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Accepting My Own Limitations Changed My Life

I used to have oodles of time just gushing from every pore of my reality. I spent time writing plays, running for hours, holing up in a lab trapping slivers of rodent tissue beneath thin shields of glass. I spent time on nail art, crafting elaborate papier-mâché busts, producing labor-intensive theme parties. Then I graduated from college and time abandoned me when I needed it most. Multiple jobs left me scheduling out my weeks to the tens of minutes. I needed “free” time to maintain friendships, a marriage, commutes, to clean my apartment and my body. Then I had the mother of all time sucks: a baby.

When the baby was fleshy and young, I had to take care of both of our livelihoods or else we’d literally die. I reverted to the lowest rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for the two of us: food, warmth, and when she’d allow it, rest. Breastfeeding on demand gives time a new meaning informed by wake/feed cycles and concern over personal milk production. Now that my daughter’s bones are a bit more ossified and she can open the fridge by herself, I am moving up through the ranks of need. What was once a state of constant worry has blossomed into daily frustration. I’m bumping ungracefully against the concept of time again, but for less essential reasons.

One day, after a familiar round of screaming my frustration into a pillow over an impossible to-do list (write first draft, learn to play bass, clean kitchen, change sheets, sew silver jumpsuit, shower), I realized I was becoming embittered at a pattern of my own making. I chose to balance a full-time job with a husband working part-time while in school. I chose to tag-team care with my partner so we didn’t have to spend much on daycare. I chose to grab dinner with friends. These are necessities informed by the way I’ve decided to participate in society. No one made me put these extracurriculars down on paper. I could either frame myself as trapped, or I could embrace these natural, impermanent periods of life as creative opportunities.

Hemingway’s six word story, Frida Kahlo’s first paintings, Chrissy Teigen’s Twitter account: Constraint as creative catalyst isn’t a new concept. I’ve always felt most comfortable when placing my projects in a vice, but until I left college, those limits were imposed upon me by myself or a professor. It wasn’t until months of banging my fists against the wall post-college, post-baby, post-[insert life altering event here], that I realized the due dates I’d so willingly embraced before — little time, few resources — were the same ones I was presently fighting.

Viewing my limits this way has encouraged a sense of focus. I’ve had to create an internal hierarchy comprised of creative pursuits I don’t compromise on, like writing, and hobbies I can enjoy when I have a more flexible schedule.

Acknowledging that pecking order has helped me reframe the way I think about my life. I’m losing interest in measuring my success by output, and I’m becoming increasingly better at optimizing my time. On an average day, this looks like mentally outlining stories while walking to work, pre-planning my solitary hours when doing dishes, or involving my daughter in activities I would’ve done alone before (volunteer work, exercise, cooking).

I still get frustrated that I don’t produce more, or that I can’t pursue all of the interests that call me, but that’s a neurosis I don’t have time to explore. I’ll add it to my list of future projects. Right after “sew silver jumpsuit.”

Collages by Louisiana Mei Gelpi; Creative Direction by Emily Zirimis.

Rachel Siemens

Rachel Siemens is a writer living in Portland, OR.

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