The Never-ending To Do List


I am not a morning person. Coffee is my lifeblood. The snooze button, my kryptonite. While it’s historically proven that anything you do for 21 days becomes a habit, after 32 years of tossing and turning, I just have to live with my neuroses.  Yes, rising with the sun, singing with the chirping birds, reclining on my patio with a nutritious breakfast and the morning paper sounds like a marvelous way to start a Monday.  But this isn’t the annoying sound-tracked Kate Hudson movie version of my life (I would never agree to her playing me, by the way).  My morning looks a lot more like Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club, pre-makeover.  Mousy, wrinkled, late and oh so cranky.  Is it any wonder that I have the above sign on my fridge? I mean, at least I had the decency to warn you.

Anyone that has met me knows that I am a Type-A perfectionist.  Too often in my life, I didn’t participate in activities, simply because I know I wouldn’t be the best at it.  In my old age, I’m trying to get over that fear – I started playing tennis, skiing, running, writing  – all later in life than most. As Anne Lamott, my favorite writer, put it: perfectionism “is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”  So I’m on a quest to find the balance of diving in courageously, but swimming with a strong stroke. And of course, I’m trying to do that perfectly. How can I find balance, hmmm, let me make a list….

So I haven’t written in a long time –writer’s block?  Nothing to say?  Or just nothing important to say…maybe all of the above.  What I do know is that I expect the first draft to come out perfectly edit-free, and within twenty minutes.  If I don’t feel that it will, why write anything at all? If I don’t do it, I can’t screw it up, right? Too often I forget that, like anything else in life, it’s a journey, and the true enjoyment of it comes from the revisions, the do-overs, and the wonderful, never-to-be-outdone delete button.

Anne Lamott encourages her writing students to title their work ”Shitty First Draft.” It’s a method of learning acceptance – the first draft is supposed to be bad, and it’s bad for everyone, no matter the gift of verbosity. The point of the title is to take a load off. Enter with no expectations. Push perfect aside.  Everything we do has that potential but it doesn’t happen immediately – and it doesn’t happen without a lot of practice. It all is a shitty first draft.  The first drive you hit is not going to look like Rory McIlroy’s.  The first chapter you write is not going to resemble Jules Verne.  And your hair is never going to look as good as when you walk out of the salon.  Let it go.

So all the time I spent trying to perfect all that I was doing, I am now trying other things.  Staring off into space is wildly underrated.  I read everything about everything. I’ve managed to fall in love with Guinness.  Cook brussels sprouts daily.  Buy flowers for myself.  Indulge in fresh fruit. Learn to say no.  Find peace in the quiet. Recycle all the useless files I have in my cubicle, unbeknownst to my work colleagues. I handwrite thank you notes. Cross people off my list who don’t serve me. Buy more expensive wine. Accept myself – and the fact that my cowlick is something that I have to live with, no matter my hairstyle.

There’s no rushing the perfection, because the perfection never comes. Instead, the answers will come – and if they don’t, then maybe you’re not asking the right questions. The only thing worth learning is that settling for the imperfect is pretty perfect.

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One thought on “The Never-ending To Do List

  1. I love your cartoon – it drew me to your blog floating through the Life section. I’ve found that when the ‘shitty first draft’ come from the innards of your soul it needs very little editing. Those are usually my best works. Good luck with your writers block. This too shall pass.

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