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I used to be smart. What happened?

August 2, 2008 Leave a comment

I used to know a lot of important stuff and a lot more unimportant, unrelated bits of information that I’m sure will not come in handy to anyone, except if you are a game show guest or writing a novel. 

I used to be smart, but one day I was watching Cash Cab, a tv reality game show.  The fares answer questions for money while riding to their destination somewhere in mid-Manhattan.  I read the newspapers. I watch the 7 o’clock news.  I pay attention to Jay Leno’s monologues to be up on the really important highlights of the day.  But I miss half Ben Bailey’s questions.

In college, I entered trivia contests and believe it or not…won.  I won geography contests…this makes my husband roll over in laughter.  I won spelling bees, but now I have trouble remembering how to spell hors d’oeuvre.  Gee, that word will forever look like it is spelled wrong.

In high school my friends actually thought I was cerebral.  I liked talking about literature and cut my teeth on Sidhartha, Nietzche, and Marxism.  I was enthralled by Machiavelli’s The Prince.  The denial of morality in political affairs and the justification of craft and deceit in pursuing political power came as cerebral jolt to my naive teen outlook of the world.

I used to be smart.  I knew who the 16th president was.  And what year George Washington became president.  I knew how to spell Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and now I have all I can do to pronounce it.  In the years since earning my graduate degree, I began a long, slow slide into a mental lethargy. 

Around age 35 I started teaching college English.  It is then I realized how ignorant I had become.  I entered motherhood a couple of years earlier.  I had traded in my grasp of concepts and thought for expertise in diaper rash, flash cards, and walks in the park. 

I watched as my expensive education became obfuscated by the distraction of babies crying,  mundane chats with neighbors, and house cleaning.   It was like quicksand.  Once I stepped in, it was hard to pull myself out, that is, unless I was Bear Grylls in Man vs. Wild.

I depend on Google to remind me of the details of chronological history, names and dates and have to quickly scour literary SparkNotes.com to jog my memory about plotlines, characters, and themes.  I can still add 2 plus 2.  Thank heaven for small favors. 

As I fast approach my senior years, will I my life be reduced to toggling between watching “Wheel of Fortune” and playing gin rummy?  Will I pick up a Danielle Steele novel instead of a book such as “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch?

What do I attribute my cerebral void?  It isn’t all about aging.  It is about life’s choices.  At the time, I wasn’t aware how my choices would shape my present.  If Dara Torres (42 year old Olympic athlete) can make a comeback on the swimming circuit, I can too, especially now that my children are leaving my home to start their own.  And while I am creating a wish list here, I wouldn’t mind reclaiming my twenty-something body. 

I have a stack of books to read. I have the Internet.  I am ready to become an information junkie.

So, Ben Bailey.  Next time I’m in NYC, I will be looking for your cab.  I’ll be ready for you.

 

Discovering Who You Are as a Writer (2)

April 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Tonight we are going to talk about weaknesses. This is part of the SWOT analysis explained in a posting dated 4/19/2008.  The W stands for itinerating your weaknesses.  I know that we all know what we are weak in, but if you write it down, the cumulative picture shifts a bit.  You will see yourself slightly differently and begin to connect these weaknesses with other events in your life.  Since I am sharing, I have listed my weaknesses in regard to my writing goals.  You may realize that these very same weaknesses may appear in other areas of your life as well. 

WEAKNESSES

Need more fiction writing time
Easily distracted by family and responsibilities
Too eager to help others
To-Do List is overwhelming

For a long time I’ve been trying to work this out.  Obviously, I am my own worst enemy.   I have no one to blame but myself.  I look at this weakness list with more clarity.  I don’t want it to be me, but it is me.  I have drifted through life, not paying enough attention.  I compounded these weaknesses with a cardinal error. I kept telling myself that in a couple of years, life will be more settled and I will have time to write. Don’t believe it. It doesn’t work that way. Action, even the smallest amount, consistently performed toward a goal is what yields achievement.

So, here’s what I learned from the list above:

1. I should have set aside time to write consistently. The same spot every day at the same time, even it is for a very short time.

2. I should have learned to say NO on occasion.

3. I should have learned to delegate tasks.

4. I needed to push my writing time to the top of the priority to-do list.

Here’s the hard part. I’m going to have to change my behavior to overcome these weaknesses. This is no small feat. But if I change one thing, maybe it will make a noticeable difference? The next thing I need to do is create an action plan to resolve these weaknesses.

1. I have to ask myself every time a task sits before me: To which of my goals will this task advance along? If it isn’t advancing my writing or the top 4 goals, then I have to ask myself “Can this be done at some other time? Or does it have to be done at all? And if it does need to be completed, can anyone else do it?”

2. I have to talk to my family and win there support verbally. This will make for less problems in the long run, if my new schedule should cause the family stress.

3. I am getting out a grid to schedule what my days are like. Write in colors. The visual cues of daily chore will help move your writing project toward completion. You assign a time to write. The empty space on the grid calls for you to claim writing time. Because this time will be sandwiched between two other engagements, you will make this time very productive.

4. I have many years of unconstructed behaviors. There will be the occasional lapses into being too nice…and you will notice it, because suddenly you have stopped writing.

I will post this now, but I’m thinking that I will also share with you my time schedule, so you will see how I needed to fit writing time in.  A visual calendar is a good way to keep you on track. 

Next we will see what opportunities awaits me. How can I use that to my advantage?

Writing Inertia

March 25, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m back from a great week of relaxation.  My husband and I went to Cancun, Mexico.  It is our first vacation together sans children in many, many years. 

Although our days were filled with exploration and tours, I somehow found time to read and think about writing.  Or in my case the lack of writing fiction.  I have no one to blame but myself.  I have the desire.  I possess the intellectual and technical knowledge.  However, I am unable to move beyond the initial planning stages. 

I tried to isolate my issues and realized that it isn’t one neatly packaged cause, but a myriad of excuses all converge into inertia.  Time management, or the lack of it, is one of the major culprits.  I work full time and when I get home, I feel brain dead, and opt to finish up small, not-too-demanding-on-the-brain activities, like folding laundry. 

I am in my mid fifties.  If I don’t get my act together, I may never go further than writing this blog.  That would be disappointing.

So, since time seems to be my greatest competitor, let’s continue with this theme next time.  If you have some good time management strategies or tips you would like to share, please comment.  I would love to hear what others are doing.  And how they make the leap from intellectually knowing and successful execution. 

I have worked with time management for tasks/projects  in several of my many places of employment.  However, knowing what to do is so totally different from doing what you know.  I am hoping if I articulate these strategy ideas that I will be more motivated to actually take my advice.  How great is that!