So I just finished a shitter of a week that ended with a merciful blumf. Two, count 'em, two projects fell out of the sky with the same deadline in the same week that I'm on deck to do some volunteer work for our church, and...well, I won't bore you with the details, but it sucked there for a while.
Friday morning I went for my quarterly psychiatrist visit so that my doctor could be sure that the TV isn't telling me to masturbate on the mayor's dog before she gave me more pills to make the shiny things be less distracting. We talked about my life. I mentioned I was angling for a promotion, and I've got the kids, and Jack's in kindergarten and Georgia's being potty trained, and my wife works too hard so I'm hoping that the promotion will take some pressure off of her, and I'm on campus all the time because I'm a student here working on a Master of Public Health degree, and...
She held up a hand and laughed. "Are you sure you want this promotion?"
Well...no. It's a sexy thing, but no, I'm not. But I know it's a big shot that I'd be good at, I'm unhappy where I am, and I'd rather risk climbing into a fire than stay in this annoyingly tepid sauna of busy work.
There are two items that will forever stay at the top of my to-do inbox. These are they:
The first is a reminder of where I need to go, the second of how I'm going to get there. Do something with your life that needs to be done, find a way to make things a little better and maybe just maybe leave a mark on the world, and oh yeah, work is the only thing that will get you there.
I cling to those two sentences like a life preserver sometimes, and sometimes it's enough just to let them nudge up against my brain. Keeping them in my inbox means I look at them at least twice a day. That way the distractions can't make me forget.
It's all so damn hard to navigate sometimes, and if it weren't for my system, I'd probably be traveling upriver to murder a colonel.
My system, if there be a damn that you give, is the stereotypical Mac nerd setup: Getting Things Done (well, most of it) and OmniFocus. It's a bit difficult to get used to, but once you get okay at it (I don't think anyone ever gets good at GTD), it's very useful.
- Not standing in the middle of Target thinking what was the other fucking thing that I needed here
- Indeed, having a mobile application that knows I'm near Target and need to stop in there for stuff. Achievement unlocked: ROBOT BUTLER
- Not annoying my bosses or my justifiably weary wife with yet another thing I forgot
- Boiling all the things in my life down to what I can do right here, right now with the tap of a finger
- Remembering books and movies and websites and games and wines and comics I want to remember, ideas I want to write about, and things to make my wife and kids happy
I'm careful not to put only work in there, for fear my system would become a thing I would avoid. I put happy stuff in there like a recurring lunch date with my wife and an insanely difficult puzzle I want us to do together rather than watch TV. I'm thinking of setting up geofenced reminders all around the city of fun things I can do with the kids when we're out and about. Project likely to be called "Planned Spontaneity".
It was after I got all that stuff in there that I looked at my screen and realized I was seeing damn near the sum total of my life, the chores and errands and work and distractions and things I value, my days and weeks and months to come. My system was showing me the hard data of who I am, and I found myself comparing that to who I want to be. The outcome was okay, but there was a vacuum in there waiting to be filled.
So now I use those lists to chase that first inbox item and never fall prey to the second. And it's a wonderful twist of fortune that the same system that mapped out my life for me also relieved my brain of the burden of remembering, thereby carving out enough space in said brain to think about those two sentences.
Every morning I process my stuff, check my calendar, write my day out on a sheet of paper, and update my trickle list. For the rest of the day, I am out of my system unless I'm running errands. Every evening I check off what I did and take time to think about whether I did anything that day to move forward. I usually spend that time trying not to beat myself up. But I also try to understand where I am and where I can go from here.
You can't think your way out of it. Should I go for the job? Shouldn't I? Should I be spending all this money on grad school? Should I ditch it all and learn the harmonica? Shut up shut up shut up.
Forward motion. Get up and do a thing. Fuck finding your passion. Work. Grab anything interesting when it comes by. Keep your eyes open, and keep your stuff out of your brain so you're ready when you see sexiness happening. Go run. No, fuck you, go run, and tomorrow pick up heavy things and put them down repeatedly. Did you write today? Fuck you. Go run, then go write.
It seems the only hobby I have is making myself suck less. I'm okay with that, as long as it's in service of something greater, lest I disappear up my own ass. As long as it's to make tomorrow come. To be ready when the opportunity presents itself.
Notifications that aren't mission-critical may die in a fire. Email, I don't want to hear from you more than hourly. Twitter, I've somehow found the ability to ignore you most of the day, and I believe it's called "Wellbutrin". My system made the space in my brain to think, and I'm cutting all of you off to make the time.
More days are failures than successes. I'm gradually becoming okay with that. I'm gradually getting better at understanding what it really is I want. Road's gotta lead somewhere. Thanks to the pills and the system and the many many people who have led me to this place, I can think about it, but of course I can't think my way out of it.
I keep a third sentence in my pocket at all times, and it reminds me of a related thing that's equally important. This one's from Leonard Cohen:
I hated everyone
but I acted generously
and no one found me out
Your hands will tell you what your brain cannot. Your brain may lie to you; your feet will not.
It's a curious thing not to trust your brain, indeed to think of it as something separate from you that must be managed. Wonderful servant and terrible master and all that. But it seems to be working. I try not to depend on it to remember. I try not to listen to it when it whispers to me about the possibilities. I try to grit my teeth and take a step forward, because it's the only way I'm going to find out.
Want evidence that I'm right? It took me five drafts of this post and probably at least 6,000 words before I got the right foundation laid. I didn't figure out what I was trying to say until I started writing while I was making dinner. Two-way chicken. I shit you not.