September 27, 2006

Decisions, Decisions

Yaya has asked how she can better manage her time, when she has so many interests and so little time. I had a similar problem, have had ever since I started taking the atypical antipsychotics: I feel overwhelmed by the great many things I want to do, the multiplicity of interests I have and the projects I want to have underway. The projects I get started on in enormous enthusiasm are often interrupted by something, sometimes just by the end of the day, and then I have trouble getting back to finish them later, because some other project half-finished has taken my attention.

I usually read several books at one time, skipping between them as my interest in one flags and I pick up another, then another. I do the same with magazines, though often l’ll read those through in one sitting, if I can. But of course, I don’t take just one or two magazines, no, I have to subscribe to 6 or 8 or more, which then accumulate underfoot month by month, since I cannot read them all in time for the next month’s issue, and naturally I don’t do housekeeping the way I should, because then I’d not know what magazines were unread, and if I don’t see them out on the floor, I won’t know where they are! (See, there is a good excuse for almost every bad habit, you just have to be inventive.)

For instance, though I am not the capital K, Knitter that Yaya is, I have my “knitting project,” started maybe ten years ago. I used to knit all the time, because it focused my mind and helped me listen better and I loved doing it. I would knit during classes or concerts or even while having a conversation with others, because it helped me pay attention. Doing so, I made many a sweater, and slipper sock and mitten pair. So when, ten years ago, I decided to return to my knitting ways and make another sweater, it wasn’t so outlandish an idea. I hadn’t stopped knitting all that long before and still had my patterns and needles and skills, a mite rusty perhaps, but I could relearn what I’d forgotten. So I purchased some lovely new wool and everything else I needed, and wound the first skein into a ball and got the stitches onto a round needle...then conked out. I was taking Zyprexa at the time and was very easily fatigued, so enthusiastic or not, I fell asleep in the middle of starting my project. The next morning, well, I probably had a doctor’s appointment or something else pressing that had to be done, or I got distracted by the newest Nation magazine that came in the mail, or a documentary on PBS that I’d taped, or something else that caught my fancy, and the knitting stayed where it was, in my basket for the next day, and the next day and the next...

The knitting never did get done, but I eventually made Dolly the Llama, my papier mache animal that took me a year to finish and I grew plants from seeds out of the foods I ate for supper (after dinner gardening – currently Lychees and Kumquats) and I made stationary from dried and pressed wildflowers and decorative cardboard and paper boxes with handmade marbled papers, and on and on it went. But there comes a time when you have to draw the line and say, Whoa! I’m too scattered. I’m doing a little of this and a little of that, but I’m not really getting anything done that satisfies me. That’s when you must prioritize and decide what to keep, what to toss, just as you do when clutter-cleaning a room. (Yes, I watch Home and Garden TV, I know how to clear out the clutter!) You cannot do everything, not unless you are superwoman, and even superwoman would probably do a half-baked job if she did absolutely everything. So I tried to decide what I most wanted to leave behind, were I to die in a year. (There’s a very helpful book that helps one get one’s true priorities straight, called, A YEAR TO LIVE, by Stephen Levine).

I knew that I needed to keep writing, that I needed to focus on that first and foremost, and that my energies had to be reserved for that above all. EVERYTHING else was secondary. But it wasn’t enough only to write. I needed to feed myself experiences so that I had material to write about. How better to do that when my life was so impoverished but by reading? So reading was the next priority, right up there in importance with writing. After that, the decisions – note that “decide” comes from the Latin word caedo, caedere, meaning “to kill,” as in homicide, patricide etc, so to de-cide is to kill an option, a choice – the cuttings-away were easier: I could not see how to fit knitting in there, unless I did it while talking with Joe. But that required an investment of time and money I did not think I had whatever-it-took to make. So I decided against knitting (not necessarily forever but for the time being). Ditto for most involved crafts, because I had neither the space nor the materials, not to mention the time. I left open the option to make more large papier mache animals, should I find an open space available someday where I had the opportunity to make them. I still think I would find that therapeutic and relaxing and would find it worthwhile.

But you think that “writing” is a narrow enough option? What about the many kinds of writing? Can I limit myself there? Or do I want to try playwriting? Scriptwriting? Ad-writing? Copy-editing? New Journalism, old journalism, formal poetry, free verse, short stories, novels, creative non-fiction, scholarly non-fiction, popular non-fiction...Even in writing, that “narrow” field, the options metastasize and decision-making has to go on continuously.

You see how it goes? I want to be a master of one trade, rather than a jack of all. Some are lucky and can be masters of many trades. Some can make up a list and do a small amount of many things each day and eventually finish them all. I do not have that capacity or that stamina. So I have to settle for prioritizing and choosing the one or two directions I will take down the path of my life. Otherwise, I will simply be scattered and get nothing done and at the end of the day go to bed dissatisfied and unfed. That is not the way I want to live or feel; I want to feel like each day has been worthwhile, that I have done something to make the day a good one, or the best it could have been. If this means I have to limit myself to two or three choices, so be it. Better that than the emptiness of feeling like I’ve frittered away the day, doing a bit of this and a bit of that, but in the end just wasted my time, accomplishing nothing.

Posted by pamwagg at September 27, 2006 09:32 AM


I, for one, am delighted that writing eventually won the "Pammy's Time Allotment" contest. The blog that I just finished reading with complete delight is a testament to the superior results one receives from concentrating on one primary interest, even one as multifaceted as writing (as you so convincingly stated). You are about to receive yet another Standing O from your favorite ET. A+

Admiringly, T3

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at September 28, 2006 11:20 PM

Dear Pam,

I am NOT a master knitter. I am better knitter than I was last year but I am far from being the knitter I want to be. My knitting is a work in progress, but you see this is what I like to do. Like you trying to determine what type of writer you want to be, I'm still figuring out where my strenghts are in knitting.

I knit mainly because it keeps me focused. I tend to be scattered in my thoughts but knitting keeps me focused. Also, knitting gives me something tangible to focus on. I love the feeling of producing something.

I am by no means an artisan, but some day I hope to be. I knit very simple things. Right now I'm busy knitting fishing socks for my husband. I also enjoy knitting for babies and small children.

Like you I'm interested (sometimes passionate) in so many things. I know I need to let go of some things... that's the hard part. I hate the idea of doing a little of everything but never completing anything. Maybe I have ADD...

Thanks for writing about this Pam. It's nice to know others struggle with the same thing. Superwoman I'm not. I worry about missing out on something. Maybe when I grow up I'll know what I need to concentrate on.

Posted by: Yaya at September 27, 2006 12:18 PM

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