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In our culture, “busy” is a badge of honor. As Brene Brown said in her book Daring Greatly, “We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up to us.” Wow. Just wow.
As memory keepers, many of us have a complicated relationship with time. We take photos and record our memories in an effort to freeze time—to slow it down so we can savor it and remember it. We are consciously trying to not only see but also capture the “truth of our lives.”
Simultaneously, we have to manage our time carefully if we want to fit these creative passions into the busyness of our schedules, which are filled with working, parenting, cooking, cleaning, volunteering, exercising, and the list goes on. It’s easy to get so over scheduled that we fall prey to that “crazy busy” cycle that Brene Brown warns against.
Think about it: if you find yourself with a free hour or a free afternoon, do you immediately look for something to fill it with? I know I do. But what if we didn’t do that? What if we just savored that space? What if we intentionally created empty space in our schedules to make room for possibility?
That’s what I want to focus on this month. Now that the rigidity of the school year is on pause, I want to Excavate space in my life this summer. I want to embrace the freedom of the unknown. I want to let some things go—to scale back and make room so what’s most important can rise to the top.
I’m choosing the word “excavate” deliberately, and not just because it starts with “ex.” Excavation means to dig deep, to remove layer after layer of accumulated sediment, to see what’s beneath the surface, or open up space for something new. Archeologists don’t sit idly by and hope for the earth to cave in and reveal buried artifacts beneath. Land developers don’t wait for natural forces to shape the topography. They must physically move the earth to either uncover the treasures that are already there or make space for something new.
Where I live there are several home lots that will require significant excavation before anyone can build on them. If you look at them as they are today, you’d think, “How could anyone put a house there?” But when you properly clear it out and make the important digs, new possibilities arise. It’s now ready for someone to build a dream on.
Take a look at your schedule. How and where can you make room? What can you let go of? Can you open up space and just let it be—resisting the urge to fill it in with something new? Believe me, I know this sounds scary, but it can be unbelievably rewarding.
Until about 4 months ago, I would go into the office every day. My days would quickly fill up with meetings, conversations, and problems to solve. I struggled to find time for pure creativity, which is an important aspect of my job. So this spring, we started setting aside Tuesdays and Thursdays to be my creative days. I leave them open, unscheduled. These are days to take photos, ponder and think, even schedule hair appointments (which can also be a great time to let ideas and thoughts percolate). Once I knew I could plan on having that time, I felt more connected to my creativity, more willing to explore and experiment,
because that’s what the time was for.
Not everyone will be able to open up two days a week to make “space for the unknown future to fill up my life with yet-to-come surprises,” as the writer Elizabeth Gilbert has said. I get that. But can you open up an hour or two? One afternoon a week? One weekend a month? You’ll never know unless you try, and I’m right here trying along with you.
Here’s how I plan to apply my Excavate intention to the four pillars of memory keeping for 2018ex:
Experiences— Excavation is all about opening myself up to new possibilities. This month, I’ll record in my planner the experiences I was able to have because I consciously opened up some room in my life.
Exceptional moments— Clearing space in my schedule tends to also clear space in my mind. I need that freedom from constant mental stimulation so I can reflect, think, and recognize what’s exceptional about my life, because the exceptional moments are usually disguised as the most ordinary. I’ll photograph them and include them in my planning.
Expressions— One of my favorite ways to express myself is through my handwriting. I’m going to use my Fresh Start Gel Pens to Excavate (or block out) time in my planner and leave it open to possibility. Then I’ll come back and record what happened in that space.
Expectations— The scary thing about my Tuesday-Thursday “creative days” is that there’s no guarantee I’m going to feel successful and productive at the end of those days. This month, I’m going to work extra hard on forgiving myself when I spend an entire day on a project and feel like my expectations haven’t been met. I will remind myself that it wasn’t a wasted day, because I often learn the most from projects that go “wrong.”
What’s on your Exchange list this month?
Here are five photos to take to decorate your planner or calendar this month.
1. Take a photo that captures the essence of “summer” from your childhood—the freedom, fun, and possibility you looked forward to in June.
2. Arise early and capture a beautiful sunrise this month. The early morning hours are a great time to have space to yourself that no one will try to schedule or intrude upon.
3. Use some of your Excavated time this month go on a leisurely walk around your neighborhood or town. Just be present in the moment and photograph anything new you discover.
4. Photograph skies, skylines, scenery, and wide open spaces this month—anything that helps you take a step back and see openness, light, and possibility.
5. If you excavate a physical space this month—such as cleaning out a closet or a drawer—photograph the before and after.
—Elizabeth Gilbert, author
“Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig.”
—Marcus Aurelius, ancient Roman emperor
“Live each day like a child digging through an antique treasure chest rifling for the next discovery.”
—Margaret Feinberg, Christian author
“Make space in your life, space for health and happiness.”
—Kris Carr, cancer warrior
“I’m trying to…open up that spiritual space where we can all be fully ourselves.”
—Steven Stucky, American composer