About six years ago, my time was getting away from me. With work, parenting, and dealing with some medical challenges, I was finding it nearly impossible to write or paint. I sat down to make myself a schedule. In order to make it as effective as possible, I thumbed through my journals to see what the rhythm of my days had looked like.
I discovered that I’d sat down three months earlier to do the same thing: get control by making a daily schedule. It had worked for a couple weeks and then dissolved into chaos. I kept flipping pages and soon saw that three months before that, I’d done the same thing with the same results. In fact, for about five years I’d been making these schedules every three months.
I don’t know who coined the cliché, but it’s a pretty common saying that doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is one definition of insanity.
I didn’t write my schedule that day. It felt like a free fall, and often still does, but I hadn’t sat down to write one since that day, until two weeks ago. I was having such a hard time getting a grip on my days, and it seemed all wrong because it’s summer. I have more control over my schedule in the summer than at any other time of year. But my time kept ghosting away. So I turned to my old fallback, the daily schedule.
Of course, it didn’t work. Thank goodness this time it failed immediately; the week I made it was the week of a particularly difficult anniversary in my life. I was not emotionally equipped to make a good show of even the first few days this time. And I laughed at myself, and I prayed about it, and I realized for the first time why this never works for me.
When I write a schedule, I am treating things I want to do like obligations. Nothing breeds excuses like obligations. I realized that until I can come to see a schedule as a gift, it will always feel like a harness. A harness doesn’t inspire much creativity. It makes it very easy to see everything else in life as more important than writing and painting.
I know better than to pretend I can shift my emotional reaction to scheduling in a day just because I finally understand that I should. I’ve ditched the schedule again, for now, and instead have started to concentrate on giving myself gifts of time. I’ve been thinking about Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall.” This week, instead of trying to tabulate my minutes, I’ve been mending walls, side-by-side with my neighbors:
Just when I got going in a good rhythm of writing, telling myself it is a gift and imagining a curtain between me and all the voices that want it to be an obligation, a high school friend came down from Boston to visit. My partner Felix hadn’t seen him in maybe three years, and for me it’s been much longer. Wednesday night was given up to visiting, and then Thursday my boss and friend treated us to a Batman marathon to celebrate opening night of the final film. Friday, my out-of-town friend and several others came over for more fun, but I couldn’t let another day pass without writing. I’d been treating myself to such luxurious time with my creative work and couldn’t stand to give it up any more. I joined them for dinner and then let Felix entertain them downstairs while I holed up in my studio and came back to my story.
Today, I had two more opportunities to abandon the work, once with an invite to friends’ house, and once on a walk when I was out to mull over the scene I was working on. I bumped into a neighbor and she walked with me for a while. I told her I would have to part ways so that I didn’t lose track of my story. We talked about writing for a few minutes, then said our goodbyes.
I think these moments are the Elves in Frost’s poems, and they deserve our wonder. I am grateful for the people in my life, and never want to build a wall so solid or so high that I cannot see them. But it’s important that my fences can withstand their mischief. My fences are a gift I give myself. It makes it easy, seeing things this way, to do the things that felt like chores just two weeks ago.
To read the poem: http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kesta/1520579862/