Annie Dillard, in her beautiful book The Writing Life, says, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.”
Depending on when you catch me, this statement, which I anxiously and existentially believe to be true, can offer either great comfort, profound horror, or something more ambiguous in the middle. It's that middle reaction where I most often find myself. I tend to become more aware and critical of how I spend my time when I return home from vacations. In those carefree weeks I'm swimming in rivers, hang gliding, cooking, gardening, walking and sitting on the porch drinking wine. I'm not distracted or stressed out. I often read for extended periods of time and have long conversations where no one checks their phone. There's no cellphone service and only dial-up Internet because I'm out in the woods (you're only looking up the most vital information in that context, I assure you). Then I return home to jobs, ubiquitous cellphones, urban angst, Instagram and expensive restaurants. I start to wonder what exactly it is I'm doing with this hour and that, and if it's really how I want to spend my life.
The cold, hard data of our hours might surprise or disturb us if we think about it too closely; the quantitative illuminating the qualitative. I recently found an app called Bean. You create different pleasingly colored boxes which you label however you want and with each tap on the box the number counts up. In this way you track what is (or isn’t) important to you. It's very reminiscent of Ze Frank's jellybeans above (though it doesn't make me tear up like his video). My counter includes boxes labeled Writing, Analogue & Creation, Yoga, Days with No Social Media, Gratitude, Walk and Love (as represented by emoji hearts). Some of these are conceptual and others, obviously, aren’t. Occasionally I will look at the lagging Analogue & Creation count and hurriedly tape pictures of volcanoes in my journal, sketch spirals around them and write something secret in my own handwriting. I can't argue with my data; these things, however big or small have comprised this amount of my time. I've gone to yoga 52 times. I've taken 36 walks. I've spent 38 of my days blissfully social media free. What does it all mean? And what else should I be doing? What moments make me stop and think they are best represented by emoji hearts?