Two of the things I most want to define myself by (aside from my relationships and my attempts at being a decent person) are my instrument making and my writing. Yet somehow, more often than not, the treadmill of chores takes priority, as do the needs of others around me like my kids and my customers and even our silly dog. There are rehearsals to attend and meals to make and little things like filling the gas tank and collecting dishes from around the house that nibble away at my available time. Whole days, then weeks, then months, and even years slip by where I'm not doing the things I most want to do. Stepping back, that looks ridiculous.
I know how to fix this, I just have to do it.
When I talk to younger women in instrument making the main questions
they have for me are about how to keep doing it after having children. (I
remain fascinated by the fact that this is never an automatic question
about men. No one assumes once a man has children he won't be able
to continue doing his work. The expectations of women are different, both about us and by us.) And I tell them that the answer is simple, just not easy to do:
You must carve out time that is yours and be ruthless and unapologetic about protecting it.
I can only be productive in violin making when I am in my shop. When I make a point of getting into my shop every single day--even if it's just for ten minutes after a rehearsal and before I go to bed--then work gets done.
It's not too much, even with small children around, to insist on anywhere from ten minutes to an hour to do the work you want to do every day. When my husband was deployed the first time and I had a preschooler, a toddler, and a newborn to care for all alone, one of the few things that kept me sane was finding time to build a couple of instruments. (One was a violin on commission, and the other was a viola for myself that I still play.) Usually it was after the girls were in bed and I could put the baby in a swing in my shop to keep an eye on him as I worked. It often meant sacrificing some sleep or putting off the dishes or laundry an extra day, but while I was doing the work I cared about I was completely myself. Not someone's mom or wife or employee--just me doing what I wanted to do, and I loved it.
Somehow we imagine as our children get older and become more capable that there will be more time for ourselves, but this doesn't pan out. Yes, it is miraculous when you can start leaving your children alone in the house, and I don't miss being responsible for things like dressing everyone all the time. But things like diaper changes get swapped for constantly transporting people to activities, and the sheer exhaustion of trying to keep on top of all the assignments other people have given your kids I'd put up against simply chasing a toddler around the block any day.
So as much as I assumed making time for what I want to do would be easier now than in the past, it isn't. And somehow writing and building become the things most readily sacrificed when time gets short.
But when I think back to the days of my first baby, and how I started down that mental path of believing things will "get easier when," I remember coming to the realization then that that time would never come. It would never be easier, and if I waited for that time to happen I would never build a violin again. So I made the time.
This goes in waves for me over the years. Something will happen that will take over my life for a while and I genuinely can't make the time for what I want to be doing, and then when time opens up again there are a million things vying to fill the void. I have to stop and remind myself that I am entitled to have set times that are mine for what I want to do, and then defend it--mostly from myself and the guilt that comes of not simply serving others every minute.
I have a self-imposed deadline for completing a couple of violins (one of which is for my oldest daughter) and I am determined to meet it. This has meant staying up every night until about 2 a.m. and sleeping in instead of swimming for a while, but I'm so much happier when I can see myself making progress. Once these violins are built I will go back to a more reasonable schedule of only guaranteeing myself an hour or so of shop time each day, but right now I need to make this a priority in order to not feel like I am letting my building days endlessly slip through my fingers. Life is short. I don't want to reach the end of mine and regret not having finished the things I wanted to get done.
Next year that will mean more focus on writing. I'm tired of my novels sitting in limbo, and I will reserve time to get them done the same way I am doing for my instruments. My house is a wreck and the pile of unread books by my bed continues to grow and the list of other things I'm not going to get to is long, but I am determined to not neglect the things that make me, me. I'm very lucky to have that privilege. I just need to keep doing the work.