A Schedule vs. A Life

by Jeff Oaks

So this is the ideal schedule I tried to come up with this summer:

Write sentences 5–7am

Dog 7–9am

Pitt Work 10–12. Work on Topics class proposal/syllabi

Poetry Mss 1–3 Read mine and others

House 3–5 declutter and dust/ vacuum and laundry

Dog 5–7

Dinner/TV/Reading 7–9

I wrote it a couple of days ago, and already I’m off course. I love schedules. Making them makes me feel as if I’m in control. But of course day to day I’m not very much in control at all. My house is currently a wreck, caught in a clash between my current household and the influx of things from my mother’s house. I hadn’t realized how fragile my arrangement of things was until I had to accommodate a new trunk, a half dozen pictures, and a lot of bedding, towels, and kitchenware.

What happened of course is that this clash, this disruption, this mess, freed me up to get rid of some things that I hadn’t been using for years. It made visible some things that I’d stuffed into corners, into closets, spread over on dressers like a kind of literary mold. I have a parade of boxes and appliances and useless things in my hallway, waiting to be thrown out, recycled, and or given away. So there are some things being kept but rearranged, some new things trying to find space, and some old things on their way out. Taking these things elsewhere is a priority today.

I’m waiting for a construction/re-use place to come and haul out a couple of big pieces. Once they’re gone, I’ve said, the decluttering can really begin. Yesterday’s work was to get certain piles of books onto already existing shelves.

In terms of writing: I did manage to write a new paragraph for an essay I’m working on, which is the least I let myself do every morning. It wasn’t particularly satisfying, but satisfaction isn’t the daily goal. Because we had a couple big thunderstorms blow through last night, waking me up periodically and because I’m fighting what seems to be a stye in my right eye, itching as it does, sleep wasn’t satisfying either. After a series of cranky naps then, I ended up waking late (around 8:30), taking the dog for a quick trip down to the river walk, and not getting to the cafe until about ten. Which just happened to be the time when today’s Supreme Court striking down DOMA was announced. I’ve spent most of the last two hours happily and excitingly responding to friends’ reactions on Facebook. There were, as well, a few professional emails that needed a response immediately, so I wrote those emails as well.

Lesson: You can’t trust history not to burst your schedule. You can’t schedule history. You have to be able to leave the schedule sometimes. You have a life that’s more important than a schedule.

And yet…

I have a couple of professional responsibilities that are pegged to the end of the month, that HAVE to done by July 1st, and I need some way to keep my attention on them this week. It’s sadly easy for me to “forget things” until the last moment. And I feel the pressure to get the current craziness of my house under control as soon as possible. And I want to get rid of this itchy stye. Dog first, pressing professional responsibilities next, then household and body. After those, creative responsibilities and long term responsibilities.

Thankfully, because Assaracus, a journal I admire immensely, just accepted a dozen poems, I don’t feel a huge urge to get work out. I’m still glowing with happiness. My poet-self doesn’t feel like it needs much propping up. That can wait until July now.

Suddenly, I can’t tell who I’m talking to in this post.

Dear Reader, I hope this isn’t too boring. This is what I used to write in my journal, and it used to help me to figure things out, help me not feel so entangled in the multiple responsibilities that I’ve woven into my adult life. I’m still trying to figure out what goes into the blog and what doesn’t. Where is the line between the interesting intimate and the unnecessarily infinitesimal? I’m sure it’s not a clear line; sometimes I find myself interested in writer’s journals or letters for the silly shit they had to juggle while they wrote. There are days a perfect, beautiful Rilke poem is not the food I need, and finding out that details of a writer’s messy family life is exactly what I need.

Have I figured anything out in all of this? Well, this kind of writing does a couple of things. It reminds me that I have done both creative (even if it’s only the minimum today) and professional (even if it got mixed up with social interactions on Facebook) work. It keeps me from driving home and throwing myself down on the couch and eating a bag of Doritos. From feeling like a failure, in other words.

I look at the schedule. It gives me something to talk to, to have a dialogue with, I suppose. Neither of us is perfect. We each have to give in occasionally. Tomorrow we try again. Today, just try to something from each part of my life.

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