Goals & Tasks, True & Dumb

15 June 2002

I woke up at 6:00 this morning. I didn't mean to, but the phone was ringing. And we have lots of old people, so I scrambled for it, panicking, wondering who it was. It was something that beeped repeatedly at me. Bah. I tried to go back to sleep, but by that time I had a phone-beeping story idea (and that's a descriptive adjective, not a euphemistic curse), so I got out of bed to write it done. And to write down the other story idea I got as I was going to bed last night. And by then I was Up.

So. I'm a bit tired, but I'll get by. I thought of another adored book -- Charles de Lint's Dreams Underfoot. I didn't include it originally because I wasn't thinking of short story collections. But it's a unified short story collection, all set in the same city with many of the same characters, so I think it might count.

I've been up for a couple of hours now, and I'm still scattered and half-sleepy. I should probably just settle into my chair with The Voyage of the Narwhal, but I have editing urges banging pans in the back of my head, so I'm having a hard time ignoring them entirely. And I don't get strong editing urges nearly as often as I have to edit, so I don't want to ignore them entirely.

I think I've figured out the problem. Well, two of the problems. The first is that I seem to be having a problem with time. Not a usual "can't find enough of it" problem, although that's always true, I think, of most of it. And not my usual yesterday/today/tomorrow problems. No, it's just that Timprov was trying to talk me into slowing down yesterday, and he started listing what I'd done in the last two weeks, and somehow I had it in my head that that's what I'd done in the last month. He started with, "Well, you did the 'Small Talk' edits for Stan," and I said, "That was ages ago!" It wasn't. It was two weeks ago today. Oops. The same amount of work looks a lot more considerable when it's done in two weeks than when it's done in a month.

The other problem is with how I'm orienting myself. I'm generally a pretty goal-oriented person, and I have some nice big goals to aim at, as well as some smaller, intermediate goals, so that's not really the problem. It's that, well, I don't have direct control over big sections of the goals. I want to get my novels published, for example, but all I can do is send them out, send out the agent queries, make them the best I can, and then...well, nothing. (Ironically, John Popper is now on the CD player instructing me to "Just wait." Yeah, yeah, arright, arright.) Same goes for short stories. I want to have a happy family, but sometimes external things will make my family members worried or unhappy or angry or [negative emotion here], and there's nothing I can do to control that, and trying would make things worse. And so on.

But tasks, now. I can control tasks. So I've ended up behaving in a way that's a lot more task-oriented lately, just because that's the part I can handle. And let me tell you, I am good at coming up with tasks. I can convince myself that something absolutely, vitally needs doing, when I hadn't thought of doing it at all up until a minute before. And then it goes on the list, and it goes into my mental list as well, which is much worse than the physical one, because it goes with me everywhere.

One of the first lessons that you're supposed to learn, oh, I don't know, somewhere before first grade, is that sometimes all you can do is your best. I hate that lesson. I think it's one of the dumbest lessons there is. True, yes; certainly true, and I'm not disputing that part. But it is entirely possible for things to be true and dumb.

Well. Editing urges remain, so I think I'll just let them take their natural course. I'm hoping I'll be able to rearrange my head, though, on the goals vs. tasks thing. I have very little hope of getting any further than shaking my head ruefully on the true, dumb lesson. But I'll try that, too.

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