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August 2012
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Responsibility Fatigue

I stayed up too late last night because I ran out of responsibility. All yesterday, indeed all week, I have been the organizer of schedule. In theory, the job should not be onerous because we are merely reinstating a slight variation of a long-familiar schedule. No one is rebelling, everyone is glad to fall into a routine, yet I ended up sitting on the couch at 10:30 pm with tears leaking out of my eyes. None of my responsibilities were hard: nudge kids awake, remind them of homework, check to make sure gym clothes were cleaned, post-convention accounting, pick kids up from school, provide snacks, defend quiet space for work, declare time to make dinner, assist in making dinner, oversee homework. None of it was herculean considered alone, but anyone who has exercised with low weights and high repetitions can attest to the increasing difficulty of each lift. The fatigue builds incrementally, particularly when one is out of practice. Thus I ended a day, which had run very smoothly, feeling like I’d failed and was doomed to fail forever.

When I began remodeling my office, I realized that I wanted to take the process slow. I wanted to change something, like taking out the wall, and then consider how to proceed from there. It was very instructive to notice that making one change would open up new avenues of possibility. Dwelling in the changed space let me see which step was obviously next. I haven’t reached the “obviously next” part of this new schedule. I can see what is working; morning schedule, chores, homework times. I’ve identified what isn’t; something needs to be done to give me time off. Yet, I’m still wandering around in this space waiting for my back brain to mull it all over and show me what needs to be changed.

One of the things that absorbed my thoughts last night was thinking ahead to the writer’s retreat I’m attending at the end of September. I always thought it would fall into the category of dream come true, instead I appear to be approaching it like a fearful chore, something that needs to be done because it will force us all to grow. Truthfully, the primary value of the retreat may be that having it loom in my future is forcing me to be conscious of how I set the family patterns during this transition period. Instead of excusing kids from chores, I’m insisting on them. Instead of solving problems by assigning them to me, I’m stopping to think to whom the problems really belong. Instead of setting up a system that is like spinning thirty plates on sticks and I have to run around to make sure nothing falls down, I’m trying to create a functioning engine that only needs some oversight and a little grease in spots. Even if the retreat produces nothing else, the system it is encouraging will give me more creative space all year long. Hopefully between now and the end of September that increased creative space will allow me to remember why I dreamed of going to a writers retreat in the first place.

Words are probably the answer to what comes next. Writing gives me more than it takes from me. I’ve even begun to open up writer thoughts, which is also an effect of the scheduled retreat. I can’t waste the opportunity to focus on writing without doing some preparatory work. I’m slowing reading and processing a book about rhetoric and writing construction. I’m not racing through because I want to absorb and incorporate rather than cause my writing brain to seize up trying to do it all at once. I suppose I’m renovating my writing using the same method as I used for my office. Change a little and wait for it to settle. Unfortunately I keep battling waves of worry that my words are simply not as good as they ought to be. “I can do better than this,” is a frequent thought in my mind while hitting publish on yet another blog post which I know could use more polish if only I were not so tired. Or lazy. It is very human to simultaneously want to create something glorious and at the same time to not want to work too hard at it. I need to take more time to work at writing, trusting that the focused practice will make my work better even if it does not seem any better to me. Even if the words are not better, writing them makes me happier. I need to remember that.

I finally dragged myself off the couch and proceeded to stay up too late. I knew that my responsibility was to go straight to bed so that I could rise on time and launch the next day properly. That last responsible act was too heavy, too depressing. It felt as though all year would be an unrelenting onslaught of “I must be responsible.” Instead I fixed myself a frozen pizza and watched a tv show for an hour. At the end of it I felt much better. I’d taken time to do something just because I felt like it and the process restored my ability to hope again. I’m short on sleep today, but the morning went smoothly anyway, because the patterns don’t all depend on me to keep them running. This morning I’m writing first instead of trying to discipline my brain into doing accounting. I’ll do the accounting next, because it is important, but this morning writing was obviously next. After a work out it is important to rest. A study of weigh training makes clear that rest is when the muscles actually form, making the next lifting session easier. I think that this evening will be better.

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