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Untangled

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This is me, when I had those pesky snarls and tangles to deal with.

Blog Post #47

I have curly hair. When I was young, it was even curlier, and prone to tangles. My mother would comb and brush the snarls out, but the process was sometimes painful, and I didn’t like it!

Now that I’m older, my hair no longer snarls. As with many laws of science, such as laws of displacement, or the migratory habits of birds, when a snarl is combed out of one’s hair, it has to go somewhere else.  My migrating snarls have displaced vacant spaces in my brain and heart, which have resulted from a year of dramatic change, leaving some gaping holes and empty places—perfect for snarls to settle into.

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A tangled brain is not a good beginning to the New Year.

Let me explain what I mean by a tangled brain. A tangled brain is when a variety of commitments, desires, plans, thoughts, and scheduled parts of life seem to all land on the freeway of my mind at precisely the same moment causing a bottleneck-traffic jam of major proportions in my neural networking. Anyone who has experienced a bottleneck on the highway knows that traffic reduces to a crawl, or even a dead standstill, until a lane opens up ahead or there’s a reduction in the number of cars.

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Bottleneck  traffic jam

It’s the same with a tangled brain. An onslaught of stress or confusion results from too much input coming together at once, and too little capacity to deal with it efficiently.

Like combing out snarls, it may be a painful process trying to sort out the effects of major changes while also dealing with unexpected responsibilities mixed with everyday routines.

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It’s an interesting fact that, just when I see the approach of a free-flying chunk of “time” making its way toward me like a fly ball I’m straining to catch, some all-absorbed outfielder named Opportunity comes at me from one side, a focused short stop named Commitment comes at me from the other, and both slam into me with such force, the ball pops out of my groping mitt, and falls out of play with a thud. It’s happened to me so many times, I can’t even begin to count.

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It’s my own doing; I have the freedom to choose. Yes or no. Accept, or reject. I can decide. Mostly, I choose to accept. Accept is, perhaps, too passive a word.  Invite is more appropriate. I invite these kinds of fly ball responsibilities because I believe in the principle of service. The kind of service I’m speaking of doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “convenient.” I suspect that most true acts of service—the kinds that cause you to put someone or something else ahead of your own selfish desires—are rarely, if ever, convenient. I seriously doubt the Samaritan found it convenient to care for the man he found on the road during his travels.

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The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

I wish I could say that I always invite, or accept these opportunities with a willing and cheerful attitude, but that would be a lie. I have kicked against some of the opportunities I’ve had to serve, I’ve whined and I’ve complained. The result has always been the same. In the end, I have felt so grateful that I didn’t say no, even though I wanted to.  And not only did I feel grateful, I benefited. I benefited – and in every case, I probably benefited more than the person or organization I was serving. I stretched, I grew, I learned, I became more aware, I became more skilled. I found balm for my soul—my soul. I benefited. So in the end, who was really served? And was the sacrifice I thought I was making at the time really a sacrifice? The unequivocal answer is NO! It was not a sacrifice because of what I gained. Even though I used a portion of my time to do something I had not planned on doing, it really was not a sacrifice, because I was one of the beneficiaries.

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Dr. Seuss’s Grinch 

The best benefit of all is a changed heart. Like the Grinch, when I choose service over the selfish hording of my time, my hard and shriveled little heart softens and grows. I become a little bit better in my heart, a little less selfish, a little more generous.

Many years ago, I heard Camilla Kimball quoted as saying, “Never suppress a generous thought.”  That thought surfaces every time I contemplate any act of kindness, large or small. It has encouraged me in making the choice to serve over indulging in selfish desires. 4dcbbd7950dada094bcc65f827bbd178

So, here it is, the New Year. My brain is tangled up with a conglomeration of anticipated, as well as unexpected events, responsibilities, needs, desires, and opportunities for service that all seem to be converging on the same bottleneck portion of the calendar without regard for the fact that I also have regular, routine things to attend to during that same time slot. The (not so) strange thing (when you consider the explanation about the free-flying chunk of “time” I thought I saw heading my way) is that I had, at least for a moment, anticipated a nicely ironed out length in the fabric of time to do some of the things I have been setting aside for just such a vacant space. That sudden jam-up in my space-time continuum is threatening to create stress that I, frankly, don’t need or want.

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The thing is, I have something to say about that, too.

Looking at my history, a pattern is revealed, which is this.

  • I think I have a chunk of time.
  • It gets filled.
  • It clogs.
  • I stress.
  • It all gets done, (and usually with enough time to spare for a lot of other things).
  • I look back and wonder why I got so stressed.
  • Repeat from the beginning

That’s the pattern.

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(1)Think I have time                              (2) It fills and clogs 

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(3) I stress                                  (4) It all gets done

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(5) I look back and wonder why I was so stressed

Here’s an example of that pattern from my own experience. I’m lying awake in bed at night fretting over a checklist of responsibilities I will face during the course of the next busy day. The list is long. It is demanding. Each item on the list requires a chunk of time. Because the list has so many items, my brain, immediately, becomes tangled. That cluttered, tangled brain reacts with “It’s too much! I don’t have enough time! I’ll never get it all done!” Then that same brain begins to dwell on the first item on the list until it appears to have a dark cloud looming over it in a threatening way, causing it to take on unrealistic proportions. A small puffy cloud grows into a roiling thunderstorm. The more I think about it, the more it grows in my mind into a task requiring super-human effort and hours of time (which is usually a falsehood my brain imagines—not based on reality—like unloading the dishwasher when I was a kid. I thought it would take an hour of my precious playtime, when in reality, it only took about eight minutes.)

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The next day, I get up, and with anxiety, I begin my list. Right away, if I don’t dawdle about beginning because of the stress I’m feeling, I attack the first item, and discover that it only took fifteen minutes, not two hours. I recalculate the remainder of the day’s list based on this new discovery, and my stress level goes down a notch. Because my motivation increased with the time I gained, I complete the second item in a fraction of the time I imagined. My stress level drops another notch. And this continues with the rest of the list, until noon arrives, and my list is completed. I eat a leisurely lunch, while marveling at the weight lifted from my shoulders, the brightness of my mood, and the lightness of my heart as I contemplate how quickly that dark cloud dissipated.

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I know this pattern. I’ve lived it time and again. So for my current brain-tangle, I have made a decision. I am going to work backwards. I am going to look ahead, knowing the outcome, and forewarn myself that there will be time to do ALL of what is required with enough extra time to do many of the other things I have been saving up for, and want to do. I will paint a bright, light vision for my brain to focus on, so I will approach upcoming events and challenges with a bright and cheerful forbearance. I will weigh real-time, instead of tipping the scales with dark presentiments and false anticipation. I will cheerfully, willingly accept and invite these converging opportunities with the absolute understanding that I will be a beneficiary. But more importantly, I will be motivated and inspired by the hope and desire that someone else will benefit at least as much, and hopefully, even more than I do.

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The truth is, and it’s been proven conclusively, that when my heart is right, and I’ve placed my trust in He who is the Author of all Goodness and Service, I am strengthened, guided, and blessed. I can manage and untangle any snarls that come my way, while maintaining a proper perspective about time and my use of it.

Suddenly, my bottleneck is opening up! The snarls in my brain are beginning to untangle because in a very real way I can envision chunks of space in time, and chunks of time in my space.

I will enjoy the moment I’m in and the privilege I have of being alive to live it.

End Piece

© January 10, 2017

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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To Hurry or Not to Hurry…?

Blog Post #18
 

The White Rabbit from
Alice in Wonderland: “I’m late!”


To my knowledge, there is no specific word in the English language for a person who is usually two steps behind and, therefore, always hurrying, nor is there a word for an extremely “put together” efficient person.  For lack of better words on both counts, I’ll refer to the former as a “Hurry-er,” and the latter as an “Efficienteer.” (I made up these words just for you.)

Some people might think of a person who is always hurrying as efficient, but as I see it, that couldn’t be further from the truth. A hurry-er, by nature, is anything but efficient. In fact, hurry-ers are anything but hurry-ers. Moving quickly goes against their nature.  Hurry-ers are often sloppy, redundant, and ineffectual. They only hurry because it has become the last resort for their inaction. They hurry because they are always running late. They procrastinate when action would put them “on top of the game.” Perhaps they are just lazy.  Personal interests may be so absorbing to a hurry-er, that the he or she will let slide other aspects of life until forced to face them, responding to all the pulls and tugs nudging them from “the outside” (meaning the outside of their heads) only when it becomes imperative that they do respond. While dawdling over an ant on the windowsill, they ignore the rat rummaging through their kitchen. When the rat makes for the door with the cheese, at once frenzied, they follow in a mad dash to catch it, tripping on the piles of toys and junky things littering the house, barely recognizing their frazzled  image in the mirror hanging slightly askew as they pass, and finding they still have on their pajamas once they’re out the door. They must return inside, searching every nook and cranny to find their car keys, before they can even think of the pursuit. The rat has long escaped and the hurry-er hopelessly left behind and in a muddle.
 

Illustration from “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers” 
by Beatrix Potter


The hurry-er lives in a constant state of disarray. A domino effect of woebegone activities is set in motion by an initial choice that leads the hurry-er down the path to a Never Never Land of never never getting caught up. Neglecting rudimentary routines and necessities causes a pile-up of “have-tos” that soon form obstacles to freedom. Just one little choice can lead to captivity for the hurry-er. For example, a hurry-er I’ll call “Flakey” hears the alarm go off at 6am. She pushes the snooze button. At 7:30, Flakey is still in bed. The children got up while Flakey continued to push snooze. The kids were hungry, and decided to prepare their own breakfast—which would be fine, except they’re three and four years old. Cereal scatters all over the floors and counters. Milk spills. Dishes break. The three-year-old falls off a chair pushed up to the countertop in order to reach some forbidden cookies. Crying ensues. Hearing this, Flakey rouses herself from the stupor she feels from having overslept and hurries into the kitchen. She gets angry at the four-year-old for the mess, while simultaneously scolding and comforting the crying three-year-old who is covered in a sticky layer of crunchy crumbs. She bemoans her situation, wondering aloud, “Why me?” This is just how the day begins. A series of similarly neglectful events pile up one on top of the other throughout the day until Flakey is at her wit’s end. She might have enjoyed a different outcome had she chosen differently at the onset.
To be fair, there is a time and place for hurrying. Crossing a busy street, answering the call of someone in need, and escaping a burning building are all good reasons to hurry. It’s also a good idea to hurry when a pot of jam boils over, or a when a baby’s diaper explodes.



Whereas a hurry-er is constantly reacting to things, an efficient person, an Efficienteer, is into prevention, and planning—focused on acting rather than reacting. An efficienteer’s aim is to avoid muddles, not just respond to them. An efficienteer prevents pots from boiling over. (“And what about exploding diapers?” you ask smugly. Well, let’s face it—even though an exploding diaper announces its arrival with a sound not unlike a recently unplugged drainpipe, they are hard to anticipate—even for an efficienteer. Some things are outside the realm of even the most efficient.)


An ounce of prevention…


Still, efficienteers don’t wait for a problem to present itself, they think ahead, planning and preparing for the inevitable. Where a hurry-er might scramble all over the house, like a mouse in a maze, hurrying this way and that to find wipes, ointment, and clean diapers, an efficient person would have all necessary items gathered into one spot in advance, so when the blast occurs, they can immediately attend to the eruption with the confidence of a NICU nurse.


Think and plan ahead


Sometimes, efficienteers are designated as “multitaskers.” I disagree with this status. I  suspect the term “multitasker” was created by a hurry-er who was a wannabe efficienteer. What I’ve seen of multitasking doesn’t equate with efficiency. It just means a person has a short attention span and can’t stick with one thing for more than a few minutes, choosing distraction by various forms of simultaneous stimulation. Studies in neuroscience indicate that not only does multitasking slow you down, it also causes you to make more errors, and changes the way your brain works, dividing its functions, and reducing its ability to perform. 


A true efficienteer has the ability to focus. To tune out the unnecessary. When multiple tasks are in need of attention, the efficienteer knows how to prioritize. If other tasks are called into play while focused on something truly important, the efficienteer is well equipped to assess whether or not the interruption is worthy of her time and immediate attention. Once assessed, the urgent squeaky wheel is handled with alacrity by the efficienteer in one of three ways :  (1) she takes care of it quickly, (2) she relegates her attention to it at a time equal to its true importance, or, if she deems necessary, (3) she dismisses it altogether, returning to the needful and important with the same attention and resolve as before.




The efficienteer plans for distractions. When a casual phone call interrupts the efficienteer’s routine, the efficienteer has at the ready a list of mindless tasks to perform that nevertheless need doing—such as ironing, sewing on a button, or folding clothes—while talking via speakerphone.
 

“Woman Ironing” by Degas


An efficienteer’s motto might be “Semper Paratus,” since being always at the ready is her forte.  A hurry-er’s motto may run more along the lines of “Videbimus,” meaning “We Shall See….” 
Semper Paratus = Always Ready

Videbimus = We Shall See

I have functioned on both sides of the hurry-er/efficienteer fence at different times in my life, although I must admit, as the years have rolled by, my fence has increasingly leaned a little more toward the efficienteer’s obsessive side. Prone to efficienteerism, I would doubtless find a support beam to prop the leaning fence up. I think it’s possible to switch off between being a hurry-er and an efficienteer depending on circumstances, but I think, generally speaking, people gravitate toward one or the other most of the time.

It’s a simple difference in viewpoint and energy. Surely being an efficienteer isn’t always what it cracks up to be. For example, if carried to an extreme, efficienteers may be accused of fanaticism, or obsession. They must own the burden of this accusation because—feign to deny it—it is more than likely true.
On the other hand, hurry-ers, being frequently caught off-guard, may find themselves declared  indifferent,  self-absorbed, or oblivious, when the real issue is distraction. The hurry-er’s distractedness can be remedied by practice. Writing lists, and following simple schedules are good places for a hurry-er to begin pushing their fence toward the efficient side, provided they are able to follow-through. Which is the whole problem in the first place.

Distractions


As young wives, my sister and I both read the book, “The Art of Homemaking” by Daryl Hoole (1962, Publishers Press). We admired her organizational expertise, the emphasis she put on creating a home and reigning over it as a queen in her realm, (instead of being a common housewife), and the humorous way she made her points. We discussed at length how we hoped to integrate her suggestions into our households, and set to work doing so. It became a quest: organized shelves, de-junked, uncluttered, and harmonious homes all underscored by a woman who understood that creating a home was a rare and beautiful art form worthy of creative and enterprising minds. These were the shining beacons we sought after.

“The Art of Homemaking” by Daryl Hoole

My Uncle Albert used to say, “Wantin’ aint-a gettin’.” That applies to quests for organization and efficiency—especially if you are of the hurry-er mindset. At least, it takes longer “to get” if you are a hurry-er. (It sounds contradictory, but a distracted hurry-er reaches for what they want while moving rapidly at a standstill in the opposite direction.) One may incorporate many of the trappings of an organized household, but still lack the mental efficiency required for upkeep. Again, it’s about following through.

Page from “The Art of Homemaking” by Daryl Hoole
This was not my problem, however. I had the mental capacity, but I had to be creative with how to go about getting what I was seeking, lacking space and funds to organize and create with flair the kind of home environment I envisioned. In its humble way, my home reflected many of Mrs. Hoole’s suggestions and genius. Back in those forward-looking days of budding enthusiasm for all things domestic, I was oblivious to the development of an overly efficienteer mindset which she described in her book, but I failed to recognize as a real possibility.

She told of a homemaker who went on a date to the movies with her husband. No sooner had the woman sat down she pulled out a dust cloth and began dusting the theater seating.  She had become so obsessed with efficiency and cleanliness she couldn’t relax and enjoy freedom from this responsibility. Karen and I laughed at this story and I remember thinking that I could never relate to that kind of behavior or mindset! 

After all five of our children were sprouting into capable individuals—our youngest child, just three at the time—my husband and I decided it was time to host my entire side of the family for Thanksgiving dinner. A feat we had never thought to undertake until that time. For the first time, we were in that blissful state called “Pride of Home Ownership.” The house was still bare bones clean and uncluttered, and we thought it time we christen it while relieving my dear mother from the yearly bombardment of the hungry and thundering herds.

Painting by Norman Rockwell


A little worried about how things would turn out, and to insure everything was ready on time, I made a list for the week outlining the dishes that could be made in advance, when to clean the house, and indicating the timing of every task down to the moment we sat down to eat. Things did go smoothly. Our children were enlisted to help with various responsibilities. I even had time to relax in front of a cozy, toasty fireplace prior to our guests’ arrival. It was a turning point for me. I had walked the wobbly line between hurrying and efficiency for many years. I saw that I could be efficient and effective in a relaxed, unhurried way. That began my descent into obsession—into learning that women who carry dust cloths into the movies may be more than just a funny story. It just might be true—of me.

Now, over twenty years after that fateful Thanksgiving Day when I had begun to master the fine art of efficiency, I’m often accused, and rightly so, of clearing away the plates and cups of those who aren’t finished using them. I like to wipe up spills as they happen—but before they happen would suit me even better. 

When an efficienteer teeters on this imbalanced line of unnecessary efficiency they cross into the gray matter of superfluousity. In effect, they are no less effective than the hurry-er.  Their efforts are counterproductive as they waste precious minutes they could be doing something of greater worth, instead of keeping on top of the knit picky, infinite demands of the mundane. Spinning wheels may appear to be working hard, but if the vehicle they are attached to is up on a lift, of what use is all that expenditure of energy? Their effort is in vain. So it is with a superfluous efficienteer. (Try saying that fast three times in a row!)


Now, as I strive to resist my superfluous efficienteer tendencies, I’ve learned some simple truths:
  • You can hear the dishes and laundry snicker at you from their fresh places in the cupboard and closets if you inadvertently let them hear you say, “There! All done!”
  • Organization is only as good as one’s memory.
  • Wantin’ aint-a gettin’. Things worth having require effort, practice, and may eventually—if carried too far—need, to a degree, be unlearned.
  • A freshly cleaned house sends out vibes to friends and family urging them to pay a random visit. Almost without fail, they are accompanied by small children who delight in playing in the sandbox, and when nature calls, scurry through the entire length of the house with a truckload of sand sifting through their clothing and shoes onto the carpets, only to deposit the remainder of the load onto the bathroom floor. This is the time for the penitent superfluous efficienteer to sit back and enjoy the visit. Leave the cleaning-up for when your wonderful guests have gone, and count your blessings that people still want to visit someone like you–who entertains with a dust cloth in her hand.
  • An exploding diaper is an inevitability.
  • Sometimes it’s nice to press snooze—come what may.
© September 20, 2014


9/24/14 – ADDENDUM:  I’ve decided to add an addendum to this post in order to avoid confusion. I feel I should note that being an efficienteer doesn’t necessarily mean that one has all one’s ducks in a row all of the time. It doesn’t mean one’s house is always immaculate. The distinction is simply a matter of prioritizing time and funneling energy. 


A reminder to all (myself included): The dust cloth will always be there waiting, and so will the dust. Loved ones, family, friends, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, will not….


As always, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my little blog. I feel honored you would do so.

Tempus Fugit