It is with earnest intention and optimism that I arise each day and assemble my “to do” list. Somewhere between coffee and barn chores, the day claims its independence, thumbs its nose at my list and shows me that the day will rule. Not me.
For many years now, I have chosen to earn a living by doing two of the hardest things to do: Work at home and make a profession of creative writing. Both require discipline. When people ask for advice in writing, I always say, “Sit down and do it. Don’t just talk about it.”
The first 12 or 13 years of writing at home went pretty much as planned. That is to say that I had a daily plan, I stuck to it and it worked. But, more and more it seems that I am a mother with an unruly child.
An animal gets sick, a tree falls, an electric meter is running abnormally fast, a roof leaks, fraud pops up on a credit card or a bill arrives in the mail and needs correction.
“Here’s the phone bill and it’s wrong,” I lamented to Tink. “That means I have to call and spend 20 to 30 minutes on the phone, straightening it out.” I paused. “And I’m probably gonna have to get aggravated.”
“Computer mistake,” the customer service rep said in a shrug-of-the-shoulders tone as my patience strained. For the most part, I liked life better before computers and cell phones, especially smart phones. I figure that about half of my daily problems find me thanks to electronic means.
Before I was published, I attended a writers’ conference where best-selling author Sharon McCrumb told the attendees, “You think you don’t have time to write now? Just wait until you get a book published and you have all those obligations. I had more time to write when I was teaching college and raising a family than I do now.”
These remarkably true words she said before computers and cell phones took over our lives.
Exasperated one morning, I brought Tink to laughter when I observed, “I need to get up earlier and get things done because I notice my day goes off track around 8:30 when people get to the office and start calling with problems I need to solve.”
Not long ago, my longtime friend, Ed Parks, and I were spending a splendid day with racing legend Richard Petty who has the somewhat unusual ability to observe and experience life while summing up wisely its lessons. As the day crawled into the darkness of night, we three sat in Richard’s kitchen in a triangle of chairs and just talked. One of those leisurely, enjoyable kitchen chats that we love so in the South.
Suddenly — I don’t recall at all what brought this up —Richard looked me directly in the eye and said in fatherly tone, “Let me tell you somethin’. Now, listen. OK? Listen to me. Ninety percent of the time we’re reactive. We spend our time reacting rather than doin’. I can get up in the morning with my little list of what I’m supposed to do and it can all be well planned then somethin’ comes up that changes one thing and then that causes everything else to have to change. I spend the rest of the day reactin’ to everything that’s happening. Y’know what I’m sayin’?”
Later as I mused over that piece of wisdom, I couldn’t help but think of all the times I watched him “react” on the racetrack when something happened. A wreck happens, a driver reacts and the entire day’s strategy changes right then and there.
Just like an all-too-usual day in my life.
I’d elaborate more on just how right Richard Petty is, but my stupid smart phone is buzzing. I’m sure I have some reactin’ to do.