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  • Writer's pictureEmily Echols

The Gift of Time

At roller derby practice on Sunday we did our monthly skills tests. During practice only people who are level four and higher get to practice hits. Level six and above are allowed to skate in a bout. It’s for your safety as a new skater but it’s also for the safety of the other skaters. You don’t want a skater who can’t stop or stay on their feet in your wall. When we pass the different levels we get colored stripes on our helmets so it's easy to recognize who can participate in which drills during practice.

I passed level one, which was exactly where I wanted to be, and received a blue stripe. I knew I couldn’t do T-stops, a level two skill. You turn one of your skates perpendicular to the other and drag it behind you to stop. I was tested on level two and three skills so I knew what to practice on. Then they tested people for higher levels and left me to practice T-stops.

I practiced T-stops for a solid hour. The outside of my quads and my glutes burned as I pulled my leg sideways and behind me. Stop. Sideways and behind me. Stop. For the first fifteen minutes I couldn’t get it perpendicular. Then I couldn’t get it behind me. Sideways and behind me. Stop. Finally someone else saw me do it and said, “Now that’s a T-stop!” Then I practiced on the other side.

For the last thirty minutes of practice when testing was over and most folks were gearing down and talking, I practiced crossovers, another level 2 skill I needed to work on. They even started putting the track away but I asked for them to leave me the inside. I skated around and around and around. Lean, cross, push off. Lean, cross, push off. I’d been trying to throw my right leg over my left without really thinking about what the point was. Now I was leaning into the curve, gaining speed. Lean, cross, push off. Faster and faster. I was also working on my derby stance and my endurance. Around and around. Lean, cross, push off.

I’d known there were lots of individual skills I needed to work on. I just didn’t know when I had time to do it. It felt like such a luxury to practice something for an hour, over and over again. I was able to accomplish so much in an hour. I just needed to give myself the hour, allow myself to spend my time that way.

I have a hard time giving myself time. I enjoy doing my Korean homework but if I didn’t have assignments that were due I probably wouldn’t study. The homework makes me think, “I have to do this.” That’s why I do National Novel Writing Month almost every year. I usually intentionally write a silly, fun story that doesn’t require a lot of thought or planning. I get out of a writing routine and NaNoWriMo helps me find it again. The deadline gives me permission to use my time this way. Then I just practice. I play with a different point of view or writing in a different tense. I experiment with a different world. If I didn’t have a deadline, it might feel like wasted time but the deadline makes playing, practicing, experimenting, feel like an accomplishment. For me, NaNoWriMo is less about the product and more about the gift of time.

After NaNoWriMo every year I sit down and work on the sixth rewrite of something I am so sick of reading with renewed excitement. NaNoWriMo reminds me I love writing, even rewriting for the millionth time. And all that practice? It comes out in fresh rewrites. The things I learned helped me take my writing to the next level.

After the last update on my phone it now gives me a screen time report every week. It is the most depressing thing ever. Some days I know my number was high because I use Pinterest for a lot of recipes and I keep the screen open to the recipe while I cook dinner. Other days, I know I was just scrolling through Facebook forever. I know those are my hours. Those are my T-stop hours, my Korean homework hours, my writing hours. Seeing the number on the screen reminds me not to waste my gift of time.

I think this number that my phone gives me every week is changing how I move through my house and through my day. I have such a hard time doing the things I want to do and not just the things I’m supposed to do. The screen time report shows me that I have extra time, I’m just not using it well. There is time to wash dishes and to write. There is time to fold laundry and to practice T-stops. I just have to allow myself to use it that way.

Once, I was trying to schedule a breakfast with a pastor and we were trying so hard to get our schedules to align. I was trying to smash this thing that was supposed to be fun into a busy, stressful day. The pastor said, “Do you need me to tell you we don’t have to do this this week?” I exhaled. That was an option? She put a hand on my shoulder and said, “We can do this another week. There’s no rule that says it has to be this week.”

I often need to be granted permission to rest, to stop, to take an hour to practice. I’m so focused on output. What did I accomplish today? What do I have to show for it? It’s hard to make practice and play fit into that mindset. It’s hard for me to watch TV unless I’m also folding laundry or shopping for Christmas gifts. Last night I watched two episodes of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina without doing anything else. Afterward I felt guilty for all the things I didn’t accomplish, things I didn’t check off my list. Watching a new, fun TV show with my husband felt like a waste of time.

So this November I’m giving myself the gift of time. I’m giving myself permission to play, to rest, and to practice. I’m taking that screen time and I’m repurposing it. I’m taking that mindless time and using it purposefully. I’m doing NaNoWriMo to remind myself that I need that time to write and that it is available. When the month is over, I’ll be ready to work on yet another memoir rewrite with renewed enthusiasm. I’m going to derby practice early on Thursdays to work on T-stops and crossovers. I’m working on Korean homework more than once a week, giving myself permission to practice, to look at flashcards and not just finish the homework.

I have the time. I’m just not using it the way I want to.

I am allowed to use it the way I want to.

There is enough.

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