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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.

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23 comments

  • 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.

    Bill Day (North Georgia Mountains)
  • Sounds like a nice walk would be nice. But in lieu of that here is a virtual hug (( ))

    Dan Cohen
  • 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.

    James Greer
  • YES! Dan , you are right!

    Claude Immer
  • 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

    Greg Wingfield
  • 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

    Antoinette Hamner
  • 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.
    Thanks.

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

    Diana Mathisrud

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