All my life I’ve tended to get ahead of myself. My eyes slip past today and focus on tomorrow, next month, a year from now. To prepare myself for what’s coming, I write the longest checklists of anyone I know. My friends joke that I’m a walking calendar.
You could call it a gift for advanced planning, but I’m not so sure it’s a gift. In the end, the future is just a guessing game, a lesson brought home to me in my 20s, when I was a grad student and queen of the 7-year-plan. At that point in my life, I had not one, but three 7-year plans – Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C – which I thought sufficient to cover all eventualities. But then, right smack in the middle of Plan A, I was struck down by a major illness. My plans died on the vine. Instead of earning a PhD, I spent those years learning to walk again and figuring out how to use speech-recognition software so that I could write.
After an experience like that, you would think I would learn. But the planner inside me has never really given up. She worries about so many things, that planner, and she figures that if she can just get everything on the calendar, she can keep me on a safe and sure path. Ever since I signed up to write the Chantress trilogy, she’s had a field day. This year, especially, the workload and deadlines have been so intense that it’s easy to find myself slipping again into a kind of tunnel vision, where I’m focused only on the next deadline, the next release date, the next set of boxes on the to-do list.
But life isn’t a tunnel – or at least it shouldn’t be. A to-do list is a good servant, but it’s a terrible master. So I’m grateful for every single thing that pulls me back into the moment at hand: a joke from my daughter, a phone call from a friend, the song my husband whistles, the pale butter-yellow of our February primroses, the crispness of red peppers on my cutting board.
When you’re a planner by nature, and your deadlines are on top of you, anything unexpected can feel like disaster. (There’s a special school play today? The storm blew down the climbing rose? What do you mean, we’re out of milk?) But in a very real way, it’s those unexpected interruptions that keep me human, that keep me grounded. I don’t want my head to be always off in the unknowable future. I also want to live in the here and now.