Thursday, August 12


We leave for vacation early tomorrow morning. I hope that we get to the lake in time to see something like this view:

Lake Ossipee at twilight

I'm bringing a bathing suit and some books! To read! I'm most excited about finally having the chance to read Mothers and Others by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. We'll probably eat some lobsters and ice cream. The Critter's grandparents will be with us for a couple days, so maybe Beckett and I will go out to see a movie. I admit I'll have some work to finish up over the weekend, and we'll probably go outlet shopping (ugh) for some clothing, but otherwise, I have no real plans for the week.

So, I'll be gone for a while. But I'll be back and posting again on Monday, August 23 ... but not here! Change your bookmarks, Google Reader subscriptions, RSS feeds, and etc., because when I return, I'll be blogging at my new site:! In fact, you can check it out now!

Tuesday, August 10

It's a To-Do List, Not a Wish List

Tuesdays at The Variegated Life: a look at how I'm making this working-at-home-while-mothering thing work. Or how I'm trying to make it work, anyway ...

Though I often fantasize about the day when I cross the last item off my to-do list, the truth is that that day will never come. I try to remind myself that the never-ending to-do list is a good thing. I have things to do! I’m alive!

However, though I know that my to-do list is never ending, I don't really want it to get any longer than it is. Here's how I (attempt to) manage the stuff on my plate: I actually have three lists!

Master To-Do List (3+ pages long)
This list includes everything I want to do someday. I keep all this stuff written down so that I don't have to fret about it—or even think about it at all. I review my master to-do list weekly, adding to it if necessary, and moving tasks from it to my current to-do list.

Current To-Do List (2+ pages long)
This list includes everything I want to do soon. Right now it has four parts. On one page, I list tasks related to my various jobs and tasks related to my personal goals (for poetry writing, blogging, and getting my shit together). On another page, I list all the assorted other stuff I want to get done—send packages, set up interviews with potential babysitters, etc. On a third page, I list all the stuff I want to get done before we leave for vacation—on Friday! Thank goodness, that part of the list is short. I review my current to-do list every evening, adding to it if necessary, and moving tasks from it to my daily to-do list for the next day.

Daily To-Do List (1 half-page long)
This list includes everything I want to do today. I have to be strict with myself about this list, and to tell the truth, I haven't quite figured it out yet. As I wrote last week, a to-do list represents a set of agreements with myself, and by breaking those agreements, I lose my trust in myself, which feels rotten, rotten, rotten. Over the past few weeks, as I've written these to-do lists and observed what actually gets done, I've learned the following:
  • Don't list what I wish I could do in one day. List only as much as I actually can do in one day: the job-related stuff that has to get done, the next small steps toward meeting my personal goals, and one to three of those assorted other things that I need to do. Nothing more.
  • Unless a sudden change in plans requires otherwise, don't try to do any other work than what's on my list. As Crash Davis advises Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham: don't think.
  • On the other hand, do actually make an honest effort to do the things on the list—especially if I dread doing them. I've found that if I've made an honest effort to do what I planned, I can renegotiate what's on my list (for example, by deciding to take care of something tomorrow rather than today) without any feelings of self-recrimination.
  • As soon as something new comes up, or if I think of something that needs to be done but hasn't made its way on to one of my lists, I write it down and get it off my mind. Usually I write it on the bottom or the back of my to-do list. Or I might write it on one of the index cards that I carry with me nearly all the time.
One unexpected side effect of writing down my ideas as they come to me has been marvelous: I'm finding that I have more ideas! Good ideas—not just ideas about more shit that needs to get done, but poetry-writing ideas, blogging ideas, and so on! By getting all the crap off my mind, I have better access to the deep well of creativity inside me....

To give credit where credit is due: These practices are based in part on ideas I've learned from It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys by Marilyn Byfield Paul, Getting Things Done by David Allen, and the blog Zen Habits by Leo Babauta.

Friday, August 6

{this moment}

{this moment} A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama: A single photo — no words — capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment to pause, savor, and remember.

Thursday, August 5

Who Invited You?

It's a joke my Polish great-grandmother used to say whenever you did something silly or stupid: Who invited you? And now it's been one year ten months two weeks and four days since the Critter was born, and still I look at him trotting down the sidewalk ahead of me, practicing his jumping, playing with his cars, drawing with his crayons, writing with my pens ... and I wonder: Where did you come from? Who invited you?

I ask Beckett if he ever stops to marvel at the fact that he is actually a father! Of the Critter! How did that happen? How bizarre! He says that no, he does not think such thoughts. But I cannot be alone in my feeling that it is strange to be a mother to a creature I know so intimately and who yet surprises me every day—or in my wonder that the strangeness of being a mother seems to have no end.

Tuesday, August 3

The Fool and Her To-Do Lists

Tuesdays at The Variegated Life: a look at how I'm making this working-at-home-while-mothering thing work. Or how I'm trying to make it work, anyway ...

My mind is full of plans and garbage, garbage and plans. Every night in zazen I see it, let it go, return to the breath, see it, let it go, return to the breath ... and every night in zazen there it is again: plans and garbage, garbage and plans. Plans to get my various jobs done—four or five of them right now, depending on how you count (do I count the job I haven't started yet?). Plans for dealing with the cluttered disaster of our apartment. Plans for blog posts, plans for new poems. Rarely plans for the Critter, though—when he's there, he's there demanding my full attention—but how can I give it to him, when my mind is full of plans and garbage, garbage and plans?

For these reasons, I've been studying how I might use to-do lists to get some of the crap off my mind. The basic idea: write it down, get it off my mind, maybe even get some of it done. The problem, though, is that insofar as they represent a multitude of agreements with myself that can be broken—and often are—to-do lists can be traps.

Though he certainly believes in lists (and calendars, and crazy-organized filing systems), Getting Things Done guru David Allen doesn't believe in daily to-do lists. He writes, "First, constant new input and shifting tactical priorities [and toddlers running wildly around the apartment, yelling "Slow down! Slow down!"] reconfigure daily work so consistently that it's virtually impossible to nail down to-do items ahead of time.... Second, if there's something on a daily to-do list that doesn't absolutely have to get done that day, it will dilute the emphasis on the things that truly do."

OK, I get this, I really do. I especially get the part when, much later in his book, Allen explains what he believes is the source of all those negative feelings that accrue around our in-baskets and to-do lists: "The price people pay when they break agreements in the world is the disintegration of trust in the relationship—a negative consequence. But what are all those things in your in-basket? Agreements you've made with yourself. Your negative feelings are simply the result of breaking those agreements—they're the symptoms of disintegrated self-trust." These words were like a punch to the gut when I read them again recently. There have been days ... entire weeks, maybe ... when that sense of disintegrated self-trust felt like all that my self was made of. Night after night I have awakened at 4 a.m. in panic over my lost trust in myself.

However, Allen's suggestion that I keep "Next Actions" lists to review whenever I have any free time (!!!) doesn't really work for me, either, mainly because with a little Critter needing my care and my mushy mommy brain in charge, I want to limit my in-the-moment decision making. So, here are the questions I've been asking myself as I study the lists I've been making and compare them with what I'm actually getting done:
  • How can I use daily to-do lists to keep me focused on what does have to get done every day?
  • What can be renegotiated and how, without triggering that rotten feeling that I've broken an agreement with myself yet again?
  • What agreements should I be making with myself in the first place? How much can I reasonably expect to do in one day?
Next week: some preliminary answers to my questions.

Monday, August 2

On My Mind

I spent much of last week lost in the thick of samsara. I often get lost when I'm working on a project that scares me, either because it feels too big for the time I have to work on it or because it challenges my capabilities. Last week's project was big and involved skills that aren't typically the focus of my work (copyediting), and I coped with the stress as I often do: I jettisoned pretty much everything but the work (well, and the Critter—can't really throw the kid overboard). For me it's an old, old way of doing things, one that got me through high school, college, and then graduate school until I found myself flirting with a nervous breakdown during my only year teaching high school. Whenever I slip back into that way of doing things, there seems to be no limit to my rage and disgust with myself for putting myself yet again into a situation in which I'm overwhelmed by work I don't care about.

Or, at least I claim not to care about the work, while at the same time I'm throwing myself headlong into it. Is it just that too much of my ego and too many fears about my livelihood are wrapped up in the work I do for pay? Or is something else going on? All last week I was haunted by my apparent inability to answer for myself the question Summer Pierre asked at her blog last Monday: "What the hell DO I care about besides MYSELF?" Perhaps if I could answer this question more clearly, I wouldn't be so likely to lose myself in work.

In the meantime, I plan to bear in mind the metaphor of Indra's net as I go about my business this week. For me, the solace is in the idea that by taking care of whatever is in front of me right now, I am taking care of the whole world.

Also in the meantime: at last I've cleared my desk for writing poetry (at the top of my list of ways to keep the shitbird at bay, you may recall).

The Critter, up to no good

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A couple weeks ago, I claimed that attachment parenting is not anti-feminist. I should have chosen my words more carefully: it would be more accurate to say that attachment parenting need not be anti-feminist. Because no sooner did I type those words than Peaceful Parenting (an attachment parenting Web site) published this post by Dr. George Wootan, making the not just ahistorical, but a-prehistorical claim that until they are three years old, children should never spend any time separate from their mothers. Never! Presumably not even if Mom needs to pee! Or, egads, take a shower! But, fear not! Because to counter this nonsense, we have these responses at Raising My Boychick and Blue Milk. I need not say more.

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Over at Birthing Beautiful Ideas, Kristen wrote a truly awesome post in response to some questions I had about birth plans. In short, she says: do your research, discuss your preferences with your caregiver, and remain flexible and open in the face of what actually unfolds during the birth. When the time comes (and it may be a long time coming, so don't get any ideas), I'll be drawing on the information and resources Kristen provided to put together a plan for the birth of our next little one.