We’re at the brink of summer, and I fear in September we’ll lament, “It went so fast.” If only we could slow down time.
But how do we slow down time? Researchers have found these four things help: have new experiences, feel productive by setting goals and working to achieve them, be fully engaged in your activities, and keep a journal. I’ve successfully pulled off the first three, but although I’ve tried nightly journaling, I’ve never stuck with it. Until now.
Three weeks ago I started a form of journalling which Matthew Dick, an author and
Moth StorySLAM champion, calls “Homework for Life.” Check out his book Storyworthy, and his entertaining TED Talk and YouTube videos. He describes how he’s been able to slow down time by jotting a sentence or two each night about the story-worthy event of the day. He uses an Excel spreadsheet. I began this a few weeks ago and am simply writing in a large calendar. On May 17th, I wrote “Heidi turned 40 today. Laughter. Guilt. Baby. Winning hearts.”
Ten simple words. Yet instantly I’m back to seeing her as a seven-year-old. I’d curled her white-blonde hair, and she’d attracted the attention of the neighborhood sheep dog. He kept trying to herd her into his yard.
Heidi was great with one-liners. Her grandma had hearing aids and one day, when I scolded Heidi for not doing what I asked, she called back, “I must have had my hearing aids turned down.” When she wanted to join the basketball team in high school and we reminded her that the doctor had cautioned her not to because of joint problems, she came back with, “I’m not good in spelling. Should I quit that too?” With logic like that, we let her play.
I glance at the word “Guilt” in my entry. My husband and I harbor guilt feelings for mistakes we made with all our children, but we still shudder when we remember what we did to our youngest. When she was eight, she slid down our backyard slide and hit the ground at an odd angle. She complained about her lower leg. We assumed she’d sprained her ankle, but she kept limping. My husband brought her to the clinic. An X-ray didn’t show a broken bone. The doctor wrapped her lower leg and we fitted her with crutches. The pain continued. Both my husband and I were teaching and in a frantic we-need-to-get-to-work morning, we couldn’t find her crutches. I had the longer commute and abandoned my husband, hoping he’d figure it out.
He was angry at Heidi since he’d told her not to let the neighborhood kids play with her crutches, and she had. He was also thinking about his thirty students expecting to greet him in a few minutes. So he carried her to her classroom, planning to dash home during his first break and look some more. He’d forgotten about her need to go to special classes.
Her teacher called an hour later. “Do you realize Heidi is having to crawl to music class?” It was not one of our finest moments.
My husband took her to a specialist. The doctor read the X-ray and said, “Well, we’ll have to put on a cast. She has a broken tibia.”
In true Heidi fashion, when the doctor removed the cast weeks later, he found a surprise. Although she claimed she knew nothing about it, the doctor discovered a quarter tucked inside. She may have been slipping away money so once her leg healed she could run away from her neglectful parents.
I glance back at the entry and zero in on the word “Baby.” When she was twelve, she met me in the kitchen for a snack. “Mom, when you go to the store, would you pick up one of those home pregnancy kits?”
“What!” I had stopped breathing. Agonizing seconds ticked by until she finished chewing. “Yeah, for my rabbit. I think she’s pregnant.”
I sigh heavily. Then the words “winning hearts” catch my eye. During the final game of her senior year, her teammates, appreciating her support over the past four years, tossed her the ball in the final ten seconds. She had yet to make a basket during a game, despite always showing up for practice and working hard. She aimed and tossed the ball. Would this be her moment? Would this be the one?
In a hold-your-breath-and-pray moment, the ball hit the rim, swirled around the edge, and dropped. Not swishing in, but falling out. I groaned and closed my eyes. But only for a second because the bleacher fans had risen to their feet. Clapping and cheering, they shouted her name. They didn’t care that she’d missed; she had given it her all, supported her teammates for four years, and won their hearts.
I blink, returning to the present and my entry. Those ten words helped me relive moments. They gave me back time. I like this form of story-starter journaling.
I’m going to keep on doing my Homework for Life—maybe you’ll try it too. In September, after scanning my entries, I hope to say, “I had a jam-packed and super fun summer. I spent five minutes every night on my Homework for Life, and it was life-changing. I could slow down time. And man, do I have the stories to tell.”