There’s only so much of me to go around.
Admittedly, there’s more of me than there used to be. Somewhere in the comments on a prior post you’ll see that I took ballet instead of PE in high school, and I was the fittest then that I’ve ever been. College, too, was a good time for my body, as I walked everywhere and participated in some organized physical activity multiple times a week. I didn’t have chiseled abs, but I also didn’t have much of a gut.
Then I got a desk job and fell in love with a woman who cooks with real butter, and, well—the drawings of myself on this site are more flattering than you may think.
But the point is that I’m finite, even if I have more mass now than I used to. I can’t be in multiple places at once, and I can’t expend more energy than I’ve got. (For too long, anyway.) My day job as an editor is mentally taxing, riddled with ethical dilemmas and frequent fires that need putting out. Parenting three kids is even more taxing, as is secretly trying to figure out how, exactly, to do that parenting on the fly with my equally drained wife.
I was all set to write today’s post about sleep deprivation, but I found myself lacking the energy—not from being physically tired (though I am), but from being mentally and emotionally stripped bare, like my work and my children are gangly, co-conspiring, deadline-hammering and tantrum-throwing giraffes methodically devouring the leaves on my tree of will.
To be honest: I hate that. Admittedly, it’s not every day, but it’s a lot of them. And I hate that. I don’t want this blog to be my personal complaint desk staffed by you, but I hate that.
Yesterday afternoon, my 6-year-old daughter staged a major fit (Threat Level: Midnight) at a friend’s house, insulting her best friend and my other daughter in the process. Oh, and she deliberately broke a meticulously constructed model bridge her friend had built.
When I arrived to pick her up, I was far more embarrassed and contrite than my cranky daughter was, and I felt the will to do anything later in the evening slowly sap away as she subsequently fought me about: leaving the house under her own power, leaving the house at all, getting in the van under her own power, getting in the van at all, getting into her seat, staying in her seat, getting buckled, staying buckled, refraining from shouting at her sister, refraining from shouting at me, refraining from justifying her behavior as appropriate, refraining from telling us all that she wished she were the only person in the world so she could do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted.
The van had been in for a routine maintenance check earlier in the day, and it began wobbling and pulling a bit to the right as I drove home.
I have grand plans each morning. I wake up with the day vast and shimmering in front of me like a fresh whiteboard, and I proceed to fill it in with tasks and duties, hopes and goals. Life necessities (food) come first, followed by luxuries like showers. (I joke, but not much.) Then come the work obligations and mandatory chores (like buying groceries or getting the car smogged). Quality time with my children and wife—and friends, occasionally—goes up, though farther down the list than it should be. And then come my own writing projects, hobbies, and the like.
As the day goes on, I start erasing items on the board. Not because of lack of time, but because I start petering out. Some days I only erase a few things; some days I get all the way down to the essentials necessary to maintain consciousness.
Several years ago, I wrote a single line on a scrap of paper: “How strange and easy it is to go from living to simply existing.” I wasn’t in a good place when I wrote that, and I’ve been fighting it ever since. But the fight takes energy, too.
I’ll be honest with you again: I hate that I can’t do everything. I want to date my wife and spend time with each child individually and collectively and read my book club book and write the blog post I’d planned and chip away at the young adult novel bouncing around inside my head and call my parents and just zone in front of the TV for a while. Some of those things require discipline, yes, but some just need the sort of mental energy I don’t have in ready supply these days. The bad thing is that I tend to leave zoning on the whiteboard.
Because zoning is easy—and easy to justify—especially when my mind is still reeling from the day. And I love Andy Dwyer.
I’ve been finding, though, that the more I leave on the whiteboard throughout the day—even if I don’t feel like leaving it up there—the more often I get more stuff done. Like writing this. Here I am, a week into the Shallows, and I really didn’t feel like blogging. As I work on this, I still have some editing work to catch up on, a freelance deadline to meet, and (shh … don’t tell my wife) two anniversary presents to complete by Wednesday. And, oddly, I feel like I can handle that—despite the nuclear daughter-splosion and the shimmying van from earlier in the day.
Productivity breeds productivity, I guess. When I actually sit down to do the stuff on my whiteboard, I get a sort of momentum going. Yeah, I guess it is discipline. So this blog is probably good for me.
And here’s another thing I’ve learned: Time alone with my wife is always a good choice. She’s got a whiteboard, too. And I’m usually on it.
Do you have a whiteboard? How about a giraffe?