Friday, May 31, 2013

Check Me Out

What Are You Reading (offline, that is)?

I want to let everyone I know and everyone I might ever meet that I have a post in a cool online magazine today.  Please go and look at The Equals Record and check out the piece they actually asked me to write about what I like to read.  A big thank you to Elisabeth at Equals for liking my work and making this all so easy and fun. 

And no, I don't think this gets me off the hook for a blog post this week.  Actually, I did think that, but then I realized that this is supposed to be an opportunity to do better, not to slack off, so, you know, I'm working on a post.  It will be up soon.  In the meantime, read this and let me know what you think.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Big To Do

.Not that most people would have noticed, but I failed to post anything on the blog last week.  It was on my list, I swear, but somehow writing a post kept getting moved to the next day's list and before I knew it, the week was over.  This week, in accordance with my list, I started working on several ideas, planning to crank 'em out and make up for missing last week. But here it is, Friday morning, forty minutes before time to get ready for school, and even though I have been up for over an hour, I am only just starting to write.  What I have managed to do is check Facebook (hi, friends), read email (sale at Old Navy), pop into my Etsy shop (yep, all the stuff is still there), play a couple of rounds of computer Mah Jong  (tell me it's not oddly addictive) and scarf down a slice of cold pepperoni pizza with my first cup of coffee. Yes, it's been a mighty full morning, but none of that was on my list.  Actually, email probably is, because I usually pitch myself a few softballs to be sure that I will be able to cross something off by the end of the day.  "What good is the list then?" you may want to ask.  Well, to foolishly rip off a line (with sincere apologies to all involved, including Ben Kingsley) from an almost ancient movie, "The list is life."  That's the thing.  The to do lists that have filled the notebooks I have carried around and scribbled in for years have been the bones on which I have tried to flesh out a life. 

I know that sounds weird, and I want you to know that it is not some disordered sort of magical thinking.  I don't have to read the new DSM 5 to know that I don't qualify for OCD, because I lack the concentration and stamina this disorder clearly requires.*  I don't have the mental wherewithal to think obsessively about anything, so my worries about whether or not I locked my door and my concerns about the safety of our food supply would quickly be shooed out of my brain by "Oh look, something sparkly!"  or "Do I smell french fries?" And let's face it, I am simply too lackadaisical to act compulsively.  Even if I could muster the energy to repeatedly wash my hands or count street signs or clean kitchen surfaces, I would likely decide, sooner rather than later, to simply open my notebook, put it on my to do list, and move on.  

The genesis of the lists is my insomnia, which usually presents itself as me lying in bed at about three a.m. (duh) thinking about things that need to be done or things that should have already been done or things I want to do... My mind flits from item to item, as I picture myself cleaning something or making a phone call or running an errand.  I have some kind of aspirational insomnia, I guess, because I'm usually not thinking about the day that just happened, I'm thinking about the day to come. I'm a real Scarlett O'Hara, as far as that goes, because tomorrow (and usually the day after that) is always present to me, full of possibilities, yes, but mostly, full of responsibilities-- you know, things to do.  I used to actually get up and write things down to simply get them out of my head.  Once the duties were committed to paper, I could settle down and eventually sleep because I knew I wouldn't forget something.  Now, when getting up to get the notebook most surely means waking a small someone who will need a glass of water or want to chat about their amazing unicorn dream, I am often able to settle down just by telling myself what will go on the list in the morning.  See what I mean about why I could never make it as a compulsive?

So yes, I have notebooks full of years' worth of to do lists.  I didn't even realize this was the case until I went through the old notebooks and noticed that most of the pages were not scraps of writing or inspirational quotes or ideas for businesses or things to make, but actually just lists of shit I had to get done.  Mostly lists of not crossed off items.  Recently, I missed doing almost everything on the day's list while I looked back at years of lists to see what I did, what I failed to do, and what I finally made myself do after weeks of putting it off.  (Just a thought: what might be nearly compulsive is that I still have most of the notebooks I've used over the years. I made my last move across the country without many of my practical belongings, like say, a toaster, a sofa or a bathroom scale, but the crumpled box of notebooks got put on the truck early, tucked behind the front seat. That might be kinda crazy.) 

I'm sure it is full of to do lists...

As I mentioned earlier, I include easy tasks that I would do every day anyway, like "do dishes," or "get girls ready for school," to give myself something to cross off, so that the list doesn't seem so far-fetched.  I also have less specific things like WRITE and COOK, which I guess are meant to motivate me to creatively fill in the details.  Mostly though, I have lists of calls to make and chores to do and things to get at the store and stuff I have to do for family members. Every once in a while, I have fantasy items thrown in, just for chuckles, like NAP and PEDICURE.

Of course it's clear that I use the list as a way of making things seem manageable-- not that they are so unmanageable, but whatever helps you sleep and propels you through the day I think, must be okay.  On a good day, the list provides both a plan for the day and evidence that I got something done, not just those easy ones I put on there.  On the best day, the list is tangible proof that I know how to use my time wisely, because you know, your third grade teacher was right; just about everything in life really does come down to that. As an added bonus, the undone items always serve as seeds for the next day's list-- as if I didn't already have plenty of new things I think up when I can't fall asleep. 

Of course, the list is also also a handy way to avoid doing some stuff.  When the list includes something I don't want to do-- and the list always contains those items--  I can soothe myself for a little while by doing something I am less averse to, like cleaning a closet instead of cleaning a bathroom, or calling someone with a birthday wish instead of calling Sallie Mae to negotiate another loan deferment.  Clearly, I'm getting things done. There are crossed off items, not just the easy ones.  But I do notice that an item can make the list every day for a week (or longer) until it becomes the thing I can do to avoid something even less palatable.  See, it's a system.  A coping mechanism.  A way of life.

I'd like to write more, but really, I've got a whole list of things to do.

*To be clear, I am not making fun of anyone genuinely struggling with OCD-- I am using it to point out some of my own shortcomings. 

To do list image found here.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Give it a Rest

Find this lovely thought here.
I had a cold a couple of weekends ago, so maybe I was whining a bit as I talked to my mom, who, after inquiring about my symptoms and listening for a minute said, "I've noticed this past year that you're talking about these little health things more, like you need attention." If my throat hadn't hurt-- and it really did, I had swollen glands & everything-- I would have yelled because she was being so unjust. Instead, I quietly, but pretty emphatically, whimpered, "You know, I don't need attention, I just really need a break. I need to rest." She agreed and she talked a little while longer, then I hung up and did something utterly out of character:  I took a nap. 

What's the big deal about a nap?  Well, it was the middle of the day and the house was at sixes and sevens, a mess in every room just waiting for me to swoop in and rearrange it, put it right, make it neat. But Mike was home and he was going to take the girls out to ride their scooters.  So instead  of swooping and putting and making, I went to lie down, and because I was sick, I fell asleep.  For hours.  Did I say it was the middle of the day?

When I woke up, there was still an incredible mess. The girls' dresser had apparently exploded because every drawer was open, spewing clothing.  The living room was a minefield of Barbies and art supplies, and for some reason, every stuffed animal the girls own was lined up on the yoga mat which was laid out in the middle of the dining room like a runway. I still don't know why.  The kitchen counters were fully loaded with the debris of breakfast, lunch and snacks, nestled among every single glass we own, each containing an inch or less of an abandoned beverage.  Oblivious to the destruction, Mike and the girls were watching a movie, laughing at the antics of Jim Carrey, circa late 90's.  "Feeling better?" Mike asked hopefully. Yeah, I was... but after simply walking through the apartment, I was tired again and my throat still hurt and I was pretty stuffy, so I figured I could still use some rest.   I looked around, took note of the fact that the world was messy, but had not actually come to an end while I napped, and sat down with them to watch the rest of the movie.  And, get this, the world still didn't end!

That's right:  it turns out that life doesn't actually stop when I rest.  In fact, things keep happening, and that's okay.  (Except for the part where I still have to clean up.  But a nap is a nap, not the wave of a magic fairy wand.  There will always be stuff to clean up-- I have kids.)  So what is the problem with taking a break? 

My mom's comment (and my cranky reaction to it) reminded me that unless I'm sick, I don't feel like I deserve to rest. I mean really-- what kind of a wuss needs to rest?  What-- do I have the vapors or something, like some simpering Southern belle or consumptive romantic heroine?  Rest is for people who can't manage to get themselves through the day with a few cups of coffee and some sugary snacks grabbed on the go-- eh, I mean, with a balanced diet and plenty of hydration.  I am a strong woman with no need to rest.  Feel free to award my super special gold stars at any time. 

Cute baby found here.
Not only do I feel like resting is wimpy,  I have no patience for rest and I'm not the only one with rest-resistant tendencies. I think moms, especially, fall victim to the idea that rest is unproductive because it takes time away from things that have to be done. As soon as your children are born, you step onto a treadmill, and it is always set on an incline, because there is always something you could be doing. I thought it was just me, but an informal poll of women I know seems to bear this out. "I just have more to do when I get up," is the common refrain. I know that I usually ruin my own attempts to relax by spending rest time thinking about what I need to do when I stop resting. Like a kindergartner on a nap mat, I fidget until rest time is over and then I get back to the day, crankier than ever, because I feel like I was tricked into letting myself get behind.

Slate ran an article titled "It's OK to Nap" about hyper productive people (notice though, only men are mentioned) who relied on naps to increase productivity. While reading, it dawned on me that a big part of the problem is that many of us think that we can only rest in the service of doing more work. This article about resting, introduced by a quote from Ben Franklin, arguably one of the most productive and creative people in history, seems like a bridge from the instrumental idea of resting to a purer idea of rest for the sake of rest, but I still think we're in trouble when an article about the zen of concentrated rest is presented as a way of getting more done.

What I need is a way to give myself permission to really relax.  I have to get past the foot stomping, illness-related whining that is now the only way I allow myself to rest.  The real thing would be to rest when I feel fine and can actually enjoy the moment.  And it doesn't always have to be about sleep.  I would like to learn to enjoy the dreamy but observant rest where I pause to notice beauty around me and get recharged by letting my mind wander.  Or maybe just watch a whole movie without feeling like I should be doing something else. 

For now though, I can tell myself that rest helps me get more done.  So... I'll be taking a "creatively productive power break."  If you hear me snoring, you'll know I'm on the job.