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Saturday, February 24, 2001

Sometimes I wonder why I make such heavy demands of myself, when I know I can't deliver. Or won't. I could do all I expect of myself, if I kept grinding away on all the necessary tasks. I could have had the financial statement worksheets finished by now. I could produce cost reports every two weeks. I could get caught up on my filing. I could even have a clean, tidy house.

But I lose my way in a maze of good intentions. I'm easily distracted, and I'm too weak to stay on task when something new grabs my attention.

I can be sailing along, pounding the keyboard and watching the spreadsheet fill up with numbers and formulas and beautiful formatting. Then the phone will ring. It'll be the insurance agent, asking my opinion about the new coverage options she sent me. Or it'll be the Boss, wanting me to look up some three-year-old invoice to be sure we didn't pay a nickel more than we should have for that box of bolts.

I'll stand with a piece of paper in my hand, staring at it, the words and figures swimming before my eyes. Then I'll sit down and stare at the wall, paralyzed by the prospect of doing something I don't want to do. Suddenly I'll find the dirty dishes in the sink to be the most interesting thing in the world, much more inviting than the insurance papers or the invoice file.

I can waste an hour working around the edges of a question that I could have answered in five minutes, if I'd wanted to. And then I'll waste another hour thinking about it, and another one getting back to what I was doing before the interruption.

All this explains why I'm always behind, and why I'm always working but never seem to get anything done. Deadlines are my best friend, because that's the only time I'm focused enough to stay with a task until it's done.

The upshot of all this circular motion is that I'm getting nowhere. Not only am I getting precious little accomplished, but I'm also not improving in areas where I'd like to. I'm not becoming a better writer or photographer, because I'm not putting enough of myself into the endeavor. I'm always out of time, or I don't have the energy, so I throw something together. Or I have something else to get on to, so I don't try to make something as good as it can be. I'm never quite satisfied with either my effort or the end result. And, in most things, I have no one to answer to but myself. I'm not sure if that's as much an advantage as it is an excuse.

Sometimes when I'm working, I feel guilty because I'm not goofing off. If I have so much to do that I have to work straight through the day, without taking some time to read a book or watch the birds, I think I've let myself down. Here's a day that will never dome again, and I've squandered precious reading time printing reports or entering data.

Time is such a precious commodity, and although it may be infinite in the abstract, it's not infinite for me. And it's not renewable. Once a moment has passed, I'll never be able to make it count for anything more than I already have. When the sun goes down, today is lost forever. I lived most of my life in a century that now exists only in memory and records.

This would be true even if I'd made the most of every moment. Those moments would still be gone, but the quality of the memory might ease the sting of the loss.

Do I sound as if I'm driven? I'm not; I'm a slacker, as I've admitted, many times. But I'd like to be driven. I often think of myself as driven. It's just that reality gets in the way of this fantasy I weave about my own inner strength. I play at being dedicated and hard working. The real me does just enough to get by, most of the time. Sometimes not quite that much.

first buds on a young plum tree against the February sky

If all this mental thrashing around got me to a point where I thought I could change my errant ways, I'd have a bullet-pointed listed of resolutions about making schedules and sticking to them, about staying aware of what I'm working on so that I don't wander off before it's done, about eliminating the nonproductive and counterproductive elements in my life.

Instead, I'll keep on getting by by getting by. Until it catches up with me, I'll continue to meander through the day, scoffing at schedules and wincing at "to do" lists. I'll go on watching General Hospital until Luke and Laura are back together.

What I will do is try to like myself more in spite of these faults. In the end, I get as much "work" done as I need to, eventually. I could stand to spend a little more time at "play" anyway. Maybe that's all the incentive I need to stay focused during the work day. Or maybe I just have to convince myself that however I'm spending my time, I'm not wasting it if I'm moving forward on something that matters.

I seem to have come around to the conclusion that my dissatisfaction with my own daily performance of the act of living isn't justified. I hope I haven't wasted too much time working this out. And I hope I haven't wasted yours reading about it.

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And I had nowhere to run
But I stood and looked
And my eyes got hooked
On that beautiful morning sun.