Character and the Mythology of Free Time

Week 31 

February 15 – 22, 2015

I think it is safe to say that my life is busier now than it was in college.

It was not always this way.

When I started, at Case, it was easier to be under the radar, no one knew me or had any expectations for how I would try to contribute this community, but now I have found my many niches, responsibilities and expectations. But, as a diversity representative, I feel as though I have built up a reputation within and outside the medical school for caring about this stuff–so I am contacted/emailed/facebook messaged a lot about how to get involved. Support this. Support that. Attend this meeting. Speak to this board. Attend this pilot session. Plan this talk. Etc.


This is a word I have so much trouble saying. I have a tendency to over-commit, but I do not feel like a victim in any of this. I feel a bit honored.  Yes, I enjoy being busy. But, it means something for people to have a sense of who I am and have expectations of me. Moreover, I have realized that time is precious, life can be short, and why say, “no” when you can say, “yes?” [Okay, there are a lot of good reasons to say no]. But, my philosophy is: why float around and have no one know you instead of try to make a difference?

I definitely have a poster of Rosie in my room.
I definitely have a poster of Rosie in my room.

Let me give you a snapshot of a day in the life of Tolu.

6:30 AM – First alarm goes off. It’s one of the Sleep Cycle intelligent ones so it will ring again

7:00 AM – Last alarm goes off

7:00 – 7:30 AM – Brush teeth, wash face, get dressed and head out the door with Jen

7:45 AM – Get to school

8:00 AM – MSG on Cardiac Muscle Contractility. Intense PhD preceptor asks really open-ended questions with a specific answer in mind.

10:00 AM – Lecture on Resting and Action Potential. I know what this is–tune out. Ooo this is a bit more detailed. Pay attention again.

11:00 AM – Lecture on Autonomic Nervous System — attention span is fading

12:00 PM – Pediatrics Interest Group Meeting! I’m a new leader! Yay pediatrics!

1:00 PM – Book it over to the Office of Multicultural Affairs for Diversity 360 Meeting.

1:15 PM – In OMA. No one is there. Damn it. Look at email again. It’s in a Mandel building off Euclid. I don’t know this campus.

1:17 PM – Ask nice lady where the building is. She gives directions. Recite Isaiah 40:31!

1:18 PM – Walk about 15 minutes in freezing to get to building.

1:30 PM – Show up late for said meeting. There is food, hallelujah

2:00 PM – Leave. Get ride back to campus. Praise the Lord.

2:01 PM – Walk to Glennan Engineering Building to go to lab.

4:25 PM – Leave lab to go to Medical Spanish

4:30 PM – Show up late–again.

6:00 PM – Catch ride from Jen back home. Don’t even go upstairs

6:20 PM – Aaida picks me up for Creative Writing Class

6:20 – 7:00 PM – Do reading for class on the way while talking and listening to Aaida

7:00 PM – Awkwardly waiting in car outside Dean Montgomery’s house so we aren’t first people there

7:07 PM – Head in for Class. Lots of good discussion about Character and Mad Men

9:00 PM – Leave class. Blessed Aaida drops me off.

9:10 PM – Work on grant applications for American Society of Hematology

10:00 PM – SNOW DAY TOMORROW! Watch Outlander

11: 00 PM – Work again. Go to sleep

Until, 10:00 PM, I did not have one second to chill. I do this to myself, I know. Intermittently through out the day, I send a bunch of emails, plan meetings, and prepare for meeting with the Case Western Board of Trustees the following day. I also write up a research proposal for my PIs. I care about so many things so I have trouble saying no. How we spend our time says a lot about who we are and what we value. I wonder what my time spent says about me.

In my creative writing class, we talked about Character last week. In order to think about the complexity of character, we did a little exercise:

1. Nickname

2. Age

3. Appearance

4. Education

5. Occupation

6. Income

7. Relationship status

8.  Class

9. Dreams

10. Fears

12. Strengths

13. Talents

14. What they like

15. Family

16. Speaking style

17. Friends

18. Relationships

19. Location that defines her

20. Article of clothing she wears

21. Politics/beliefs

22. Pets 

Let's tell a story
Let’s tell a story

For practice, I used at pretty popular TV Character. Can you guess?

1. Name – ??

2. Age – Mid/late 30s

3. Appearance – Collected and Posh

4. Education – Law School

5. Occupation – Political consultant

6. Income – Well off

7. Relationship status – Single

8.  Class – Elite

9. Dreams – To marry the president, live in Vermont and make jam

10. Fears – TO ignore her gut; live without integrity

11. Flaws – Sleeping with a married president, attempted to kill her father, fixed an election

12. Strengths – Takes care of everyone

13. Talents – Excellent swimmer

14. What they like – Loves Stevie Wonder, red wine, and popcorn

15. Family – Father works for Smithsonian but secretly worked for a gov security agency. Mother is a terrorist

16. Speaking style – Rapid, repetitive, sharp and short

17. Friends – None

18. Romantic Relationships – its complicated with the president and a former government agent. Once dated a senator (who was normal)

19. Location that defines her – her office. Her white couch

20. Article of clothing she wears – White hat

21. Politics/beliefs – willing to support any candidate she believes in (even if they are incompetent and she has to tell them what to do)

22. Pets – no time for pets

And she is

Using this tool, writers can think of ways to develop a complex character. So I decided to try and turn this exercise on its head and think about myself.

1. Nickname – Tolu

2. Age – 22

3. Appearance – Taller than average, dark hair, eyes, skin, smile-y

4. Education – Medical school

5. Occupation – none at the moment

6. Income – in the negative

7. Relationship status – Single

8.  Class – yuppyish

9. Dreams – to be world renowned expert on non-malignant hematological disorders, marry an equally ambitious but laid back person, have 3 kids, drive a Land Rover, change the world (for the better)

10. Fears – To fail and for others to know. To lose people I love. To get so caught up in things and lose sight of what is truly important.

11. Flaws – Overcommits, can’t say no. Quicker to speak than to listen.

12. Strengths – Tries to take care of everyone. Vocal and open.

13. Talents – plays cello. Appreciates talent. Movie trivia

14. What they like – Star Wars, Rocky, Jane Austen, period dramas, historical fiction, Zumba, and carrot cake

15. Family – Doctors and business people. Nigerians.

16. Speaking style – Irregular.

17. Friends – kindred spirits too and fro.

18. Romantic Relationships – I’ve got nothing on Olivia Pope.

19. Location that defines her – home. wherever that is.

20. Article of clothing she wears – Brown leather boots.

21. Politics/beliefs – She sometimes feels that they are at odds and desperately tries to reconcille that.

22. Pets – no time for pets either. Allergic to cats.

There are 22 ways to define a person in the exercise. I honestly found it to be so much easier to do this for someone else than myself. Factoids say something about character but never enough outside the world of storytelling.

Time says so much more, and often I am afraid of what my time management says about me.

This is some great advice someone once told me:

Are you doing a bunch of stuff that says nothing about who you are? Drop that ish immediately if it is not doing good for others. Do you have beliefs and convictions hidden through your lack of action? Step it up.

I believe that there is no such thing as “free time.”

Time is many things but it is not free. There is a price for every moment, and our character is shaped precisely on how we spend it.

Next week, I’ll be talking about the problem of cultural sensitivity. Stay tuned.


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