Sometimes—generally during the summer—my schedule clears and I find myself endowed with the gift of large swaths of free time. Although I treasure these periods that allow me the type of liberty within which I can reconsider my basic artistic impulses and can begin to push my compositional aesthetic into new areas, I find that I rarely leave these intervals with as much new material as I had anticipated constructing in my mind’s eye beforehand. Instead, my most productive compositional phases tend to be those stretches that have me running from one task to the next seemingly nonstop.
I had a teacher who introduced me to Parkinson’s Law and helped me to fight against its tendencies by learning to create useful deadlines. Sure enough, I rarely produce much written work when no scheduled completion dates loom large. Instead, there are always larger issues to consider, questions that cannot be answered but engender artistic growth in the very asking. In addition, during those times I can catch up on the books and movies that I’ve been waiting to finally peruse, not to mention the articles, the serial dramas, and the indolent lying on the couch and snacking. Somehow, the empty stretches get filled without producing the sort of work that is ready for public airing.
This is not one of those vacant times. When I look at the planned activities for each day, I find myself wondering how it will be possible to complete even a fraction of my assumed duties. And yet somehow the tasks that need completion get completed, albeit not always in the most timely fashion. Emails get answered, exams created and graded, classes taught. And more. In the unstructured periods, I would find myself waiting for the perfect moment before putting pencil to paper, but during these busy phases an hour of uninterrupted time suddenly feels like a gift—a great window for composing. When I don’t have anything on my plate, I tend to hole up at home, but in these bouts I often utilize the few unscheduled moments to catch up with those people who I avoided during the less encumbered intervals. Ironically, the busier I am the more time I’m able to find to complete my own work and to enjoy the company of others.
I wish that I could carry over some of the openness of the eras of independence into my daily life, and I aspire to be more productive during those unimpeded spans. Yet instead, I continue to vacillate between the extremes of utter inertia and headlong rushing. It appears that my life functions as an exemplar of more than Parkinson’s Law, that it also represents Newton’s First Law: when I am in motion, I tend to stay in motion, and when I am at rest, I tend to stay at rest.