As a self-identified list maker, I find lists incredibly helpful. For many of us, weekday obligations suck the living daylights out of us and render us relatively useless until Saturday mornings, when we awaken the superhero for her two-day, death defying feat of household chores.
Saturday mornings the pen hits the paper: wash the dishes, do the laundry, vacuum, pay bills, garden or shovel (season dependent), dust, sweep, recycle, garbage out, scrub the toilets, change the furnace filter, wash a window, pick up dog poop from the yard, grocery shop, go to the hardware store for that one thing you forgot last weekend, et cetera, et cetera, and ending with what you really want to do such as go for a hike, ride bike, be social, paint, and write.
Items get crossed off the list just as quickly as new items are added on. The fun stuff gets moved to the bottom of page three.
Work starts after the second cup of coffee and ends when my back screams for a salt bath and some pain relievers. Sometimes it ends when the couch calls and the last bit of news has wrapped up and it’s time for the late show which I never watch because at that point, going horizontal means going to sleep whether I want to or not.
Put Sunday on repeat. Notice what hasn’t been done on Saturday and work to finish off the list, again, putting the best stuff last like it’s a reward for the punishment endured by what is now day two of hard physical labor.
Lists have helped me to focus. They helped me to break down the steps for remodeling the kitchen, landscaping a yard, and have kept me in clean clothes. Without the list, I’d free-fall into the chaos of the untethered mind, and wonder what to do first so I could get to the part of what to do last.
The unfortunate reality is that the stuff that is last on the list, the good stuff—the fun stuff—the stuff we actually enjoy doing—never gets crossed off rather relocated to the next week’s list with a promise that NEXT weekend I’m going to have some fun.
The glaring err in this habit was that the fun stuff, the creative stuff, never got to happen. Writing the book took a lot longer than I had planned because getting the dog poo off the lawn took precedence over what felt like an indulgence in creativity. Eradicating the dust bunny population was more important on Saturdays than working on my book.
In an effort to shift the defeating paradigm of what had become an uncreative life, I decided to go list-free for a day. The goal was to engage in writing and art making first and then see what happened. Here’s what happened:
Got up. Fed the pets. Made coffee. Drank coffee. Journaled while drinking said coffee about not having a list. Put the dog outside on a yard lead. Threw in a load of laundry. Forget about the load of laundry and the dog. Pulled out the vacuum. Remembered to not do chores first. Decided to walk the dog instead. Short walk because noticed weeds in cracks of driveway and sidewalk as we left the yard. Upon return from walking the dog, noticed (again) the weeds. Decided to pull weeds. Put dog in the house. Swept the back patio instead of pull weeds. Pet the cat. Consulted with said cat as to what I should be doing. Cat said meow. Went to studio to dismantle current project. Left it quasi-dismantled. Remember the coffee pot was still on. Walked to kitchen to turn off coffee pot and remembered that I wanted to build a shelf for the kitchen to put my cookbooks on. Pulled out cookbooks. Found a recipe that looked good. Pulled out ingredients for recipe and put them on the counter. Felt heat of coffee pot. Remembered that I forget to turn it off and finally turned it off. Decided I was hungry. Put ingredients away for recipe. Made a bowl of oatmeal. Ventured outside to the shed. Pulled out power tools and set them outside to build shelf. Pet the cat. Walked around the yard. Made mental notes (not a list) of places where weeds had sprouted. Walked in the house and made an internal lap. Decided to clean the toilets. Washed mirrors. Remembered oatmeal was still in the microwave. Ate oatmeal. Gathered wood for shelf. Came in house for tape measure, forgot tape measure and made the bed. Brushed my teeth. Finally remembered the laundry and switched loads. Cleaned sinks. Visited studio. Rearranged mess in the studio. Consulted cat once again. Visited writing desk. Saw a list of agents to contact and walked away from list. Walked outside, pulled a weed and wondered if I’ve turned off the coffee pot. Walked inside and noticed dishes in the sink. Did dishes. Noticed power tools outside. Measured wood and made a few cuts. Brought wood inside. Dog wanted to go out. Put dog on back patio.
At that point, it was only 10am and I was confused, disoriented, and a bit tired. Not making a list was not helping me to re-join my body, mind and soul with the fun stuff I had promised myself I’d do. I continued.
Another lap around the inside of the house. Another lap outside. Pet the cat, pulled some weeds, decided a tree needed to be trimmed, pulled out extended saw and leaned it against tree and came to the conclusion that I needed a nap. Napped. Woke to a crack of thunder and heard rain. Remembered that power tools were not only outside but plugged in, ran outside to amend this err. Got the wet power tools into shed and used my wet hands to unplug them in haste. Thanked God I lived to tell about it and then watched lightening and heard the incredible silence as the power went out in the neighborhood.
I stood in the rain, eyes closed, and tried to rationalize that there was no way this was my fault.
In the silence of the powerless and diminishing day, a thought occurred to me that not having a list was not the solution to solving the problem around not having enough creativity. The issue was prioritizing and the solution, it seemed, was permission.
I let that soak in like the rain on everything I left outside, including myself and the dog.
Once inside and dried off, I sat at the computer and created a permission slip. I printed it off, filled it out and stuck it on the fridge. I gave myself permission to have fun. I gave myself permission to make writing and art my priorities. Vacuuming could wait.
Every weekend since, I re-read the note. I am reminded that engaging in what I love to do is just as important as meeting my basic needs. It IS a basic need. Doing what I have to feels like just getting by. Doing what I love to do feels like purpose.
It has taken a year to complete the fifth version of the manuscript and it wouldn’t have happened at all had I not given myself permission to work on it first. I gave myself permission to be sassy in my writing style. I gave myself permission to be honest with how I felt. I gave myself permission to find success in my own happiness.
I am happy and I am currently reaching out to agents whom I hope will vie for the book, get it to a publisher and up my happiness quotient exponentially.
Then, maybe, I’ll vacuum.