A Great Upending in the Year of Mercy

Yes, it’s been quite a while. Which will be sort-of addressed in the following paragraphs.

2015 was a year of internal change. Of figuring out my goals, my direction (or lack thereof), of realizing my vocation (at long-bloody-last!). In mid December, I knew what items I needed to really change things in 2016: A good planner, and a couple good books on organizing one’s life. Because if there’s one thing the developments of 2015 showed me, it’s that I had no organization in my life, and was getting horribly overwhelmed every time I tried to get things together. I needed guidance, a system, something to keep me from drowning in my own chaos. [I’m very good with chaos, but Chaos is, almost paradoxically, a static state. Chaos may grow, but it never progresses. Likewise with the other extreme, perfect order, because the only perfect order, the only perfect peace, is the heat-death of the universe. So, also not-desired. What is needed is the careful balance of Chaos and Order, the friction of which provides movement in a direction.

So. First I found the Top-Down Planner. It was a bit pricier than I expected for a planner, but I could tell that this was exactly the sort of organization and focus I needed. Basically, instead of  devoting all the space to schedule with maybe a small little square for goals, this planner devotes most of its space to your working out and planning your goals, with a schedule space at the bottom of the pages. I find the space is sufficient for my scheduling needs, but the focus on goals is fantastic.

After shopping around both online and off-line, I found nothing that even came close to this focus and layout. So I went with it. It came in last week, and I’ve been working with it ever since. I love it!  I spent a couple of days last week just working on the first pages, where it takes you through a series of exercises designed to first help you identify the values you life your life by, and then the goals you have for your life. The results of these exercises are then used to set the focus for the rest of the year, first on a month-by month basis, then as a week-by week basis, around which you then schedule your days. This focus on life values and life goals really helps to highlight which parts of your life are the most personally fulfilling, and which are just filling time. The Goal focus of the planner has already really helped me focus my own efforts around my selected goals, and the steps needed to progress toward their achievement.It has also started the crisis of the week, though it’s a good and necessary crisis. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Second, I found two highly rated (on Amazon) organization guides, both by Jennifer Ford Berry– Organize Now! A week-by-week guide to simplify your space and your life, and Organize Now! Think and Live Clutter-Free; A week-by-week plan for a happier, healthier life. I purchased them because they were highly rated, spiral bound, took things in small increments over the course of the year, and started with organizing one’s self before organizing one’s space. The first two weeks of the first book are “Organize your mind & Life Vision”, and “Organize Your Priorities”. The first two weeks of the second are “Organize Your Priorities”, and “Organize a Vision Board.” You can see there’s some overlap (and, they both dovetail very nicely with the work being done in the planner). Each week is only a few pages long, and includes checklists of things to think about, schedule, or do. I sit down on Sunday evenings and read the chapter for the coming week. If there are things to schedule, I add them to my planner. Otherwise, I just think them over for the next week, implement what I can, and then on Saturday evening, evaluate the developments of the week and where to go from there.

As you might imagine, this has lead to my goals and priorities being on my mind quite a bit over the past month, and especially over the past two weeks. What am I supposed to accomplish in this life? Why am I getting nowhere with the things I really feel a need to do?

When I was working on the initial pages of the planner, I ended up setting out 4 Goals. [I should note first, in case you don’t know me personally, or haven’t known me personally for a long time, that I often tend to think and express myself in symbolic terms. Not everything I say is meant to be understood literally. Sometimes I’m short-handing big concepts or ideas. Sometimes my expression is halfway between symbolic and literal, or both. I guess it’s understood through context. Or asking me. That works, too . . . sometimes.] The 4 Goals I set out were 1) Maintain/ Enhance Life Order, including Finances (because nothing else will work out well if the bottom falls out of everything), 2) Become a Ninja, 3) Establish the Clan and 4) Establish and Promote the Ninja-verse Fandom. There is a significant amount of overlap between some of these, but that’s okay.

Clearly, “Become a Ninja” is not exactly literal. But it’s not purely symbolic, either. It’s a list of things I want to learn, or become proficient at, to be more self-sufficient, and more capable of being of use in an emergency situation (this is where my physical fitness goals are categorized). To be more the person that gives aid, than the person that needs aid. “Establish the Clan” is about family and homesteads, the philosophical and physical needs of establishing and maintaining family connections and networks (and yes, there are steps involving finding Prince Charming-future-co-Clan-Chief). “Ninja-verse fandom” is all about my writing, which is something I love, even when scenes are frustrating me. I’ve always loved telling stories– childhood friends may remember that I’ve always loved telling stories. I love all the work that goes into crafting a good story– the research, the world building, the character creation, the plotting, time lining, the actual scene and chapter writing. Telling and writing stories is, I think, my vocation. It’s what I’m supposed to do. To play with ideas and express them as adventure, as romance, as Ninjas-in-Space! Awww yeah!

Once these goals are set out, and steps listed for each, there comes the inevitable process of comparing what one has been doing, to the goals and steps written down. What are your current commitments, and how well do they match up with your goals and needs? For instance, on average, adult humans need 7 hours of sleep a night. This is true for me, so I need to be getting to bed no later than the 9:30-10PM time-frame. Also, I am very much an introvert– I need time alone, time to let go of everything and re-charge. Any chore that adds mental stress negates the fact of being alone. These are things that can’t be changed– they can be “Dealt with”, but cannot be changed. I have to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and have to go to church on the weekend. These are the non-negotiable items. This means that all mornings except Saturday are booked solid, from the start, with maybe some room on the occasional Sunday if I go to Mass on Saturday evening.

So. . . all of this has been on my brain. Then a Mormon friend posted this article to her facebook feed: When We Try to One-Up the Lord’s Standards: Culture vs. Commandments. I’m not Mormon myself, but I still really resonated with a lot of what the author had to say. I am intimately acquainted with the feeling that I’m not doing enough, that I’m constantly falling short of what the Lord desires of me, that I should always be striving to do more for the Lord. That I’m not devoting enough time or resources to charitable endeavors, to helping others. So this article got things really ticking in my brain– perhaps part of my problem is not that I’m not doing enough for the Lord, but rather that my a priori definition of Doing the Lord’s Work has somehow included: “Whatever you’re doing, if you enjoy it, it’s Not the Lord’s Work. If it’s not directly working with the Poor, it’s Not the Lord’s Work.” You can see where this might become problematic. Not everyone is called to serve the Lord in the same ways. Bot somehow, my understanding of such work was narrowed down to the High-School Service Hours definition. Working at a soup kitchen, or a homeless shelter would count, but freely contributing what small amount of Beauty I could into the world most assuredly did not. No amount of singing for free could amount to one hour in a soup kitchen. My writing, or work on it, would never count because no matter what I wrote, no matter what theological ideas I worked with and tried to express, it wasn’t directly helping the poor, and in addition, I plan to try to sell the stories, and if any money is made, then it’s right out of consideration.  But not to sing, and not to write, was to squander the Talents He gave me. So, I had to do both, and the soup kitchen and homeless shelter and more, because the Gifts I was given were not, by my definition, suitable for His Work. (We’ll not even talk about the spiritual angst involved with not having started a family yet. That’s a whole other can of tangled worms. . .)

Yes, I see now how stupid it was to be thinking such things. I suspect, however, I am far from the only person to have fallen into this trap. We elevate charitable work, but have such a narrow view of what “counts”. . .

Then, David Bowie died. Then Alan Rickman died. Two men who wielded immense influence over my development as a musician and as a storyteller.  Both were severe shocks, and surprisingly personal losses. Bowie was the man who influenced the men who influenced me, the root cause, so to speak, of my development as an artist. His ceaseless exploration of ideas and self, no matter how weird or unusual, is the root of my ceaseless exploration of ideas and self. I am no Bowie, but in the end, I learned the pursuit of Truth No Matter What from him. Rickman portrayed some of my favorite villains, as well as Metatron and Professor Snape. His portrayals of his characters, from Hans Gruber, to the Sheriff of Nottingham, Metatron, and my beloved Professor, helped me learn how to craft characters of interest and depth. Both deaths were unexpected, seemingly sudden, a painful reminder of the ticking clock. . .

. . . And of those goals that need addressing. . . an indication that one cannot “wait for life to sort itself out” to get on with what one should be doing. I cannot wait– I spend so much of the year saying “things will calm down once ______ has passed, then I’ll get ______ done”, only to find that the expected calm never comes. It’s one thing after another– End of Fiscal Year, this holiday, that big convention, this other event. . .  things never calm down, because after every event, all the things I was desperately postponing crowd back in. It’s too much, not if I’m to accomplish what I’m supposed to accomplish. I’m constantly juggling commitments– all things I enjoy, but not all actually furthering any of my goals. My house is a mess because I have no regular time for chores. My fitness progress is always stalled because too many days, I chose between working out (and thus not having time to make my own meals), or making healthy meals (and not having time to work out). I don’t get to sit down to write until 8 or 9 pm (or 10 or 11pm), by which time my brain is so tired I hardly can type a sentence.

Yesterday, I made a list of all my Not-Work and not Actual Church Service Commitments, and the frequency of these commitments. They are as follows:

  1. Choir 1 — weekly plus concerts
  2. Choir 2 — weekly plus certain holidays
  3. Charitable Organization — monthly, plus additional
  4. Charitable Organization 1a — monthly
  5. Big Convention — yearly, plus ~ 1 week, plus sick time after
  6. Little Convention — yearly, plus ~ 1 week
  7. Community Emergency Response Team 1, Local level — quarterly
  8. Community Emergency Response Team 2, County level — monthly
  9. Community Emergency Response Team 2, State level — monthly
  10. Community Emergency Response Team 3, State level — monthly
  11. Exercise/ Physical fitness — daily, except Sunday

Yes, there is scheduled time for expected illness. (sigh). These can also be broken down as follows:

  1. Daily Commitments: 1
  2. Weekly Commitments: 2
  3. Monthly commitments: 5
  4. Quarterly Commitments: 1
  5. Yearly Commitments: 2

Two commitments in a day means I cannot cook, or do other household chores for that day, as the whole day will be spent in commitments and the driving to and from them. More than 2 days of 2 commitments in a week starts to effect diet, exercise, sleep, chores, and anything else I might possibly try to be doing with my life for the entire week. Missed sleep is not made up until maybe Saturday but, sleep too late on Saturday, and that cuts into the one day I have to catch up on everything else. If you look at the frequency breakdowns, you can see how this starts to become a problem. My weekly commitments plus my physical fitness needs max me out at the beginning, but then 5 monthly commitments means 1-2 additional commitments per week, plus quarterly and yearly when they come around.

This is untenable, but it’s how I’ve been going about my life for some time. Taking the first list, I compared it to my goals. Some of them fit into my goals. Some do not. I enjoy all of them– it’s the only reason I do them. I enjoy what I’m doing and I love the people I’m with. . . but I’ve got to cut back. Some things, those that are part of some of my goals, can be scaled back a bit (and to heck with anyone who gives me crap about it. Seriously, screw ’em.), some other things may have to go entirely. For commitments I’ve made through the end of February, I’ll be keeping almost all of those, because I don’t want to bail on people with such short notice. But beyond that. . . there will be cutbacks and cut-outs. Simply because there are things I’m supposed to be doing, but I’m so over-committed, that it’s a special occasion when I make any progress at all with them. And my health can’t take it– I can’t get in shape if I don’t have time to exercise, time to clean my house ,time to defrost my freezer so my fridge will work again, time to make my own meals, time to get my needed hours of sleep. . .

So, look. . . to everyone who will soon be seeing less of me: I am sorry. Please believe, this isn’t because I don’t like what we’ve been doing. And this isn’t because I’m “pussing out.” I will definitely miss these things, and the people involved, but these cuts have to be made. This is because I have my own priorities, my own goals, and I have to pursue them. There’s no point to my life if I do otherwise.