Tuesday, 18 December 2007


It's going on all over, this making jam business. It seems every second blog I read has jam musings on it. And while I was jamming our apricots I was thinking about jamming.

Because jamming is all abut using the things you've got now to get you through later when you don't have any. When the apricots are passed and it is cold outside I'll still be able to pop open a jar lid and smell and taste this summer. It is a far superior option to the all year round mentality that sees fruit shipped around the globe, ripened in aircraft holds and tasting like it. Not to mention all those food miles.

But since I was trying to do too much, I was up stirring jam when I should have been sleeping and that got me thinking about a couple of other things about jamming. Jamming in all the things I want to do. And jammin', as in getting going and making stuff happen.

There's lots of reasons why I'm a jammer. There's a certain energy level I have that I see in Amy too, a lust to do. An excitement about new projects and possibilities. An inability to switch off or focus on just one or two things. A desire to try things, learn things, to experience new things. A capacity to get lost in the task to such an extent that I continue long past when those who have more sense have stopped. Because I feel the need to produce to have worth.

I'm noticing as I get older that I am also accomplishing more in that frenzy and I've been trying to understand what has changed. Multitasking is what's usually touted as the time management revolution - and often seen as a highly gendered skill, heightened by childbearing and rearing.

But I don't think that's really what it is all about and I'll go against the flow in saying it is a rare thing for me to do two things at once. Not at exactly the same time anyway and that's what most people think multitasking is.

As I juggle the balls in my professional and personal portfolio (love that term), I see it less like multitasking and more like one bitchin' big game of tetrus. All these tasks and projects and obligations and inspirations rain down on you, and the faster you can see them, manipulate them, prioritise them and slot them in to the schedule, the more gaps you can fill and the more you get done. Recognising possibilities for overlap helps (knitting and watching TV for example), but only where you can afford the consequent diminished engagement (forget knitting complex stitch counting patterns whilst watching TV you actually care about for example).

So I like this metaphor, it is really working for me. But I realise that the key to this, and what has changed over time in my life, is shrinking my basic unit of time.

I used to think in terms of days. Today I will go to school. Period. All other activities are incidental. Or today I will cook a dinner party, or sew a dress. Some activities required more than one basic unit (sew a suit, go away on holidays) and perhaps, on occasion, I squeezed a couple of things in together. You know, lived dangerously.

Then life got busier and the units began shrinking. I went to work all day and went out at night, I started doing lunch in between. I had to juggle to get sessions at the gym or in the pool, find ways to keep up friendships, relationships, family and work when there were no longer any logical connections between them. Units became hours and the jamming, and scheduling, started for real.

Now, well now things have been reduced to units of a mere few minutes.

Number of units I have while Wil plays happily on the floor by himself - 2-3
Number of units I have while the tea brews - 1
Number of units I have while Amy is at Kinder and Wil is asleep - 8-14
Number of units I have when the kids have gone to bed before I should be in bed too - 18
Number of units I have for thinking before I fall asleep - 1-12

The little cubes in the tetrus game are much smaller and there's a lot more of them raining down. They come in odd shapes and I need to work hard to get them all in place without leaving gaps or hitting clashes of time over run. And of course the time allowances have uncontrolled variations built in because some days kids don't sleep, or do but not when you expect, or get sick or stay up late or give me insomnia or other people run late or work comes in peaks and troughs.

And I realise that one of the consequences of all this is that some tasks get done more often simply because I can fit them in easier.

Time to load and turn on the washing machine - 1 unit
Time to unload and hang out the washing - 5 units

The washing machine is often full of clean wet clothes.

Time to write a blog post - 6 units
Time to write a research paper - zillions of units

Not just because the tasks are smaller, but because they are easier to do in little bits and can be stretched to fill in unexpected gaps or curtailed when time drops off (knitting), are portable and accessible (crochet), or can be done whilst doing something else (watching crap TV without subtitles).

And I have to keep a to do list that's equally complex in structure and variety. Urgent tasks, quick projects, long term undertakings, things I can do on trams, by phone, when I am being quiet, when I have diminished concentration. Things I can do one handed while I hold a baby, things I'd like to do, things that must be done. Things that can be bought or outsourced if push comes to shove.

I remember reading a blog post by someone (was it you?) about getting stuck in a hospital for hours waiting for tests or something and reading about this awful day, I utterly understood her punchline - the biggest tragedy of it all was that she had been caught without her knitting.

Oh, all those wasted units!

There are a few things that rarely get a look in, like enough sleep or a quiet walk or rigorous exercise, unhurried observation of the world, mediation or reading for pleasure and I feel their absences keenly. There are things I don't even bother to contemplate anymore like sewing a new suit or clothes that require maintenance.

The system is far from perfect.

But I take some comfort that quite unnoticed this system I have has been slowly evolving. Somewhere in my unconscious mind I have been developing the neural muscle to keep it jammin'.

Oh, and in totally unrelated news I got an email from the boy knitting god in response to a comment I left on his blog. I feel like the heavens opened up and out of the clouds a little finger poked right at me. So his hat just shimmied up the priority list, even though I don't have any of the lusted after Malabrigo worsted. Zarina double strand will have to do.


jess said...

you are officially my favorite blogger. you, your family, your insane talent and now your ability to read my mind have cemented your position at the top of the list. your explanation of time in units is precise and flexible at the same time. thanks for writing this. my mama brain needed to read this.

Anonymous said...

between giggles and head nods and the lunch i am eating whilst reading blogs... i sooooo get you! and i often have clean wet clothes sitting in my washing machine!! kirsten @ assemblage (and i need to sort our my blogger/google account again but haven't found an available unit of time)

Kez said...

I LOVE that Tetris analogy!!!! Now I have to spend 1 unit pretending to give an order to my "waiter" son, and then another to throw the washing in the machine :)

Christie said...

my washing machine is ALWAYS full of clean wet clothes.... I usually discover this when I go to throw on a load of washing & am then FORCED to hang them out.

anyway, i have decided that if i am ever to do anything as extravagant as read a book or gofor a stroll ever again then i am simply going to have to give up sleep altogether- I can't think of any other way!!

love your blog

Di said...

Oh my:
You made JAM!! yay for you (and for your future slices of toast which will be so much happier being eaten under a layer of home made apricot jam)
You got an email from HIM!! I hope you frame it.
and yes yes yes, just like tetris, except that in life there are supposed to be the odd unfilled gap, here and there, to help you stay sane. Do try to leave a little gap in life every now and then, OK?

Di said...

Oh, and I forgot to say, me too with the washing machine problem...

Jodie said...

I was never any good at Tetris !!!

Excellent thought provoking post as always.

Way too many units wasted at a dreary concert tonight when i wanted to use them to finish Christmas making - Oh well.
May Tetris rain slowly over you and let you catch up.

Melanie said...

Yes, well. Like Jodie above me, I quite sucked at Tetris. My todo list is still going on the assumption that there is a month before Christmas, which is right... yes...?

Ali said...

You have it SO spot on with your Tetris analogy. And the shrinking time units, and the guilt/pressure if all the row isn't filled.

And I'm sure it's not just me who gets the occasional perverse stab of pleasure at seeing how much I have juggled and jiggled and squeezed in. Even through the haze of my over-exertion.

Great, great post.

Patti said...

Tetris is the perfect analogy.

I used to play tetris so much I would dream about it.

Now I wake up fretting about the wet washing (don't do anything about it though)

AnnieB said...

AYYYEEEEEEEE - just when did you get inside my head exactly? there are clean wet clothes in my machine right now and my units available for finishing off xmas gifts are diminishing as quickly as the kids school holidays are rusing towards me...no doubt I'll stay up too late again tonight and find myself doodling applique patterns for those final touches in secret in that Big Important Meeting at the office tomorrow...Thanks for that post - it made me feel someway normal!

greetingarts said...

Wow. That was really amazing, thanks for writing and sharing this fantastic analogy. I swear, someone could write a dissertation on it!

Now that I think about it, I used to spend hours a day playing Tetris, can you imagine? So many units that I could use right. now.

Suse said...

I wonder if the night you were up way too late stirring jam was the same night I was up way too late waiting for the Christmas cake to come out of the oven?

Alison 6.5st said...

and sometimes pacman invades the game too, sending out little explosions.

Speaking of washing in the machine....

Lucy Locket-Pocket said...

A truly brilliant assessment of life as a mum! Mine is a bit easier now all the children are at school (5,7,10) but right now I am losing that Tetris game big time!!!! Christmas is zooming towards me and the to-do-list just keeps growing! An excellent post - thank you! Lucy x

monica, quiltwhileyoureahead said...

oh my. how I recognise every word you say.

I think we're all with you! Thank you.

coffeechris said...

your words are THE BEST! I can so relate to everything. No wonder when I was younger the only video game I played was tetris...guess it was good training for this game of life. I love your whole blog..thanks for putting some perspective in these days before Christmas.
Merry Christmas

samantha said...

sooz what a wonderful anaology. I used to spend so many carefree hours playing tetris on my sisters nintendo - imagine how many units! Whereas now I am on the road to Adelaide with newly enabled wireless broadband laptop catching up on the 2000 or so posts in bloglines. Feeling very happy about my use of multi units at the moment. (Mr Whizzme is driving by the way, and Little Miss Whizzme is asleep). It is no wonder that some days the units all pile up so quick it feels like 'game over'. Thank you for once again making the chaos of life take on some meaning. (Will be making Mr Whizzme read this post later!) Wishing your family a safe and joyous Christmas.

P.s. Mr Whizzme wants to know why I'm not knitting while I'm reading - even my skills have limits!!

sooz said...

Wow - so many great comments. Funny but I really thought twice about posting this, as in who would be interested in my thoughts on time management. Just goes to show. I've been thinking a bit about the limitations of the analogy. Really, it needs to be 3D because time and tasks have density too, but well, I'll try not to get too caugth up here.

And just so you know, I have in fact never played Tetris (hence my total inability to spell it correctly through the whole post) and I've never even touched a play station.

Rebecca F. said...

I adore this post. Thank you so much for writing out what I couldn't have sorted through myself.

It gave me permission to be a little gentler with myself and realize that sometimes I only have time for a few-unit job!

All the best

Rebecca F.

Nancy said...

Very well said! As an old-school tetris player back in my single purpose days I would never have guessed it was a metaphor for a mother's life.

The blocks will fall a little slower and get a little easier to manipulate as your children get older, but they never stop coming. The wash still gets forgotten!

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