Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When Plans Go Awry

One of my favorite coffee mugs was given to me by one of my children.  It was black, with white lettering declaring that "Shit Happens."  I used to drink from it daily, to remind myself--as if I needed reminding--of life's vicissitudes.  Of course, after a relatively brief reign of intact splendor, "shit happened" to my cup.  It was repurposed as a miscellaneous container and lived in deeply chipped glory on my bathroom vanity, beverageless--until some more shit happened.  The cup is gone, but the shit continues.

I'm not sure why so many of us seem to rely on life being routine and predictable.  Between hurricanes and earthquakes and terrorist attacks, you'd think we'd get the message.  And how about all those mugs, t-shirts, bumper stickers and bestsellers marching across our consciousness, driving home the same point?  WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL!  But damn, we want to be.  And none more than me.

And yet the free spirit in me frequently contrives with the evil genie of life to place myself square in the center of the action.  I'm the one adopting as a single parent; taking the insanely demanding job; dating and then marrying the passionately work-obsessed world-changer with three kids; commuting to New Orleans; woman-ing the barricades.  Giving myself no quarter.

But this seemingly brave self is a front.  I definitely "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway," as the popular self-help book advises.  And then here I am, shaking in my boots, when the you-know-what starts rolling in.

I've managed over the years to ride some pretty big waves, if not with alacrity than at least with aplomb.  But it's the little stuff that threatens my composure and, more to the point, my recurring efforts to reform. It's the first day missed of a new exercise regimen, or the first bite of forbidden dessert, or the bed once unmade, or the dishes left undone that undoes me.  Perfectionism raises its ugly little head and tries to take me down with its venom.

I've been holding my breath the last few weeks, waiting for the shoe of the unexpected to drop.  And frankly, I'm surprised it's taken this long.  Although, looking back, I see that I've been looking ahead for routine-busters and planning my moves around them.  Early morning meetings?  Get up earlier to blog.  Scheduled 5K training time encroached upon?  Reschedule for later in the day.  Sick kids?  Scale back the to-do list, make the chicken soup run or the doctor's appointment, and keep going.

But I didn't see yesterday coming.  All my adroitness in shushing around the moguls of an early meeting, followed by back-to-back commitments, a much-heralded snowstorm, getting plowed in at one job and having to dig out, rescheduling my workout--and thinking I'd dodged a bullet when at least the gym stayed open--couldn't save my scheduled training session.  A friend from the job that didn't plow me in  called as I was heading out, needing a long confidential talk I'd promised earlier and forgotten.  When I got off the phone, it was too late to get to the gym.  And jogging in a blizzard would clearly not do.  And by then literally "off track," I didn't walk the dog.  And I didn't substitute meditating at home for my snowed out meditation group.  At the end of a busy, crazy day, I had expended lots of energy but accomplished very few of my own core tasks, the ones that signal to me that I'm trying to do things differently.

So I wake up this morning dreading "the slide."  You know, that downward drift set in motion by some unplanned interruption and the small resulting "failure," and the sense that we can't hold back the tide of that substance celebrated by my luckless cup.  And really, why bother trying?

But platitudes and maxims swim in my head.  I need to "just do it," "get back on the horse," and "keep going" though the going will probably get tough.  I can squeeze yesterday's workout into today.  My dog will get his walk.  I can meditate before work.  I can continue scanning the daily horizon for bummers and surprises, and coming up with midcourse corrections.  And I can try to keep enough air in my schedule that I can implement hastily crafted Plan B, or C, or L, or even Z if it comes to that.

And I can stop fooling myself about the amount of control I can expect in this crap shoot, and stop aiming for 10's.

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