My partner (a beginning artist) and I had a plan all mapped out to increase our productivity levels, which has been lower this summer than we'd like. We were going to spend all day Saturday getting our tiny studio apartment reorganized. Space is at a premium in our home, and we thought doing a bit of rearranging would give us both some much needed work space.
Saturday was VERY successful. We got a LOT done and our living room opened up quite a bit to allow for Katherine's painting. We were exhausted and hot, so about 7 pm we decided to put the rest off until the next day.
Procrastination is a dream killer. Seriously.
By 8 am Sunday morning, the temperature in the apartment had climbed to about 85 °F. The air conditioner was out. Again. So for the next several days, I spent my days commuting between the apartment (to see what work had been finished) and my sister-in-law's house in the city. She and her roommate were lovely and hosted us (and our two very unhappy felines) in their guest room while the air was out of commission.
I tried to write some this past week. I really did. I even pulled my laptop out. Once. But I was out of my element. I was still working my normal schedule, but I lost 30 minutes of my precious schedule (in each direction) to the morning commute. Of course, the loss of that extra time coincides with my office's final week of the summer semester, a week which is historically our busiest. Each night this week I've arrived at the house tired and cranky and only half-fluent in some previously undiscovered dialect of English. My carefully crafted dreams of spending this week in creative ecstasy with our newly reorganized and tidy apartment were obliterated right there on the unexpectedly hot linoleum floor.
I am, by nature, a scheduler. I live and die by the clock, and while at work, by my Outlook calendar. I would never know when I am supposed to be where without it. So for me, the only way to ensure I'll do ANY significant writing is to create a time-slot for it.
I did try. Each night on the way back to the house, I planned. "This house usually eats dinner at about 8. I'll get home at about 5, say hello to everyone, and then lock myself in the bedroom to write from about 6 to 7." What actually happened:
Me: I need to write a bit before dinner tonight.
Katherine: Of course, sweetie. Do what you need to do.
Me: *starts to head to bedroom*
Katherine: By the way, Jenn and I randomly decided we should clean the pool for the very first time all summer. Wanna go swim for a bit while it's still warm?
Me: *brief pause* Sure. I should have a bit of time for that.
Four hours later, we're still in the pool, the sun has long set, and no, we never did have dinner. My carefully planned schedule was interrupted, which meant the whole rest of the day was obviously blown. Repeat this scenario three more times and you've got a relatively clear picture of my week.
My partner has exactly the opposite predilection. She can't schedule anything to save her life. "It'll happen when I get to it" seems to be her life mantra. I'm constantly harassing her to get herself on some semblance of a schedule so she can accomplish what she wants to accomplish. Never works. She finds it stifling.
Yet in this week, when she was at the mercy of both my work schedule (and thus the absence of the car) and the schedule of her sister AND the unpredictability of the maintenance crew, she managed to actually get a lot of things done: cleaning the pool, working on some painting, etc. It's as if a switch inside her flipped and said "Wow, I have this opportunity to do these things that I didn't think I'd have. Let me go do it." Now, if she knows that she will have between 3 and 5 today to herself to paint, she's not interested. Go figure.
I envy that spirit of adventure that follows Katherine around like a little spastic cloud of paint balls wildly destroying (and beautifying) all my hard-laid plans. My point of view is usually limited to "How can I make this thing happen/not happen?" Hers is more "I wonder what's going to happen now?" The discrepancy makes me crazy, but for some strange reason I'm still marrying her. I must be a bit of a masochist.
There are many excellent blog posts out there about how to schedule a writing career or hobby around another full-time job or other commitments, and almost all of them emphasize the need for a writing routine. ("Writing Routines that Work" is one of my favorites.) I can't say I disagree with any of them. But sometimes things happen, and my routine is pretty much thrown out the window. How then do I learn to ride the changes? How can I become more flexible to changing currents and less like an iceberg?
Looking back on the week, I can identify a dozen small choices that, although they might not have resulted in my designated 1500+ words a day, would have gotten me closer to my goals. I could have sat on the side of the pool and read the short stories I'm working on aloud to my partner. I would have caught my own grammar mistakes that way AND gotten her feedback. I might have turned on the voice recorder on my cell phone as we lounged in the waters and told her about some of my new story ideas. I would have gotten her ideas as well as played with turns of phrase that might shine up into something sparkly. When her sister wanted to drink wine and play cards with us that one night, I could have had a notebook and pen sitting aside so that when someone said something particularly outrageous or funny, I could jot it down for possible use later.
I often over-emphasize the importance of a schedule. I miss opportunities to hang out with friends, to have lunch at that new Thai place, to go see an excellent movie, because it interferes with my preconceived ideas of what I'm supposed to be doing at that time. Then, when those oh-so-precious plans fall apart anyway, I'm totally useless. I don't know how to cope.
The truth is, by focusing on what I didn't have time to do (which is almost always untrue anyway), I miss out on experiencing the things in life that would make me a better writer. Moreover, I miss out on the things worth writing about.
My narcissism has mumbled to myself a million times why my partner isn't more like me. Why she can't abide by schedules, why doing what she knows she can seems to be such a chore. Then, something like this past weekend happens, and I remember that sometimes, only sometimes, I need to learn to be more like her.
Here's to air conditioning restored, to routines reestablished, and to riding the changes. May we all make the most of what we've got.
Even if it wasn't on the schedule.