Red Quicksand

About a month ago my wife went out-of-town for a whole week, which left me to look after our three kids all by myself. I decided to chronicle this lonely trek across the Parenting Desert. You may have followed along with the Minus Charity Week saga. If not you can see all the posts here.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, but it’s always kind of fun when your spouse is out-of-town or is gone for the evening. It’s a free night to crank up Netflix and watch whatever you want without having to sell anything…

“Let’s watch this babe. But don’t think of it as a violent martial arts movie, think of it as a beautifully choreographed dance between the good guy and bad guys…that happens to end in countless deaths.”

…or being sold on something…

“I bet you’ll like it Ryan. It’s not entirely a chick flick. I heard that one of the extras in a scene is distantly related to Bruce Willis. So it’s basically Die Hard.”

No, when your spouse is gone there is no selling involved. You are finally able to fully embrace the helm and steer into the smooth waters of watching all the things you could never quite agree on.

That’s the dream.

So I had great expectations going into the Charity-less week. Sure the days full of child care would be demanding, but the appeal of plopping down at night and having unchallenged control of the remote was a glorious thought. Something that would surely help sustain me throughout each day.

Funny. That didn’t happen. At all.

Putting It Together

The day Charity left I thought it would be fun to keep a log of the day’s events and post it. I quickly learned that this was hard. Really hard. Taking notes of your day is like running a mental marathon. I had to be actively thinking about anything and everything that was happening, constantly weighing and making judgments on whether or not it was interesting or funny. And then pausing life so I could make a note of it.

“I know I just slammed the refrigerator door into the side of your head Roman, so sorry, just give me two shakes to write this down and then I’ll pick your crying-self up off the floor. Again, so sorry man. QUICK, DOES ANYONE KNOW IF THE WORD REFRIGERATOR HAS A ‘D’ IN IT?!?!”

The first night, after tucking my kids in bed, I came down to the TV room and fired up my computer. I then began transcribing and piecing together the day’s notes. Once I got it all laid out I put on my recently unpackaged writer’s hat and got to work.

I finally published the post, looked up and it was time for bed already. I had written away my entire Netflix time. “Shoot! That’s ok though. I’ve got plenty more nights to watch TV.”

After realizing how difficult it was to bring that post into existence, I laid in bed trying to decide if I should continue doing this everyday or not. It would be fun to log the experience, but was it worth the work and sacrifice of my media time? Probably not. Maybe I’d just do a mid-week post or something.

The next day the post had gotten some serious traction. Much more than expected. People were sharing it and saying they couldn’t wait for the next day’s post.

“Well, crap. Now what have I done?”

This made me reconsider posting daily.

Sorry TV, it’s not you it’s me

I saw two roads for that week. One had me saying goodnight to the kids and then plowing through multiple seasons of television. Just binging the snot out of Netflix. The other had me saying goodnight to the kids and then getting to work. Spending all my free time creating something.

I looked at what the results could be. One road would leave me at the end of the week with virtually nothing, aside from some newly acquired kung fu moves to try when no one is looking. I may have been able to say watching all those shows was “job research” or something—I make films—but that would have been a weak justification. “Job researching” was already part of our nightly routine. The other road would leave readers, hopefully, with some laughs and a perfectly laid out plan of what not to do. It would leave me with a pile of creativity built with my own two hands. It would leave me with more writing experience under my belt. It would leave me with a chronicled memory of a week alone with my children. It would leave me with the fulfilling sense of accomplishment that usually only comes with hard work.

Obviously I chose the latter road. And as predicted, I never had a chance to turn the TV on. Didn’t watch a single show. I poured all my free time during the entire week into making stuff. And it was worth it.

It usually is.

Third State

Now bear in mind, I am not saying that I’m giving up TV to be creative every night. HA! Not at all—though I am still doing the morning thing. It’s just that writing the Minus Charity Week series taught me there is more to creativity than the euphoric inspired state—writing an amazing song in five minutes—and the terrible uninspired state—beating your head against the wall for five hours.

There is a third one. The mildly inspired state.

Those times you get an idea for something that you kind of want to do, but also kind of not. It’s not a hot coal burning through your being, but you know it’s not a terrible idea either. It’s a “Hmmm, that’s probably worth my time” thing. Which is usually accompanied by a decision, even if we don’t pause long enough to realize it.

I can choose to make stuff, or I can choose to not.

To produce or consume.

To “do work son” or “work on doing the least amount possible…son”.

A lot of the time I don’t pause long enough to observe this choice. I’ll get an idea, shrug my shoulders, and pick up the remote like a conditioned lab animal.

I’m thinking that the mildly inspired state may be a larger chunk of the creativity pie than I realized—with moments of sheer inspiration being only a small sliver. And sometimes it presents itself in an obvious way. Like when your wife leaves you alone with your three children for a week. Should you keep track of every daily event and post about it? I for one debated back and forth, back and forth. It was as if I had two shoulder angels whispering in my ears, discussing the best use of my time. One was named Hard Work and the other was named Chillax—this one calls you “bro” a lot, I keep telling him to change his name, it’s not cool anymore.

With the Minus Charity Week series in my rear view mirror I’m quite glad I listened to the shoulder angel that I did. Again, it was not easy, but in the end I felt a million times better than I would have if I’d let the red quicksand of Netflix swallow up my hours on this planet for a whole week.

photo credit: Kung fu demonstration 5. via photopin (license)


  1. Eleanor said:

    Yes — mildly inspired. That pitfall is so subtle, and stops so much potential.
    I have been mildly inspired to write a song lately, so this was good for me to hear. Thanks. 🙂

    March 5
  2. Kathy said:

    Thanks for this. I needed it right now.

    March 5
  3. Josh Smith said:

    We’ve recently instituted Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays as special TV nights in our house. It doesn’t always stick, sometimes you just need to sit down and watch three episodes of Fixer Upper, and sometimes you know your co-workers will want to talk about Survivor on Thursday morning, but I also feel that the kids go to bed easier, and we don’t stay up until midnight and are exhausted the next day. Great read!

    March 5
    • Ryan Long said:

      This plan is brilliant! I like the idea of being proactive with your consumption. Instead of just letting it overtake you every night. It’s like a media budget for your time. Which sounds super grown up and responsible. But I guess we’re there now.

      March 5

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