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Archive for February, 2012

Planning for the Unplanned

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

The human mind is a marvelous thing. Capable of limitless ideas and thoughts. It tells us how to walk, talk, breathe, smile and eat. What the human brain is not very good at is estimating its accompanying body’s energy capabilities. Just because we can think we can do something, does not mean we can. As for me, I have a great zeal for making plans—until it comes time for the execution part. Here’s my mantra: “This is a lot harder than I thought it would be and is taking twice the time.” I routinely overestimate my abilities by about double. Which means I am continually behind. And continually frustrated.

I figured by the time I’d reached my fifties I’d have all this time management stuff figured out. While I’m a bit better at it, I still suck. I pile on the plans until I collapse under their weight. But I don’t notice I’m falling apart until I am in pieces.

I am acutely aware of this issue because as I write this, it is three days after Christmas. I woke up this morning still exhausted from the holiday onslaught with few brain cells left. First thing I did was spill hummingbird food all down my front and flip out—in the front yard no less. I finally dragged myself inside so I could yell without censoring myself. While I knew that the level of anger I was experiencing was totally disproportionate to the severity of the mishap, I was so tired, all I could do was watch myself freak out. When I finally got hold of my emotions, I realized how bloody tired I was. And that I’d been way too tired for far too long. Not only because of the holidays, but because I’d tried to cram a year’s worth of activities into the previous four months.

Why do I think I can do more than I can? Why do I set myself up like this? Why do I believe that if I just try a little harder, I can get it all done? Haven’t I noticed what I’ve been able to accomplish so far? Why can’t I properly anticipate and gauge my energy levels? Did I used to be a disembodied brain? Am I unconsciously referring to a past life? Was I an alien that had no need to sleep? As far as I know, I’ve always been human, although some would debate that fact.

As I look back at my plans for the last four months, they don’t look that crazy. All I had to do was MC the Pescadero Arts and Fun Festival in late August; go on two back-to-back vacations in September (dumbest idea EVER, so tired we couldn’t enjoy the second); host a Halloween party for 20; then host a two-week in-law attack—I mean, visit—over Thanksgiving; get oral surgery; shop, clean and decorate for Christmas; host a party for 17 at my house on Christmas Eve; clean up the party on Christmas Day and fix a special Christmas dinner for my sister and husband. Oh, and also complete the final edits on two books—and publish them—and write my columns while working on two new novels. Plus I started a new diet and exercise regimen in July, which takes two to three hours a day. The only thing I didn’t accomplish was a full first draft of the new Patriots’ novel. Which was bumming me out until I just read this paragraph.

I think my problem is two-fold: a hefty dose of denial regarding my abilities, coupled with the unplanned. I didn’t plan on rats chewing through the wires on my car and stranding me at home for a week in October. I didn’t plan on being sick for the remaining three weeks of October. Ditto on the toe surgery I needed two days after my oral surgery. And I completely forgot about the high drama that accompanies most interactions with my family or Frank’s and the subsequent drain on my energy levels. And there was a LOT of “interaction” during the holidays this year. Nor could I have anticipated what happened on Christmas night. I was exhausted and barely keeping awake during a movie before bedtime when the hot water valve to the dishwasher broke and flooded part of the kitchen. We were forced to shut off the water to the house and stayed up all night waiting for the plumber, who finally showed up at 8 AM. And we had overnight guests and couldn’t flush the—you get the idea.

At this point, I suppose I should stop wondering why spilling sugar water on myself made me cry. But it does make me want to do something to prevent the same kind of meltdown from happening again. I need to realize that life doesn’t fit neatly into task lists and datebooks. Lists are a man-made artifice/tool used to navigate life, but life isn’t good about obeying rules or lists. The old Woody Allen quote comes to mind: “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

So as I head into the new year, I am going to take this column and glue it to the inside of my calendar. I am going to write “Plan for the Unplanned” on every page. When I receive an invitation or make a date, I’ll look at my calendar closely. I won’t merely look at the day of the event; I’ll look at the entire month before and afterwards. If any of the plans coincide with a recent visit with certain family members, I will decline. And I also won’t make as many plans. As much as it bothers me, I have to finally admit the truth: I’m only human and can’t expect so much out of myself.

So now, if you will excuse me, I have to go clean the house, write and publish three books, host a party for 20, and fill the hummingbird feeders.

©2012, Janet Periat

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