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  • Writer's pictureMaureen Kenney, Art Nomad

Free Time on Your Hands? Find New Pursuits in Things You Already Love

A student emailed me looking for suggestions on how to spend some “free time”. After a little thought, I recalled a technique I created years ago called SMERGE. It was invented as a workshop activity to explore the exact opposite problem: how to find time on busy schedules to pursue personal interests that bring us energy.

To try out my workshop concepts, I invited a small group of highly successful, extremely busy colleagues to my home for two hours focused on self-improvement. The fact that our little group came together at all was miraculous, but I enticed them with the promise of food and fun, and all invitees accepted my carefully worded invitation:

Are you the busiest person you know? Do you find yourself pulled in multiple directions by others? Can you imagine reclaiming a small piece of time for you? What would you do with an hour just for yourself? How will you feel when you make this investment in you?

Smerge is not a real word, by the way. I made it up as the combination of SMOOSH and MERGE, and I define it as the purposeful juxtaposition of unlike items. As I was designing this one day workshop on “Bringing Our Best Selves Forward”, this activity came to me as a way to help busy people first identify their interests, and then to combine them in a way that results in an efficiency of time spent on TWO interests at one time.

Does this defy logic? Of course. Yet how many of life’s truths defy logic? If I’m too busy to pursue ONE interest, where will I find time to pursue TWO at once? My hypothesis was that two combined interest areas would produce enough personal energy to overcome the typical inertia keeping us from finding time for ourselves.

Here’s how it worked ... the question was posed: “What would you do, what interest would you pursue, what activity might you participate in with a little free time?”. Each participant wrote twelve deeply held desires on their lined paper, each one actionable except for the time to do them. My own personal list consisted of a quirky broad brush of items:

1. Carve something - take wood carving class at Shelter Institute

2. Learn to play Native American flute

3. Choose a local charity at which to volunteer

4. Redesign my bead studio so that beads and supplies are more visible

5. Create one gallery-worthy beaded object

6. Choose a sport to follow loyally - could be an individual or team

7. Explore my family genealogy

8. Choose one figure in American history to study in depth - Ray Stannard Baker

9. Continue exploring WWII

10. Find a way to honor the military

11. Create a plan to visit as many national parks as possible

12. Knit something

In pairs, each person randomly picked two numbers between 1 and 12, and their partner talked aloud about how the corresponding interest areas could be combined. I had to explore the potential relationship between my two items: “#10) Finding a way to honor the military” and “#11) Create a plan to visit as many national parks as possible”. Perhaps I could create a travel plan that included specific national parks to visit every summer, combined with military monuments that may be close by. The most obvious combination that came to mind for me was the USS Arizona, part of the National Park Service Pearl Harbor National Memorial, a place that both honors the military and is a national park.

Listening beyond my own conversation, my facilitator’s ears picked up energy from the discussions around me, as eager ideas flew around the dining room table as participants explored the random pairing of items from their lists. With renewed confidence, I called for Round two.

What is the potential relationship between my two new random items, “#5) Create one gallery-worthy beaded object” and “#9) Continue exploring WWII”. At that point in my life as a bead artist for almost twenty years, I had created and given away perhaps hundreds of beaded necklaces, lariats, bracelets, and earrings. This mash-up of two interest areas for me “smerged” into what I call the “Thankful Generations Project”, a beaded tapestry series that combines two interest areas in a way I never would have imagined without the smerge!

So as you find yourself with a little time on your hands, don’t necessarily look for something new to learn or do. Create your own list of 12 “if only I had the time” deeply held desires and smerge away! Who knows what new creative mash-up you’ll come up with!

Author's note: to learn more about the Thankful Generations Project, visit my website at

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