job, that they could use to start projects of their own, but have 0% of resource to use? I very much suspect, that there are millions just sitting on their butts finding themselves in such a situation (probably watching "The World Turns?), today.

    idea of sink: any activity that would not be sustaining to form, wasteful to the point of extinction.
    idea of Net Creativity: the ultimate in form when it creates some kind of future usefulness over and above what it consumes in resources; any activity that creates mores than what it consumes.

    It's something to think about...

    Thanks, yooper

  6. Hi guys!

    Olivia, the problem with "wedging it in" is that the time, opportunity, and motivation all have to come together. I wouldn't get the cloud pix if I didn't have the cellphone camera, which provides the opportunity part. Writing, fortunately, is a pretty low-tech pursuit requiring only pen, paper, and a place to sit (opportunity again).

    Motivation can be the hard part — "what useful thing can I do in this hour & a half I've managed to wrest from everyone else's agenda?" Once I've decided, got together the tools needed to continue (which may have been moved to deal with something more pressing) and determining where I left off & what I can do in the remaining time, it can be frustrating.

    Yooper, I would think you could do what you do pretty much any time… get ahead of the curve, so to speak. My mother-in-law does a fair amount of quilting off-season, so she'll have her inventory ready for the craft shows. But you sure are right about the value of 6 uncompleted works. ;-)

    Resources can be easy to come by, even when laid off, thanks to things like Freecycle. I built the cold frame after I realized I had everything but the glass, and got a shower door within hours of posting a request, so I got going! People aren't always interested in what you're going to do with something you're getting; they're just glad it's leaving their house! But sometimes it's interesting… one person on the local list asked for a big piece of canvas/parachute to make a patio awning.

    Maybe the key is to have a list of stuff in the queue… if you can't scrounge up the resources for Project A, maybe you can for Project B.

  7. FAR, I have had a list of several things that are on my "To Do or Learn" list. When I was working it was really difficult to work a full-time job, be a housewife, do some study to help myself towards a self-sufficient entrepreneurship and spend time with Hubby Dearest, family and friends. I wasn't able to find time "Just To Be." I was driving myself crazy! Then I got permanently Laid Off - I was rather looking forward to that as I knew I would have more time for my studies and hopefully get my home-based business kicked off the ground.

    Now - I know that my time is better spent on taking our lives back to "Simpler Times." I will still be able to devote time to photography, but I had hoped to grow a web designing business. I feel now, that something like that belongs to another lifetime.

    Like you, motivation can be a real kicker! LOL!!! I guess that I will have to check out 43Folders. Interesting site!

    Boran, like you I hope that my skills with baking could possibly make me a few pennies here.

  8. Hello FAR. I'm new to your blog but I really enjoyed it. "Time is of the essence" as they say and although I don't know where that phrase originated it seems to fit here. I, too, am always in search of time to do the things I want to do, work on the hobbies I have, etc.

    Really good post, FAR, Thank you.

  9. Hey hey!

    Mrs. M, web design is a seriously competitive business these days… but I'm not sure if it's worse now (when you have to compete with established design houses) or in 2000 (when you would have been competing with high school kids working for peanuts). I know where you're coming from… I have to deal with a full-time job and fix whatever breaks here or at the in-laws… not so much the latter, but Mrs. Fetched is in that full-time and more, and it's killing her. I don't wanna wait for my life to be over, as the song goes. Things will probably be even harder if things go pear-shaped, but there will at least be the satisfaction of finding a purpose.

    Coneflower, thanks much and welcome to the free-range insane asylum!

  10. Hi FAR .. looks like we may be getting a little closer to that elusive definition of wealth.

    Let me share a story, please, about a guy who used to work at the other division of the company I'm employed at. I did not know him personally. He was a really good worker on one of the paper machines, everyone liked him, he always said he wanted to retire and have a quiet little house somewhere and grow a garden .. and that's what he did when he retired.

    Six months later, sadly, he was dead from some weird cancer.

    This incident was a sad but true commentary on our way of life as components in the big machine matrix: you're supposed to slave dutifully at your job until you're no longer a reliable cog in the gearworks, then retire to do all the stuff you had wanted to do all those years you spent slaving away over a paper machine, and hopefully your 101(k) account didn't evaporate too much in the meantime.

    The secret they never say up front, though, is that the free time you have when you're in your 20s, or 30s, or 40s, is nothing like the free time you have when you're decrepit and almost in the grave. Want to go hitchhiking across the UPL, ride the rails with the hobos, and sleep under bridges? Try doing that when you're in your 70s .. doesn't quite work out the same way, does it?

    I do it a little differently; vacation on the installment plan. I figure that any time spent away from work is vacation time of one form or another. So I put some time into doing the blogs, doing some homework on what the old industrial economy used to be like here 100 years ago, sewing whatever sparks my fancy, going into Boston when them mood strikes, spending time with the right friends on the weekends. The time is precious so I try to spend it well. If I have to work until age 80, it's not that big a deal: there is nothing I want to do that's getting put off for lack of free time in which to do it.

    Life is short ~ play hard. :)

  11. I'm actually in that position, FAR. I'm very lucky that as my parent's health fades, I'm in a position to spend my days help them. I couldn't be doing anything more important or useful.

    It's sad that I can't spend my days blogging but, I'll get back to that soon enough. And considering what that means, I'm in no hurry.

  12. Interesting. I think the whole "back to the land" movement and the current "simplicity" movement is about finding that balance between having "stuff" and having "time."

    I think I could probably live with about half the stuff I have and be happy if I had more time to just do what I want. I know that sounds lazy and selfish, but in all honesty, the things I want to do are all related to being self-sufficient. I wish I had more "time" to tend my garden, can food, bake bread, raise animals, mend clothing, sew pants for my girls, learn to knit, grind wheat ....

    I know - all a little weird ;).

  13. Wendy, not weird at all. We all need to "simplify" our lives again. There has been too much participation in the "Need to Get Ahead." Look at the Amish. They have lived a simpler life style for generations.

  14. I love when a bunch of people start talking while I'm out & about…

    Nudge, stories like those are pretty common. Bear Bryant might be one of the more famous examples. Sounds like you have a system worked out!

    KB, yeah I can imagine. I know we owe each other a phone call, but I figured you were pretty busy with that… the urgency part has taken care of itself though. Glad you stopped by, anyway…

    Wendy, I agree with Mrs. M. Nobody but you can decide what's "enough" for you — if you let other people define "enough," then you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Daughter Dearest did some knitting, made scarves for everyone for Christmas. I'm wearing mine now; it helps keep me warm.

    Mrs. M, I think you hit it — too much trying to get ahead, not enough smelling the roses.


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