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May 05, 2006


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Dan's Writings ›  


Is it our twentieth century lives…

Is it our twentieth century lives or is it human nature that makes us pile too much on our plates? Or maybe it is me?

All my life I have felt like I’m running about a week behind. Sometimes, like this spring, I fall many weeks behind and the weight of it slows me to the point that the eternal funk that has been chasing me since childhood threatens to catch up. I fantasize that it has something to do with being a Midwesterner, with my desire to please, and with my inability to say no. Maybe it is the plight of the free-lancer, i.e. knowing that next month might bring no offers of gainful employment we cannot afford to say no to any job proposal. Then, occasionally, all the proposals come through and there you are – plate again filled to overflowing.

So this May I agreed to read a new book that is coming out in the fall and to write a blurb for the dust jacket. I said yes to two poor-paying speaking engagements. I agreed to spend time in Montana looking for grizzly bears. I have at least two Herculean tasks that can only be achieved on horseback. I vowed to finish the second draft of the new novel. And just last week, I could not bring myself to say no to someone who wanted to visit the ranch. Now come on, this is not even vaguely realistic. And it is no consolation that Jill and many of my friends do the same thing.

Do you ever start off your day with a list of to-dos that is say, fifteen items, and by bedtime, as you crawl to the bathroom to brush your teeth, check the list, and find that it has grown to twenty items?

Back to the first question: what is it that makes us take on so much? I’m reminded of the famous short story by… I think it is D.H. Lawrence called… I think it is, The Rocking Horse Winner. (This is what I mean, I just went to check out the author and title and couldn’t find the book because I didn’t get my library in order since I moved into my new office over a year ago. I had scheduled to do the ordering in my spare time. Ha.) Well, if I have the right story, there is this weird kid who is part of an affluent and busy family. It all drives him crazy but the thing that drives him craziest is that the house they live in whispers one word over and over. The house whispers the word MORE, MORE, MORE. When I first read that story it gave me the creeps but I really didn’t understand why. Now I think I get it.

More what? I asked the first time I read the story. But now, I know that it means more of everything. More excitement, more money, more pleasure, more attention, more adoration, more love, more ideas, more adventure, more recognition, more friends, more books, more stuff, more life.

It’s hard to get around the fact that most of us are after more life so you say yes to everything that is proposed in the hope that a few of the possibilities that are set in front of you will actually bring you more life. But sometimes, like this May, they all come through. Then it snows, and that slows you down and other things go wrong and a job that must be done comes up and there you are sitting stationary like an overbooked 747. Somebody has to give up his or her seat.

Some commitment has to get short-changed. At these times I feel like I am cheating people. I wonder if Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling are really the low life pigs they seem, or if they simply found themselves in a cosmic May of their own. Substitute book blurbs and photographing grizzly bears for billions of dollars for commitments to blurb books and Ken and Jeff’s situations have a familiar ring. Did Ken Lay look at his to-do list and say, “Holy smokes, how am I going to cover all these bases?”

Luckily for most of us, other people’s lives don’t depend on our ability to deliver on promises. Luckily, it has happened to most of us before, and we know that it will work itself out with fewer traumas than we imagine in the dark of night. Emails will go unanswered, apologies will be made. We will get up a little earlier, and go to bed a little later until we bob to the surface. For me there will be a period of austerity where I vow to cut back, and promise never to get in that position again. June is just around the corner and I dream of having time to read for fun, to do some gardening, watch the sun set and rise. Just sit. And you know what? This time I really mean it.

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