Here's how it works: I go through life cramming more and more into the space and time I have, until I hit a breaking point. With physical objects it manifests as a need to rearrange. With my time, this shows up as a need to recalibrate how I articulate TO MYSELF how I spend my time.
I am at one such moment. I sort of have known this was coming, but there are so many variables of how opportunities and obligations come my way that I don't know for sure if I'm there until I'm there.
I know I'm there when the story I tell myself of how I should be spending my time doesn't match up well with how I actually need to spend my time, and I find myself doing things like just now, axing out an order of blanks on a weekend, generally cramming more and more work into every available moment. Time to take a step back and review.
What's actually happening is several things are piling up, and I need to take a day or two to deal with them before filling more orders. I have two manuscripts needing to be edited by midweek; I need to write an article for the magazine and send all the articles and photos from all the contributors to our new format guy (very excited about that, but it does mean that I can't shove it off til later like I'd been planning); I need to box up and send out almost 50 polishers and burnishers; I need to do a regular post office run with all the orders from this last week and I need to prepare and make a bank deposit. That may all fit into tomorrow, but likely it will spill over into Tuesday, especially editing the manuscripts. Then, by chance, I'm teaching half of Wednesday, all of Thursday, and half of Friday. I have tried very hard to hold teaching to one day a week, but somehow I booked all of these.
To top it all off, I've been getting less and less certain of when I'm actually booking work now, as my day planner has gotten muddled. So today I actually ordered a new day planner, and I will be re-writing all orders from here on out, adding in all the new obligations I know of now, and we'll see where that gets me. I'm getting close to the cut-off date of when I need to close non-local orders for the year, and I won't know until I write everything out again.
So I'm due for a recalibration, and I need to clear the decks a bit. I'll see you on the other side.
This weekend I put in my yearly couple of days of attending to the outside of the house. Some years it's building wraparound stairs to a porch, or ripping out a bunch of rot and rebuilding walls and siding. This year is was repainting about a third of the house and attending to the small pockets of rot that this process uncovered.
My process is unsophisticated but effective enough. Scrape any loose paint. Probe any rotted areas, rip out only what seems truly soggy, stabilize the rest with wood hardener applied with a syringe, patch with wood filler if necessary and paint that sucker.
The nice thing about paint is that it allows a house to age gracefully. It always amazes me how the gnarliest section of rot, if treated this way, can be completely inconspicuous, unnoticeable against the view of the house as a cohesive whole.
Now don't get me wrong: if a board is totally rotten, I think it's a good idea to rip it out and replace it. But sometimes now is not the appropriate time to rip it out and fix it properly. In which case, this quick fix that takes five minutes is miles better than doing nothing at all.
The thing is, we all need a way to age gracefully. I used to groan at having to paint the house, swearing that I would never live in a white house with a white picket fence (I grew up with both). So much painting! But what I failed to appreciate was the way that paint allows you to tolerate imperfection for awhile longer, and then awhile longer still. Failings can be covered up, forgotten. Repairs can be blended in with the original, creating one joint effort between me and everyone who ever built or worked on this house.
I am a man of quick fixes. I don't bite off more than I can chew in these couple of days of house repair each year. I am not interested in living in a construction zone for months while I slowly piece together the parts of some complicated renovation. Paint is the ultimate arbiter for someone like me. Do the best you can, paint it and move on. Paint is temporary. Paint is powerful. Paint is life.
The other day, I got approached to see if I might be interested in taking over the local paper's food and farming column, a monthly thing that I could run with almost complete autonomy.
I'm leaning towards saying yes.
It's a strange feeling, being approached to see if I want to write for money. For my whole life, my writing is something I've produced almost entirely apart from money. Sure, there have been a couple of magazine articles for pay, and yes, there is the book. But for the most part, the monthly column I used to write for an even smaller paper, these blog posts, the mini blog posts I write for my instagram account, all those WORDS, they are all put out there with the hope that someone, somewhere, will find some use in them. For sure no one asked me for them.
Which honestly is as it should be. Whatever you love most should come from a place of loving to do it, NEEDING to do it, first. You do it and do it and do it and do it. No one listens at first. No one even knows you exist.
This is a good thing. You really don't want anyone's attention while you're figuring things out.
Bit by bit you get better, usually by unlearning all the things you added on top of what is actually quite simple. Still, no one is beating down your door. But maybe they are okay with you showing up.
Stick with me a bit further here, because it's still a long road. You see, in order to write anything, you first need to know something. The younger you are, the less you know (trust me on this 20-somethings). So live a little. Keep writing.
At this point, you can probably ask people if they want to hear from you, and they will usually say yes. Because by now you have something to say and you are practiced in saying it. Which is only because of all the times you have practiced saying it and fell short. Still, you keep at it. Beyond all reason, beyond all payback, beyond all patience, you do this thing because you have to. Because it is how you make sense of the world. Because it is how you can make an impact. You keep at it even when you'd rather be doing something else and you get back on that horse when you fall off.
And then maybe, if you stick around long enough, just maybe, someone asks you to write something.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.