Operating on “Artist Time”

The other day, I had scheduled a mid-morning coffee with a friend. I did my exercises first and checked e-mail, leaving myself a full hour to get ready. But sometime during that designated time, my creative mind decided to take a walk. I wound up spending twice as long in the shower as I intended to as this brilliant idea unfurled. I held my foamy toothbrush between my teeth so I could jot down some of my thoughts. I stood in my closet staring in the direction of my clothes, but seeing only words marching before my eyes. By the time I finally glanced at the clock, I noted with panic that I had ten minutes to get where I was going.

If you operate on “Mommy Time,” people cut you some slack. They assume you’re late because of a lost shoe or an unexpected potty break. If you function on “CEO Time,” they might even respect you for running behind, assuming that a very important meeting must have run over. But if you operate on “Artist Time,” you get nothing but grief.

So in order to avoid the eye rolls, we tend not to mention our tardiness, in the hopes that you didn’t notice. If you push us, we might tell a little white lie about a last-minute phone call or bad traffic. It’s only to other artists that we admit the truth. “Sorry I’m late, but listen to this great idea I got!”

Creativity can’t be scheduled. Oh, how I wish it could, but, like a spoiled child, it has a tendency to do as it pleases. You call us “flighty” or “distracted” or “disorganized” because we sometimes burn dinner or overflow the bathtub or forget to close the garage door, but would you rather we let all those great ideas go by so we can stay on top of the smaller details of life? Because if you insist on that, you can say good-bye to those awesome new books you love to read or those catchy tunes you hum or those inspired paintings you hang on your wall.

Does that mean we are always late or unreliable? No. I’m almost never late to meetings with clients or to doctor’s appointments. I absolutely can function within the dictates of time when necessary, but I have definitely lost some great ideas in the process. So whenever possible, I follow my muse.

One time, I’d gone to collect the mail in the middle of the day, and on my way back, I got an idea. I dropped down in the Adirondack chair on my porch because I was afraid if I stepped back into the chaos of my house, I’d lose it. As I was deep in thought, a neighbor strolled by. “Working hard?” he said. “Yep,” I answered.

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