Today is March Fourth, which some clever souls have turned into March Forth, as in “change something/do something/forge ahead!” Instead of forging forth on the Fourth, I am using the day as an occasion to break my decade-long relationship with the tyranny of the timer. It’s sort of an anti-forge, a gentle regression from chaos and overstimulation to finding the natural rhythm of my days, my life, and my soul.
I have never been lazy. We’ll start with that. I am not, in general, a procrastinator, I tend to be an over-preparer for performances and tests, and I was the high school student who practiced her cello for more than an hour every day. (I am an avoider, which is a different thing altogether – I am not putting off the things I send into the outer darkness of consciousness, I am just not going to do them until and unless there is a catastrophe that leaves me no choice). The important thing here is that I am not a slacker in my natural state. I dislike clutter, I have always cleaned as I cooked, and when I lived alone my room was tidy. Chaos disturbs me in the same way that it disturbs me to have two simultaneous noise sources, and when I walk by a sock on the floor or a gigantic wad of dog hair on the chair, I pick up the offending object and put it where it belongs.
About ten years ago, in my housewife days, I was overwhelmed by managing the lives, clutter, feeding and schooling of three other people. I had a husband who travelled often on business, a first grader, a live-in adolescent stepdaughter, four cats, two dogs, a big old house, increasingly unwell parents, part-time work, and an inability to say “no” to anything from being a Room Parent to taking in stray animals. I needed a system to push back the chaos.
Somewhere on the internet, I found Flylady. I will say right now: it’s a good thing she does, it works for many people. Her system involves getting things organized in timed increments, using…a timer. It’s pretty rigid. There are lists, from the things you do when you get up every morning to the things you do before going to sleep (including “shining your sink”). Clutter is removed by means of a “27 Fling Boogie” in which you find 27 things that can be thrown away or given away, and get them out of your garage/bedroom/bathroom. Icky chores are attacked in 15 minute increments with a timer signaling that wherever you are, you’re done for the day.
This system is probably a Godsend for people who naturally tend towards entropy. For a tightly-wrapped, hypersensitive twitch like me, it was a fluffy snowball with a jagged rock inside. Long after I abandoned the lists, and the “Boogies,” I clung to the timer. I could, I reasoned, make sure that I did everything I was supposed to do if I spent the same amount of time on all of the requisite activities. Many, many times, as recently as a month ago, I made a list:
1. Clean kitchen
2. Return calls and e-mails
3. Pack up stuff for Goodwill
4. Plan work menus through summer
Then I would set my timer for 15 minutes and work on #1, set it for 15 minutes and work on #2, and so forth. Things got done. Other days, if I was reading something really great and feeling lazy, I would let myself read for 15 minutes, and when the timer went off I would spend 15 minutes on the list, then return for 15 minutes of my book. Again, things got done.
I may not have stressed this enough: I am tightly-wrapped, anxious, and virtually incapable of relaxing. I am working on these issues in many ways, including meditation, long walks, pharmaceutical assistance and trying to say “no” when that’s what I need to do. (Sadly, or perhaps fortunately, I do not drink). I am trying to avoid multitasking, overstimulation, even (silly as it sounds) having too many tabs open on my laptop.
I am trying to figure out what my natural rhythms are and to trust that I will get done what needs to be done, and that (unless I am saving a kitten from a burning building) whatever it is will wait until it gets done.
So, in honor of March Fourth, the timer has to go. I have things I need to do today, and things I just plain want to do today. I have a list, but I am not going to time anything. I will work on a project until…I guess until I feel like I’m done with it for the day. This is terrifying.
I will, while I’m doing something, Really. Be. Doing. It. I will live with the fear that I may get so immersed in, say, creating a closure for my homemade Kindle case that I will not get to something else on my list. I might just get all of my “duty” stuff finished and then fall asleep before I read any of my book. Things will not be even. Things will not be perfect. Things will be…however they are.
This is terrifying.
Maybe, though, I will make this gentle, compassionate march forth into a world in which I know what I really want to do, when I really want to eat, read, nap, return e-mails, fold laundry and face tough situations. I’m hoping, without the tyranny of clocks, to ride on the waves instead of bracing myself until they knock me down. There will always be things that have to take place on someone else’s schedule, from work to dental appointments, but why (!!) would I willingly lay the soft, pink , beating heart of my unstructured time on the chopping block of artificial rigor?
I march forth.