Question 169 of 365: What should we do in the hour before?

alarm clock, bought from IKEA
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In the middle of the sixth grade, I realized that I didn’t care much for doing my math homework. Instead of waking up early to figure out the “Advanced Applications” that were assigned to me (which was the name of the class I was taking), I would go to class empty handed. Well, almost empty handed.

I would get out my binder, which I was systematically removing all of the stitching from, and rummage through it each day looking for the homework that didn’t exist just so I had something to do while everyone else “checked their answers.” This ritual worked for quite some time until my teacher finally caught on and decided that my little one act play I performed each day wasn’t getting any better. She closed down that production permenently.

Half-way through the year I stoped trying entirely. I didn’t do the homework that was assigned and I didn’t try to prove to others that I had. It was a kind of truce that the teacher and I had established. She didn’t ask for my homework and I didn’t offer excuses. In some ways, it was my first introduction to the idea of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

It wasn’t that I wanted to fail, but I just wasn’t seeing the benefit and the path wasn’t laid out for me so that I could.

I have always gotten up early to work on things. After the day was done just wasn’t a suitible time for me to process more things that I had no interest in. So, whatever time I had in the hour before I took my shower, I would work. Early on it was math, but as I started to realize just how long it was taking me to do the math homework and just how little I was enjoying it, I stopped that practice altogether. In fact, I stopped bringing the book home. It was just easier to leave it in my locker, knowing full well that I had more than enough stuff to during my hour long ritual.

My hour before the day started was to become a life-long habit. Doing math homework did not. I have consistently gotten out of bed before anyone else did for at least 15 years now. I have consistently not worked on equations or other work without connection to my life during this time. I think that makes sense, but I don’t think that it is that easy.

The hour before the sunrise or the children waking up or the world starting to scream their needs at me is meant for “real applications” only. As “Advanced” as the applications that my math teacher had in her textbook, I didn’t find the relevant. I couldn’t see how they gave meaning to an isolating experience that is adolescence.

In order to measure my hour, I would keep my fathers old travel alarm clock underneath my pillow. I positioned it just right so that the ticking wouldn’t keep me up, but also so that the alarm was close enough to turn it off before it woke up anyone else. I timeboxed the hour way before I knew about timeboxing. I made official and sometimes very direct statements to myself about getting up and getting to work on the things that were most important and most relevant to doing the things I wanted to over the weekend (there were obviously some consequences for me not doing the work that didn’t spark my interest).

Even to this day, each time I wake up early, I believe that the world is wide open to me. I believe that I can accomplish almost anything in the hour that is mine. As the hour draws to a close, however, I start to panic. I get anxious about every impending deadline and just how I am going fit everything in the last 15 minutes. Most days in my current life, I hope for my children to sleep just a few minutes longer, which they never do.

And yet, the time is still there. It has traveled further and further into the am, but it is still the same feeling of total optimism after I awake and dread as the hour comes to a close. In this hour, I read blogs. In this time, I write. I do the easy emails and check off things that don’t require me to do a lot of research. The hour before is not for projects, it is for single acts. It is for getting ahead where I want to and leaving the places that mean nothing to me far behind. It is a time to brew coffee and wash dishes. It is a time to pick up some toys off of the ground and listen to long forgotten music on headphones.

Most of all, though, the hour before is about convincing myself that everything is just a little bit better than it looked the previous evening. It is the act of pushing all of the burdens to the side and simply biting off a little bit to chew. I don’t solve world hunger in this hour, but I do feed my appetite for believing in what I am and have become. It is about pushing the math book aside and reading the Dark Frigate becuase the book report is due today and I actually like reading books.

Generic productivity can take a back seat for an hour. In this hour, I am only productive for myself. I am only pressured by the constraint of time itself. Not a minor constraint, certainly, but one that has very consistent parameters and a language that I have been speaking for a very long time. One minute of this hour is sometimes better because I can bend it to my will instead of having others bend “other” time to do their bidding. This time is mine.

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