List Anxiety

I am alone at a Bed & Breakfast in Westbrook, Connecticut.  I am supposed to be writing. In fact, I have cranked out some draft material of a new essay, but I have a confession to make: just the simple fact of writing it is kind of cheating on myself.  If published, the essay/article will help me with another one of my jobs. I'm not sure if this is a conflict of interest or just plain multitasking. It's been a long time since I've been alone and unscheduled for more than 24 hours. Lately, even my free time has taken on a rather rigorous quality, and I've turned into the sort of person who says to her other half first thing in the morning: "so what's the plan for the day?" instead of just letting it happen. Well, this is a day I just have to let happen. I'm not getting lonely (I think I could spend a month alone without feeling true desperation to hang out with another person) but I am freaking out about being productive and proving it.

When Greg drove away after dropping me off I promised pages: either twenty good ones or thirty passable ones. For a single weekend, that's a lot, but I'm a very fast writer and my every waking moment is supposed to be words on paper. Like I said, I've got some down, but the panic is starting to take over.

Fortunately/unfortunately, I brought along my September to-do list which has fifty-two items that I've ordered myself to complete by October 1st. I confess here and now that I have spent some of my day gloriously completing tasks and crossing them off with an almost carnal pleasure. One of the tasks is "maintain blog," and that's what I'm doing writing here now. Others I have crossed off today include writing a press release, scheduling my essay submissions for the month, planning my other writing retreats, and beginning the aforementioned piece of writing.

Listing has become almost an obsessive tic for me, a way to measure my achievements in incremental, quantifiable form. I like to make lists for whole months and carry around those lists until they look like they've been through the battle that is my attempt to juggle all of my obligations. But, overcome by the pleasure of the list, I opened up a document from June 2009 that listed my big goals for June 2009- 201o.  It is depressing:

"By my 27th birthday I would like to have:

  1. Eliminated credit card debt entirely; gotten ahead in grad school payments; saved $2,000 for permanent savings; have $1,000 buffer zone in checking account.
  2. Maintained goal weight & toned up.
  3. No longer worry about messiness at all.
  4. Published 5 pieces of writing & have 5 on the burner.
  5. A birthday party with friends to celebrate all of these goals."

I will tell you, dear readers, that I accomplished absolutely zero of those goals. I did pay off my credit card and get ahead in my grad school payments but I did not save anything. I am way less physically fit than I was in 2009. I am still messy (although someone improved). I published one little thing and everything else has been on the burner so long it's stuck to the pot. For my birthday I don't even remember what I did. The planner is unrevealing.

However, the list does not reflect the unexpected things I did since 2009 (when, after all, I hadn't begun at any of my current jobs): became a publicist and marketer, attended an academic conference, founded an improv group, won this fellowship, created this blog, etc.  And it certainly doesn't reflect the unlistable things that bring me actual joy: swimming and sitting around having beers with new friends and reading and rescuing kittens and trying new jobs.  I suppose anything listable is too predictable for me to love as much as unlistable things.

But I still will make the lists, and I will still finish them. And you will note that "maintain blog" has tricked me into writing quite a bit more, on this writing weekend, than I have in previous posts.  Good job, list.

- Julia