Leave a Message at the Tone

June 25th, 2016

I am Too Busy Doing Nothing to Deal With You

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday. I’m middle-aged, and it’s still my favorite day of the week. On Saturdays, I REFUSE to do anything productive. The rest of the week, I merely FAIL.

It’s not the same.

Yesterday I blogged so I could put off working on bills and taxes. Today I’m blogging so I can put off reading Aeschylus. You have to be a sick, sad individual to procrastinate with regard to recreation. You can’t stoop much lower than that.

I have been trying to get my dad’s finances up to date. I have come to accept the fact that it’s not going to happen overnight. I could work at it for twelve hours a day and lose my mind. Instead I put in three or four hours and remain partially sane. If he has to pay a couple of late fees, he will live.

When your affairs get screwed up, you can’t turn them around instantly. It’s like turning an oil tanker. After you turn the wheel, you keep going in the same direction for a while. Some things will actually get worse while you’re improving the big picture. It’s better to accept it than to ruin your sleep and digestion.

The process of untangling the mess is improving me, personally.

Because I merely occurred instead of being raised responsibly, I have bad habits a well-reared six-year-old would not have, and I lack good habits. For one thing, I never know when to start things or when I’m done. I come from a family of disorganized people. They just do things when they have to. Very little planning. And the dumbest one probably has an IQ of 120. There is no excuse.

It came as a big shock to me that it was possible to break tasks into chunks and quit before I was finished. This is the kind of thing Jewish and Asian parents teach their kids in the womb, so they go on to blow the curves on tests and own really nice houses. My ancestors–at least the immediate ones–didn’t pass this information on, probably because they didn’t know it.

I wonder if one of the purposes of the Sabbath was to teach the Jews time management. Imagine what it was like to live before the Sabbath, in a world where every day was exactly like the one before. There were no weekends. There were no days off, unless you died. It must have been hard to organize time.

Once Saturday is cordoned off for God, you must inevitably start thinking in terms of a weekly cycle. You have to prepare for the Sabbath, which takes time. Some parts of the preparation will surely take more than one day. Tasks will have to be broken up. Meanwhile, your Dagon-worshiping neighbors will be wandering aimlessly in an unstructured existence, on a time line that stretches out before them like the unreachable horizon.

First thing you know, you have a desk calendar and a to-do list, and you own all the real estate for a mile in every direction. And your neighbors are sharecropping and waiting for a chance to behead you.

My guess, anyway.

Good habits are like slaves that work 24 hours a day, without being prompted. A good habit is like a passive investment. It works even when you’re resting.

I really need some of those.

I was diagnosed with ADD a long time ago, and they put me on powerful drugs that made me considerably crazier than I had been when I was untreated. ADD is real; no question about it. But I always felt that a good upbringing would have canceled most of the ill effects.

Oh, well. You have to think about what you have left and what you can still gather, not what you have wasted.

A lot of what the Holy Spirit does for people falls into the realm of habit. Spirits drive habits. Any Christian who has been a heroin addict could tell you that. God will take bad habits out, and he will put good habits in. Only if you give yourself to him. Otherwise, you limit his help.

I have finally figured out that you need to prioritize tasks. Then you need to create a list. After that, you need to go down the list and deal with tasks in order. And you need to break each task up into bits, so you don’t work on one thing for ten days straight while letting everything else slide.

You have to have finish lines. You can’t have a goal like, “Get condo fee mess straightened out.” You have to come up with something that has a definite end, like, “Call condo association and leave a message, threatening to sue.” When you do this, you know what you’re supposed to do, and you know when you’re finished for the day.

When I was a kid (and when I was in college the first time around), I did my long-term projects the nights before they were due. My parents knew I was in the living room at 5 a.m., time and time again, cobbling things together and getting B’s or worse, but somehow they didn’t see it as a huge problem they should fix. They were able to criticize, but they did not provide solutions, and neither did I.

Even as late as law school, I didn’t know how to structure time. I told my girlfriend, “You can work all semester and get a B+, or you can work hard for three days and get a B.” That was actually true, but it wasn’t a brilliant strategy. I graduated cum laude, and the people with good habits got summa. They’re generally unhappy people, but they handled responsibility well.

When I became a lawyer, all that changed, at least with respect to work. When you work on a case, the court sets deadlines, and your first big job is to pore over the rules and write a schedule for yourself. Once that’s done, you’re on rails. I almost never had a problem. I was the person who kept other people on track. Somehow this didn’t bleed over into my personal life. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because my personal life didn’t include a bar association and a judge, waiting to take my license and put me in jail.

The more I help my dad organize, the more organized I become. I like it.

My dad had a partner who could not organize anything. He was very, very smart. He was a wonderful resource when you needed help on a case. But he didn’t record his hours. He didn’t answer the phone or return calls. He was hard to locate. When the partners complained, he said his value as a resource justified his pay. Then they reminded him that if he didn’t record his hours, the clients could not be billed.

He was always a nervous wreck. He had high blood pressure. He always had some kind of unnecessary crisis going on. Once, he left his car in the airport’s short-term lot, and the cost of redeeming it got so high, he decided to abandon it. And they wouldn’t take it.

The managing partner, who was ambitious in a not-nice way, got rid of him eventually. No one could mount a convincing defense.

When you’re a kid, they don’t tell you this: peace comes from order. If your life is disorderly, you will never have peace. When I was a kid, they taught us that peace came from being a rebel, doing drugs, and following your heart, which is about as smart as following a goose. That stuff is the road to ulcers and strokes, not to mention poverty.

When you start to get organized, things clear up as though by magic. You find yourself noticing that old, familiar problems aren’t there any more. Maybe excess fat disappears. Maybe your digestion improves. Suddenly, you can walk across your living room without tripping. You’re not afraid when the phone rings, because you know your bills are paid. You decide to drive to the store, and you actually know where the keys are.

I am definitely procrastinating right now, but because my life is more organized than it used to be, I don’t have to work as much, so procrastination is less damaging. Strange, how that works.

I guess now I need to work on organizing my free time. That sounds perverse, but it’s not. Even elective activities require a steady, consistent approach. You can’t even get good at playing Frisbee if you don’t practice. Here’s something weird: the time you determine to spend NOT doing anything is almost as sacred as the time you spend doing. It has to be nearly as important.

I wish I could go back in time to when I was a kid and track myself down and kick myself in the butt every day. “Hi. It’s me. Did you brush your teeth this morning? No?” KICK. “Have you prayed in tongues? No?” KICK. “Do you have a list of things to do? No?” KICK. The British say the boy is the father of the man. I kind of wish the man could be the father of the boy.

I can’t fix the years that are behind me, but some people who read this blog are younger than I am, so I know someone out there will, or at least can, benefit from my experience. The rest get to repeat it, as Santayana more or less said. Come over and join me on the Group W bench.

I better get Aeschylus out and put in 30 minutes. After Aeschylus, Thucydides will be like a day at the spa.

6 Responses to “Leave a Message at the Tone”

  1. Stephen McAteer Says:

    Some wise words in there, thanks.

  2. Steve H. Says:

    I finished The Oresteia! Zeus be praised!

  3. Stephen McAteer Says:

    Well done. I just got another Stoics book (Seneca’s Epistles). Translated from what I think might be the original text. Hope it’s readable.

  4. Sharkman Says:

    One of the good things about having a list of things to do is that when you finish one of the items on the list you can make a big deal out of crossing that item off with a fat red Sharpie, kind of like Beatrix Kiddo did with her Death List Five from KB I & II.

    Doing this gives you a great sense of accomplishment and shows your progress in a very visual way.

  5. Steve H. Says:

    I probably shouldn’t joke about praising Zeus, since he is actually Satan, the biggest loser the universe has ever known.

  6. John P. Says:

    Follow your heart = follow a goose. Good one! I hate that phrase.