I’m trying something new. It’s revolutionary. It’s terrifying. It’s exciting.
I’m actively not writing to do lists.
This is part of my little changes lately in the name of self-care. In order to understand how monumental a shift this is for me, you need to understand that my to do lists have reached the level of art form. For background, I have this post about my overly-organized exterior, I have this one about my goal-orientedness, I even have poetry about my to do lists.
My usual process is to do a mind-dump (Here’s what one of those looks like). These are messy, mind-mappy brainstorms of everything that I need to do, remember, think about. Everything I think I should do. Everything I want to take care of. Then, I start editing. I order and prioritize by deadline, by urgency, by level of importance.
This is very reasonable and logical.
It’s also possible that it’s not always necessary. Further, it’s likely that that mind-dump is not helping me at all.
Last week, I realized that the concept of the mind-dump list was creating anxiety inside me. I needed to write it to ensure I wasn’t forgetting anything. But I knew that once I’d written it, even if I had distilled it down to 2 or 3 pressing tasks, the rest of the list would exist. Reminding me of all the things I have not done.
I realized that though my to do list plan managed to be very effective, it was an anxiety management tool, not an anxiety elimination or reduction tool. I also noticed that it even sort of generates certain other forms of anxiety. So, I decided to forgo it.
It’s an experiment. I might come back around to a more balanced approach of writing a post-it note sized list of things I don’t want to forget. But for now, it’s a weird new adventure. I don’t think I’ve lived without an active to do list since High school. (I’m not exaggerating.)
Trusting Myself to Get Stuff Done
Part of this is an exercise in self-trust.
I draw these lists out of my mind, regularly. I say that the lists are so I can “park” the thoughts and let them go from my conscious without fear that I’ll forget something. I don’t think I really do that at all.
If I can draw forth a detailed schedule of everything happening between now and 30 days from now, I sure hope I’m capable of remembering to do the laundry or buy groceries for the week. (Note – I will still make grocery lists. That’s crazy talk.)
If I forget something, I will either be reminded by the need to have something done, or it will slide.
Facing Some Fears
When I first made this decision last week, I journalled through the resistance to the idea. It generated more fear than I expected, and not just stuff about day-to-day to-do’s.
My biggest fear was that I’m going to forget to take baby steps toward my long-term goals. That I’m somehow going to let slide my dreams and ambitions. I know that I’m the kind of person who ties too much self-worth to accomplishments and deeds. So, this to do list thing is bigger than just a way of going with the flow a little better.
It might also open up new ways to define myself or value myself.
We shall see. It might just make me crazy. It might make me more relaxed.
Four Days In:
So far, the weekend has been harder than weekdays, because we cram so much in it’s sometimes hard to keep it all straight. I itch to make lists, and I honestly try to work around the “no list” rule in strange ways. this isn’t a list, it’s a journal entry…
I also notice myself doing little quick and easy things right off the bat. If I think “I should email…” instead of scribbling a note to email when I get home, I just fire off the email. If I arrive at a neat blog topic idea, I open a blog draft and tap in a few words and maybe a link to save the concept for later. I’m not sure whether this is better or worse than the listing. One one hand, it’s a single step – rather than the two of writing it down and then later doing it. It also gets the doing done a lot more efficiently. On the other hand, it feels like it might start to become a time management question. If I’m firing off a lot of random tasks instead of hunkering down and focusing on something larger, I can see it being an issue.
Again, we shall see.
No time limit on this experiment. Just going to discard what no longer serves me and fiddle with the idea til I find something that actually works.
For Mother’s Day, I dug into bad and good stepmother portrayals. In honor of Father’s day tomorrow, I’m going to talk about another fictional parenting trend: bad parents, or missing parents, or neglectful parents.
Many people ask with a certain amount of umbrage why every major book these days has lousy parenting. The easy answer is because there has to be.
Most of these books have tween or teen protagonists who go haring off on adventures. If these tweens or teens had decent parents, then they would be grounded. Or protected. Or had a parent helping them. Or they wouldn’t have the chutzpah to go off on the adventures in the first place.
The YA adventure books that we grew up with had loving, if distracted, parents. I’m thinking about L’Engle’s series and the Murrys. Often the children enlist the parent’s help, or even have to go rescue their parents in her adventures. In Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, the protagonist, Will Stanton is one of many, many children. This makes it easier for him to hide his adventures from his understandably distracted parents. However, even the Narnia books left children without their parents to set them off on their adventures, so this is not a new trope.
Thinking about The Hunger Games, Katniss’ father taught her how to live in the woods, and scavenge food for her family, but his absence is what made her into who she is. If he hadn’t passed away, she wouldn’t have survived the games. In Harry Potter, there are parental figures (the Weasleys and Sirius, Dumbledore, and even Snape, arguably), but Harry’s whole story hinges on the fact that his parents died to protect him. The Weasleys give us a good idea of what Harry’s parent’s might have been like, in terms of willingness to help, desire to protect, and ability to guide decisions.
I was pretty horrible to my protagonist’s parents in Salvaged. I did that on purpose to add to the darkness and horror of the world. To make Careen feel even more alone, and to shake her trust in the rest of the world. If she had had healthy happy family relationships, she would have been well-adjusted. Where’s the story in that?
There is a saying that the teacher will arrive when the student is ready. I think this is akin to saying that people come into our lives at specific times to teach us certain things. There’s a little bit of fate, maybe some luck, definitely synchronicity involved in both the belief and the event – should it happen.
I am thinking about this because I’m considering trying to teach some of my work skills, and I’m trying to figure out how to make that a feasible career step. I’m also thinking about it because of the latest Julia Cameron book I’m working my way through. I’ve had some amazing teachers in my life. Some of them have only reached me via their own books, like Cameron or Natalie Goldberg. Some, I’ve had a little bit more contact with, like Scott Russell Sanders or Jamie Catto, but mostly learned from their books. Some of them I’ve met in real life, and of course I cherish those connections. Those include people like Jeff Davis.
I think sometimes it’s a good practice to look at our teachers, and to thank them. It’s also sometimes a good idea to clear space for new ones to come into our lives.
Who are your teachers? In writing? Professionally? In life?
When we were in Santorini, our last few days there were made dramatic by what the Greeks call Meltemi winds. One of our friends there told us that it was considered to be a bad omen. Another said it was a blessing. The winds were very strong – so strong we saw ships leave the port, and move to smoother waters. We watched four men struggle with the sunshades at a restaurant. Temperatures dropped, and we had to seek cover.
Before the trip, I’d been vaguely aware of the fact that some cultures had named the wind. We’ve all heard of the zephyr (called Zephyros) the Ancient Greek’s name for the West wind. In one of my trunked books (that will never, ever see the light of day) I have a female character named Zephyr. I might reuse it.
When I’d named one of my characters in Salvaged Mistral, I looked up the word to make sure it wasn’t referring to something that wasn’t in keeping with his character. The Mistral wind is famous in the south of France, the word is a derivative from Maestral a Latin-based derivation to describe a masterful wind. This wind is part of what makes the weather, architecture, and landscape what it is in southern France.
After having experienced the winds that can sweep across the Mediterranean Sea, I did a little more research into the idea of winds with names. I discovered many, many more. It makes sense. People who lived along the Mediterranean relied on it for their livelihoods. They sailed. The wind was a success factor, a hindrance, a navigational tool. Of course they would have names for their winds.
Then I discovered that it wasn’t just the Mediterranean. Check out this list of winds from all over the world.
Are these fantastic character names, or what?
Somehow, this week’s blog posts have turned into an informal sort of series. This post is another one I’d drafted a while ago, and again, it fits nicely with the posts previous.
In yesterday’s post, I mentioned keeping an eye on the spedometer of my internal dashboard. I seem to run in fifth gear most of the time, and it sometimes seems alien to me to downshift to a more sedate pace. I work two jobs, I’m constantly self-improving, and I’ve always got some huge project underway.
Since April 2011, the projects have included a series of Salvaged rewrites and all of the planning and preparation leading up to the wedding. After November 2012, the wedding efforts shifted into Thank You notes, and then right into the anticipation of the Honeymoon. Now that we’re back from the honeymoon, the next trip is a quick jaunt to Ohio in early July for my twentieth year high school reunion and catching up with friends and loved ones where I grew up.
Even though I’ve got ongoing projects, I’m not really biting off anything huge in terms of my work.
I think, after the Ohio trip, since I’ll have burned through almost all of my 2013 vacation, I’m going to stop planning big things. The next big thing after Ohio will be… Christmas. No major home projects, no planning for another trip, no massive hurdles that we have to clear.
Not hitting the brakes, but easing off on the gas pedal and letting the spedometer needle ease back closer to the speed limit.
I’m exhausted. It’s showing in my writing, and it’s showing at work. I’m tired all of the time. This is a form of radical self-love. There is no next big thing.
(I wonder how long I can keep it that way?)
I am amused. I wrote the sketchy notes for this post a week and a half ago, and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. I think it dovetails nicely after the post that I put up yesterday about the Vein of Gold and my struggle with Artist Dates.
When we were on the plane back from Greece, I started thinking about my goals, and the things that I would like to accomplish in a given day. I thought about the “perfect” challenge. I made a huge honking checklist of the things that I think I should do on a daily and weekly basis.
Many of them – getting enough sleep at night, for example – are just good self-care. They might feed into larger goals (such as walking every day might lend itself toward my weight loss goals), but taken one at a time, each line item is reasonable, self-caring and logical. Taken en masse, however, that’s a 12-15 line item checklist that I’ve set myself up to try for every single day.
I knew from the perfect challenge that this was not possible. I learned that I would get disappointed and frustrated if I didn’t give myself wiggle room and room to have a lousy day. I was poring over this list, and trying to figure out a way to make it somehow sane, when Brett and I struck up a conversation.
“Beating yourself up to make you take care of yourself doesn’t sound very effective.”
I looked at the list. Every single thing on it was about taking care of myself.
Upon further examination, the need behind the list was one of self-care, one of prioritising my needs over the wants of people around me. It turns out that my list – while the wrong approach – was on to something.
As I mentioned yesterday, I have a really damned hard time taking time to do something I just want to do for fun. I have a hard time making time for myself, or budgeting for things that I just want instead of something I really badly need. I self-care in spurts, going through a week long jag of hair appointments and shopping for work clothes, and then I stop again.
What I need to build is a regular practice of being nice to myself, of caring for my body as if it were important to me, and of paying attention to the things that I need to be a happy, whole, healthy person. Instead of the checklist, I’m trying to pay attention to my inner dashboard. Need to keep the gas tank full and the service engine lights off. Might be a good idea to check the spedometer from time to time….
Turn off the radio, will you? I’m trying to listen to myself.
I like to make it official when I embark on new things. I post my New Year’s Resolutions, and I check in on them throughout the year. Writing out the intention makes it easier to stick to, more real, more important.
So, just like I did with Walking in the World and Finding Water, I’m announcing that this weekend, I’ve started Vein of Gold. This is another book by Julia Cameron. I’m always a little embarrassed to admit that I am working through artist’s self-help books. But they do help. And I get a lot out of them. This one isn’t divided into weeks, but the usual schedule is about 3-4 months to complete the process.
Unless I have a major breakthrough personally or creatively, you’re not likely to notice I’m doing this. I’ll quietly read my next chapter and do a few assignments on Saturday mornings, and then in four months I’ll tell you I’m all finished and how wonderful it was.
I just want to make it official.
The way these books work is that I’ve got to journal 3 pages each morning – aptly named “morning pages”, take daily walks, and an hour-long walk each week, and every week I have to take myself on Artist Dates. That’s the homework in addition to reading a chapter and doing tasks each week.
The Artist Dates are the hard part for me. They always have been. I don’t know why. I resist them the most. They have to be planned solo adventures. I like adventures, and I like being alone, so what’s the problem?
I think part of the problem is that ADs are by their nature frivolous. They are also self-care. Frivolous, fun self-care. This is not my forte. I have a hard enough time convincing myself that it’s okay to spend money on haircuts. So yeah, I resist these things. I also know that if I do them, I enjoy them.
Therefore, I’m going to make it official – I’m going to try to do one of these Artist Dates once a week for the next few months. Maybe I’ll even check in and let you know what I’m doing for them….