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November 09, 2019


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Dan's Writings ›  


Too Much on Our Plates

Is it our 21st 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, 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.

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?

But, back to the first question: what is it that makes us take on so much? I’m reminded of the famous short story by D.H. Lawrence called The Rocking-Horse Winner. 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 recently, 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.

dan o'brien doing a reading

Some commitment has to get short-changed. At these times I feel like I am cheating people, like most recently when I got a call from Heather, one of the people on our marketing team. She wanted to know if I had the blog ready for our Saturday email. True to form, I answered, “What blog?”
“The one we talked about on Monday. You were supposed to have it by today.”

“It’s Friday. I know, it goes out tomorrow morning, first thing.”

“Well hell.” I looked on my calendar and there it was, written in very small letters between the three people I need to call concerning carbon credits, the contractor who is building our new buffalo corral, the insurance agent I meet tomorrow, and the travel agent about the trip to speak in Baltimore. I’d done it again.

“I’ve overbooked,” I told Heather. “I just said yes to two additional commitments. The calendar is packed until Christmas. I don’t even have room to write them down. I need to read and blurb a book by Thanksgiving. I have my own novel to finish writing.” I expected her to be sympathetic. But she laughed.

Then she mocked me in a voice like mine and words that sounded vaguely familiar. “I said yes to two poor paying speaking engagements,” she grumbled. “I agreed to spend time in Montana looking for grizzly bears. I have two Herculean tasks that can only be achieved on horseback. I vowed to finish the second draft of the new novel.” Then she laughed again. But she wasn’t finished. “Emails will go unanswered; apologies will be made.”

“Where are you getting all this?” I said.
“I’m reading it off our website. It’s your blog.”
“My blog?”
“From 2006. Thirteen years ago.”
I was speechless. “I’ve been running behind for thirteen years?
“Probably more.”
There was only one thing to say. “I apologize. I’ll have the blog by morning.”
“Write it on your calendar!”

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.

For me, there will be a period of austerity where I vow to cut back and promise never to get in that position again. I dream of having time to read for fun, to watch the sun set and rise. Just sit. And you know what? This time I really mean it.


Diana Mathisrud

November 09, 2019

I hope you find comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone in this…thanks for making my day!


November 09, 2019

Just what I needed this morning! I agree with your comment about the Midwesterner trait of not saying NO. In my opinion, we are blessed by the trait – even though we habitually over-extend ourselves.

Antoinette Hamner

November 09, 2019

And the only people who say this regularly are the ones who seldom do it. Just smell the roses along the way and you are miles ahead. From your posts as well as your family’s seems to me you do it on a daily basis .
Gotta keep moving to keep moving! So keep moving. Your word is spreading

Greg Wingfield

November 09, 2019

Dan, This truly hits home. Thank you for the clarity and honesty in your writing. I’ll pass forward some advice from a life-long friend – be gentle on yourself! Obviously you know it just isn’t you. You’ve described perfectly how I’ve felt way too often over the past thirty years, and I’m sure many, many of your readers have felt that weight. I left a beautiful little place in the northern Flint Hills of Kansas, one of the factors being the burden of wanting to do so much with it and never seeming to get closer. But now with a little more wisdom and great fortune, I’m taking another shot at “quieting my mind” in a sweet place in Chase County in the central Flint Hills. My wife and I have witnessed many sunrises and sunsets, not by chance, but by making it our daily priority. We’ve somehow managed to stay mostly true to our new motto of being “cheerfully flexible”. Giving ourselves permission to do this has us smiling like never before. My heartfelt wish is that you also give yourself permission to savor those things you’ve had to set aside too often ….you’ve earned it!

Greg Wingfield

Claude Immer

November 09, 2019

YES! Dan , you are right!

James Greer

November 09, 2019

I had never heard of you until I watched a YouTube video about the American Prairie Reserve a month ago. After the video I ordered your book Great Plains Bison. Just last night, I saw you on TV here in Nashville (C-Span Cities Tour – Rapid City). I wonder where you will show up next ? No doubt you are a busy man. Footnote: there is a rewilding of sorts here in Middle TN. Mountain Lions have been showing up on trail cameras in the last few years. I hope they eat up some of the deer that keep jumping out in front of my truck.

Dan Cohen

November 09, 2019

Sounds like a nice walk would be nice. But in lieu of that here is a virtual hug (( ))

Bill Day (North Georgia Mountains)

November 09, 2019

Welcome to the Club. As I sit in our North Georgia Mountain Log House, I review each morning my “Things to do” list and it just gets longer and longer. As I work on year 85, I still think that I can do all the things I did at 50. However, the last few years has shown me that I can not. Therefore, I have lowered my expectations, not that I like it, but reality has taken over. Have a nice Thanksgiving.

tom Kovalicky

November 09, 2019

As I was growing up in the Big Hole country of Montana , I was told by a OLD Rancher, “Only ride the horses that are going in the right direction” cheers

Bill Hager

November 09, 2019

Finding a happy place in the world of More has never been easy for me. Reading your story this morning struck a chord and made me realize my quest to be in quiet places, where I am happiest, has a lot to do with less more.



November 09, 2019

I’m an oldster and familiar with how that works too. Life’s a lot about god willing getting better all the time. Our food source is high on the list of ways to keep on improving . Congrats Dan


November 10, 2019

“If you want something done tell a busy person.” They fit it in some how, like I used to. Then I was diagnosed with cancer. I have learned to stop and smell the roses. There is something about knowing you are going to die that makes you just appreciate the sun rise and set. We all are going to die, we just don’t think about the fact you could be told that today, or it could be today. Just slow down and enjoy the moments.

Win Jenkins

November 10, 2019

On the flip side…there just might be plenty of time for sit’n and a rock’n. Overwhelming as it might feel…it’s life in the fast lane…life in the slow lane has it’s fullness too but maybe your not there yet.
I just love your wonderful insights, sharing and the way you honor the Buffalo. Thank you.

Lorn Ranger

November 10, 2019

Dan you’re a doer and doers are never done, and they’re often over done! Been there and done that myself, so, cordially say no and allow more time to reflect and consider that what you’ve done is way more than adequate and doing more doesn’t add to your measure of being a success.

Lorn Ranger

November 10, 2019

Dan you’re a doer and doers are never done, and they’re often over done! Been there and done that myself, so, cordially say no and allow more time to reflect and consider that what you’ve done is way more than adequate and doing more doesn’t add to your measure of being a success.

Doreen Maas

November 10, 2019

In July of this year we were at The Peregrine Point Inn in Rapid City, and I happened to see your books Buffalo for The Broken Heart, read a few pages and knew that I needed to get those 2 books. I could only find them as used books. Oh my gosh, I so enjoyed every word and have become very interested in the Buffalo. Yes, I so now understand how important it is to have them enjoy their lives and be treated humanly from the beginning of each of their lives to the end. Would love coming back to the Buffalo Round-up on the last Friday of Sept in 2020. The Rites of Autumn opened up another world for me to marvel at and to learn from. All told—2 subjects that I had never even thought about. Thanks so very much. Your a great writer!


November 10, 2019

Yes, in this new world we are always behind. Thank you for extending Godot, Dan.


November 11, 2019

Reminds me of something I was supposed to have done. Yesterday!
Oh Bother.

Janis Fitschen

November 11, 2019

I hear you!
Look out your window, Breath in and breath out. Smile God loves you and so do we.

Mary McCusker

November 19, 2019

If you are blessed with Curiosity…More will always be part of your life. Enjoy it.

Martin ludtkr

November 23, 2019

I think things happen for a reason and reading your blog this morning reinforces that notion! Thank you!

Vernon Cross

November 27, 2019

Ever since I realized that the notion of “retirement” was bunk and oozed onto a Depression era populace who embraced the idea as a breath of really fresh air, I decided that I was going to work until my joints gave out. Then there are days like today when I realize that I would have been much better off, if I just stayed put at home all day. I suppose the struggle for reaching happy equilibrium is why the Bible urges us to pray without ceasing. Plenty conspires to divert the sense that I’ve made it happen for awhile. Of course, I don’t have a clue what I’m actually doing. The truly marvelous peace of mind only gratifies me when God allows it to be so. As long as I am able to keep that in mind, bring on the errands, tasks, and favors to be granted.

Alan Anderson

November 09, 2020

A lot of people I think find themselves in that situation Dan, as I am sure you know. The confusing part to me is that I end up feeling worse about the things that I don’t get done than I feel good about the things I do get done. I need to find a way to reverse that.

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