Confession of a Compulsive List-Maker

Spiral timeI’ve had an epiphany:  I live under the misconception that if I organize every moment of my life on my handy-dandy computer calendar, I’ll find enough time to be a good partner, be a good friend, be a good teacher, and of course, find enough time to write.

As of late, this hasn’t been happening.  If anything, my teaching has received the bulk of my time and energy.  It simply demands it.  Since students and colleagues depend on me on a daily basis, I can’t just ignore them.  I don’t want to ignore them.  The time I spend in the classroom with students is truly a pleasure (I teach a great bunch of kids), but I have little time to pay attention to other aspects of my life.

Of course, many people feel this way—it’s not just a teacher-writer syndrome—but in those few moments that I’m in the car driving to and from work, I’ve started thinking about why I can’t seem to find a balance between work and home, and work and writing, which brings me happiness instead of compulsive list-making.

Perhaps, it’s just a personality flaw.  I refuse let go of the notion that I can do it all.  Perhaps, it’s my approach.  I just need to be be less organized and take each day as it comes.  But even as I write that, I find myself reeling at the tendency for chaos in the world around me.  I desire to bang order into things, which I believe is one of the chief impulses that drives me as a writer.  That is, to capture expressive moments, but give them order and meaning . . . which I hope will lead to understanding and empathy in my future readers.  As nice as it sounds, I’ll never be able to live totally in the present.

There is something that brings me comfort, though.  One time, years ago, when I was grumbling about something or other, my mother told me: “Who ever said we were suppose to be happy.”  Of course, that sounds pessimistic, but it does take the pressure off.  I still want greater balance in my life, but I don’t have to feel like a failure because I haven’t achieved it yet.  It’s okay.  You’re supposed to be a little frustrated, a little grumpy, a little tired—maybe, at times, it’s even a good thing.



Filed under Random Thoughts, Teaching and Writing

4 responses to “Confession of a Compulsive List-Maker

  1. A reporter once asked Mother Theresa how she could stand to see the results of her work, as the children she cared for frequently died, and more were always waiting for a bed in her shelter. She answered, “we’re not supposed to be successful; we’re supposed to be faithful.” She meant faithful to God, I’m sure, but also to vocation. I like the way John’s mother suggested a reframe of purpose by saying, “we’re not supposed to be happy.” Then, what are we supposed to be? Perhaps faithful?

  2. Karen Davis

    The struggle to balance the demands of our teaching life with our need to find that room of our own–mentally and physically–constantly tugs at me as well. Every day I leave school tired and yet satiated with moments that bring me back the next day, hungry for more. I love Marisha’s take on it; that perhaps being faithful can reframe the wanting and worrying about never having enough time.

    • johncopenhaver

      I agree with Marisha, too. But, of course, being faithful is never an easy thing . . . then again, it’s not really suppose to be, is it?

  3. Felicia

    I just stumbled upon this while searching for something else, but I feel compelled to comment, as like everyone I struggled to find enough time to do everything that needed doing in a day. For reasons too long to go into, I became unable to work a few years ago and found that I still had too much on my list to do in a day. Now, I’ve solved this problem. Two tricks: #1 – don’t watch tons of TV. It wastes so much time. #2 – include on your list only the things that you can reasonably accomplish in a day. If you find that you have included too many things, decrease the number or the time required for each task (so instead of “build chicken coop”, try “cut wood for coop”). Also, as someone who works, you might need to realize that you cannot physically do more than two things on a work day: #1 – work and #2 – come home and recover. People who I talk to actually seem ashamed that they don’t do more every day. But going to work, working, and returning from work are a lot of work. Our culture keeps demanding that we do more and more with the little time we have. Maybe what we should do with that time instead is rest.

    I hope this is useful rather than an annoying comment from a stranger.

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