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Not Obliged

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It’s been about a month and a half since we moved from Portland to Astoria. It’s been almost two months since Dave quit his job, and it’s been about four months since I quit my job. I think this is the longest I’ve ever gone without a paycheck in my working life.

It takes me at least a few weeks to sort myself out after major upheavals or significant life changes. I don’t immediately know what to do with myself when a familiar routine or mandated structure (like going to work), disappears. I think most normal people would relish the free time, enjoy the lack of an alarm clock, skip off to easy happy hours, and probably relax.

Relax? Qu’est-ce que c’est? I’m partially normal, so I do enjoy all those things. But I’m not so great at creating structure for myself. I’m not so great at relaxing without knowing what I need to do after relaxing. Don’t I sound fun to hang out with?

Now with this string of major transitions, downsizing, quitting jobs, moving away from our hometown, I’m beginning to understand that I’m going to be a helpless, overwhelmed blob for a few weeks until I get used to the new situation and figure out what I need to do. I have mental lists, written lists and goddamned spreadsheets with all the tasks I want to accomplish. But for those first few weeks, I’m just going to zone out, refresh twitter, watch kitten videos and read the news until I hate the world. It’s not relaxing. But it’s part of the process.

So now we’re settled in our new little town, and I’m beginning to feel like our life is coming together. The suffocating overwhelm is coming to focus and I’m starting to feel productive again. We’ve both set up workstations in the giant front room of our apartment. We are calling it the “great room.” I’ve never lived in a house or apartment that had a “great room.” But this one room contains our dining table, our couch and coffee tables, and our two workstations. And it’s still big enough to run around and flap our arms. So I guess this is what you call a great room.

On Mondays, we loosely plan out our week, if we need groceries, what trips we might need to make in the car, and any errands we need to make in town. We usually walk to the post office once or twice a week. We walk to get coffee beans once a week. We might plan a walk or two just to get out of the house and to get a little exercise. It’s about a mile to get to town. It’s .8 miles to get to the brewery. We like to combine our exercise with our beer.

Plus the walk into town is sort of nice. I am enjoying the pace we have created. We have been intentional about our obligations. Basically, the fewer the better. It’s liberating, but I realize that I temporarily fall to pieces as I let go of my external obligations. When someone isn’t demanding my time or my money or my thoughts, I don’t always know what to do with myself. It has always been someone else creating the structure. Now we make it for ourselves. It’s a slow process. We worked hard to get to this point, but we consider ourselves very lucky to be in this situation.

It’s remarkable how quickly the void could be filled if we allowed it. Besides a few people being baffled at some of our choices, I have noticed some moralistic overtones to obligation. We are so accustomed to being in debt for something, or in service to someone, or working to fulfill someone’s intention. What useful thing could we be possibly be doing, if we aren’t working for someone else’s expectations? Does this sound familiar?

Sure, there’s lots of work to do in the world. Lots of people need help. But then there are others who just want your time because you feel obligated to give it, or they feel entitled to take it from you.

How would you give your time if it was completely yours to give as you wish? How would you choose to spend your time, if you truly got to choose for yourself?


  1. I think that some cannot fathom not working a 9-5 job or some variant. Just that very thought cannot fit inside their brains AND they have to be working for someone else, not for themselves. It just does not compute; therefore those who do want to do such a thing must be just plain nutjobs! I beg to differ. Just a different path.

    I am trying to structure my days to fit in figuring out what I want to do when I grow up, if ever. Some days it’s great, I want to jump right in and create and write and do and get-freaking-everything done. Others, not so much. I spent a lot of time in the beginning where I felt like I was flailing around trying to figure things out. Finding that middle ground is where I am at currently.

    You look to be doing a terrific job of managing your time.

  2. Thanks, Lorli. I can’t knock the 9 to 5. It was from whence I came, and whither I may go. But that would suck, and I hope not. I’d rather come up with wacky schemes than have to get a job or listen to someone telling me what to do.

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