How we spend the {still limited} hours of our long life is up to us

July 8, 2013

The quote is Sylvia Plath’s. I didn’t know that when I wrote my earlier post called “Life is Long”

Damaged, creative, crazy soul– I love Sylvia Plath and can’t get enough of books by and about her.

Her journals? OMG, the words in her journals are lively, active, evocative, descriptive and her concepts come out fully formed. IN HER JOURNALS. My journals have always been full of dully written whines and observations plainly described in spartan, almost journalistic prose. Her entries buzz with electricity:

Last night I felt the sensation I have been reading about….the sick, soul-annihilating flux of fear in my blood switching its current to defiant fight. I…lay feeling my nerves shaved to pain & the groaning, inner voice….and as I lay under the negative icy flood of denial…

“My nerves shaved to pain….”  I mean, seriously? Journal writing? No edits.  I swoon over her talent and her journals make me feel like an amateur at my craft.

And then, poking insistently into my brain this month is the thought that I’m over-scheduled, doing too much, madly fertilizing my dreams to make them bloom and  bringing none to fruition. The echo in my head says my life needs pruning, not fertilizer. Sylvia Plath writes in her journal about that, too:

I am sacrificing my energy, writing and versatile intellectual life for grubbing…how I long to write on my own again!  I feel like throwing up my books and writing my own bad poems and bad stories…

She, too, filled her life with many things that she thought she needed to do all at once and suffered because she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do, which was write. Oh, Sylvia, so much to learn from your tortured life, so many truths reflected in those dark poems and emotional journal entries.

tumblr_ly9xyz4yna1qz4d4bBeth’s guest post HERE about leaving her online life in favor of the joys of real life hit me in the solar plexus. Like her, I can sit motionless in front of my computer screen for hours reading posts, engaging in spirited online discussions, posting and writing blog entries, sending emails,making new friends.

And yet.

There’s something empty about a lot of it, devoid of energy. Oh, online life has a pulse, don’t get me wrong. But something’s missing. Maybe it’s a soul, that incorporeal, immortal part of a person that, if we’re lucky, we encounter when we know someone well. Online, anyone can be anything and if I don’t know the person in real life, sometimes I’m unsure if what I’m getting is really them or the managed image they want to portray to the world.

Not too long ago I met someone in person I’d known a while on line. Her online persona was warm and friendly; she seemed like someone I’d want to spend time with.  I couldn’t wait to visit her business.  But. In person, she was distracted, cool and as far from warm as she could get. Perhaps she was more comfortable engaging with people online. But she was also not someone I would easily warm up to in real life. Nor would I want to patronize her business, based on what I observed of her.

It’s easy to build an online personality to order. To manage how people view you. We think we know our online friends. But sometimes we don’t know them any more than we know an actor on the big screen.


It’s every nerd’s dream.

And yet, when I get together in person with my friends, nerds or not,  my feet grip solid ground.  I know who they are. Our souls have touched.

Online and off, my life in semi-retirement has become frantic, too frantic. It feels like a closet I keep stuffing with more and more things so that I can’t find anything or even open the door without some of it raining down on my head.

Retirement always sounded so appealing–all the time in the world to do all the writing I yearned to do my whole life, and yet, I’m doing everything but that. It’s as if I feel my time is going to run out and I need to cram in every experience I’ve ever wanted to have right now right this minute.

Back in the day, pages in drawers yellowed with disuse. If there’s an electronic equivalent, my hard drive’s full of those yellowed pages: essays, chapters, reminisces, thoughts and even poetry.

What a waste.

Something’s got to give. Real priorities must be set. Honesty must be exercised: self-honesty.

And some things must be jettisoned.


Beth’s recent guest post has inspired me to significantly reduce my time online and with social media. The fact is, I’d much rather drive to San Francisco to see a play with a friend or have a fun lunch date than sit on Facebook for a day.

That is in fact, my first step: Reduce in my online presence. Devote significantly fewer hours to the wireless connection and use that time to write and spend more quality time with my husband.

I’ve already begun.

My second? Less mindless TV time.  I’m not exactly laying around eating bon-bons in front of the TV, but I might just as well be. M. and I need to spend that time doing something fun. Or I need to spend more hours with the friends I am so crazy about.

Other changes are circling my life, too.

Which brings me back to the beautiful and talented Sylvia Plath. If today’s meds had been around in her time, she’d still be alive, I think. But without the madness that fueled her work, would she have been able to write so well? And could she have lived without  a way to extinguish that burning need?  She was relentless in her use of her gift, her pursuit of her poetry.

Me? I’m not mad, not on meds, not even a tiny dose. I have no excuse.

And still,  I’m lazy in my use of my gift and in my pursuit of my writing.

Change is coming.

Thank you, Sylvia.

And thank you, Beth.


10 comments on “How we spend the {still limited} hours of our long life is up to us
  1. And, thank you Carol. I’ve been thinking about my over-reliance on the internet as a ‘false’ friend–getting that sense that someone is there for me. It’s part about being single and part, all the things you talk about. It is alluring but it’s also not helping my writing career as strange as that sounds.
    Thank you very, very much for writing this.

  2. I had a real eye-opening experience five years ago, soon after I started writing online. I had a bike accident with a traumatic head injury, fractured ribs,etc. It was then I realized full-force how useless online friends can be when we need some authentic, honest, day-to-day, face-to-face assistance.
    It will be interesting in the long-run when so many of us need this kind of help, but we have only online friends to turn to… My depressing thought for the day!

  3. DarleneMAM says:

    Carol, I am off to read Beth’s post, but I wanted to leave you a comment before I go. I have been pulling back/rethinking my online time and efforts, both on writing for my blog and Twitter/Facebook/etc. I put in many hours but, like Walker (above), don’t think it’s done much to advance my writing. It’s sad, but true. And I want to do more fun things with good people. In real life. Some of us will benefit from a re-think. Thanks for the thoughtful write-up.

  4. admin says:

    It really is a dilemma. I’ve been sitting here too long already today! Thanks for your comments and glad to see I am not the only one rethinking.

  5. Beth (Word Nerd) says:

    “It’s as if I feel my time is going to run out and I need to cram in every experience I’ve ever wanted to have right now right this minute.”

    Wow, you and I really are walking parallel paths.

    I just went back and found a post from my now dormant blog. It’s dated 6/26/2011 and titled, Hushing the Hungry Heart. It began like this:

    “For several months now, I’ve been plagued by an odd sense of urgency. I don’t know if this is my version of a mid-life crisis, but I can tell you that it’s quite disconcerting. Five years ago, I chalked up my hormonal insanity to a mid-life crisis, but I don’t think I can blame everything on my age, can I?

    I don’t know. I just know that I’m restless and feeling as though I can’t cram all of the stuff that I want to do—that I need to do—into my days, let alone the more disturbing sense that if I don’t get on with the business of making these things happen, I might run out of time for them altogether. I’ve left so much undone, and I fear that with time speeding up in the way that it does, post-forty, I could blink and be an old lady, tortured by the burning pain of unfulfilled potential and abandoned dreams.

    Well, that was cheerful, ‘eh?”

    It took me almost a year after that post to truly begin paring down the things my over-committed self had been juggling, many of which brought me little joy. Follow your heart, Carol, and heed the Voice Within. You already know exactly what will make you happy and if you ever have doubts, just sit quietly for a few minutes and I swear, your answer will be right there.

    Thank you for this post and for truly seeing my heart, though I think the REALLY cool, thing is that my heart and yours seem to be so well aligned. That’s all sorts of fabulous!

  6. Beth (Word Nerd) says:

    I’m not sure why the second paragraph of what I pasted from my blog post didn’t come out bolded, but the section begins with “For several months…” and ends with, “…cheerful, eh?”

  7. admin says:

    I know, it’s cool how aligned we are. I told my husband the other day that I was setting limits on something that I’ve been spending too much time on already. I don’t want to preview it here because it might be seen before I’m ready, but I said “if i start making noises about doing more of it, stop me because really, my priorities are way different.” If you like Plath you might be inspired by this “definitive” bio of her I just finished last week: Bitter Fame. Not to mention her journals. OMG. Oh, and it’s bold when I saw it above.

  8. Susan Cooper says:

    Sometimes our journals reflect something that we can never understand. With your’s you say you are “whining” but in fact you may be reliving struggles you faced in the day. Later on when you read them, you may notice how small those struggles really are.

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