My friend Alison and I have a running joke that’s gone on for two decades (some might say that’s too long). It’s about a character in the movie The Dream Team, and in it a character wears a lab coat and carries around a clipboard with his meticulous schedule on it, along with notes and reminders he scribbles throughout the day. He is the epitome of structure and a well-regimented life. He is also a patient in a hospital dealing with emotional and psychological issues.
The joke is this: Alison and I don’t see what the problem is. Making plans? Setting measurable goals? Writing lists? Carrying around a clipboard? “That just makes good sense!” we exclaim.
Of course, the fact that he keeps a planner is not what landed him in the hospital. This is simply a symptom for the greater issue. Life is messy; it is heartbreaking and messy. And no plans, no lists, no bullet journalling can substitute for the work of experiencing the heartbreaking mess of it all. But this man wants to be somewhere safe. He wants to be in a world with tasks and to-dos and clear-cut objectives because (and I can relate to this as much as I can to his use of a planner) living vulnerably can be exhausting. It is relentless.
Alison and I know this. We are both hilarious, organized, and highly sensitive people, and our ability to joke about it comes from a resolve and an acceptance we both have about ourselves. We journal, we list, we notate planners not because it takes away the messiness of life, but because it helps us live it.
The problem comes, I suppose, from holding on too tightly to those plans and not being open to the possibilities that could bloom when a break happens.
I try to keep this in mind, but I’m not great at practicing the art of not keeping a planner. I have all of mine from eighth grade — all but one — and that is my August 2004-August 2005 planner. That was the year I taught sixth grade and eighth grade English in Maryland. Not only did my students learn my love of and reliance on my planner, they spent a significant amount of time trying to steal it.
They were not successful. I’ve lost my keys, my credit card. I’ve even lost my shoes (long story). I have never lost my planner. However, for a parting gift at the end of the year, I made my students each a bookmark with a page from my planner on one side, and a quote from Fahrenheit 451 on the other: “It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something like you when you take your hands away.”
It was a token — a symbol, really — and probably the significance was greater for me than it was for them. I wanted to tell them that every so often it’s good to admit that there are wonderful gifts that cannot be planned for, and the only way to accept them is to open ourselves up to the offering.
This week, write an ode to making plans (or, for you crazy folk who don’t keep a planner, NOT making plans). Here’s my attempt:
You offer plenty of space for my hopes, dreams, and to-dos:
Write a book, read up on literacy, and perhaps buy new shoes.
I keep all of you around – from 1989 to 2018
Hoarder behavior, or so it might seem
but you help me with my stories –
you help me remember.
How else would I know
about that night in December?
That little plaid skirt from Express;
the black tights and patent leather shoes,
the songs on B96 –
Chicago’s Top Forty station that was way more rhythm than blues.
I was supposed to write a persuasive essay
but the city was calling
I looked at what I’d written, then looked at you,
I turned a page –
deciding I would save the work for another day.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Monica Sharman that we enjoyed:
Where it met a curve in the gravelly road
the wagon, too fast, turned enough to teeter
for just a moment on two rusted wheels —
a moment long enough to throw me,
keep me moving on the tangent line before the curve
onto the rashing dirt of a road.
Take me to another poverty,
a fellow slave,
a new escape,
and circle me
back on my own
A Writer’s Dream Book
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—Sarah Smith, Executive Editor Prevention magazine; former Executive Editor Redbook magazine
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