By design

I’m sinking into winter, into the graying, increasingly leafless landscape that matches color with the sky. Winter on the prairie is not picturesque. It lacks the quaint stone farmhouses and walls of New England or the snow-capped mountains of the basin-and-range topography of the West. It’s great to have the sky dominate the landscape when that sky is splashed with a palette of summer colors or roiled dark blue and black with spring storms. It becomes more difficult to bear when a seamless blanket of gray hangs overhead all day before fading to darkness earlier and earlier in the evening. Times like these, I need something to stitch my days together, to give them enough momentum that I don’t let inertia slow my motion progressively down. In short, I need a design to my life.

I’ve always been a person who needs structure, habit, ritual. Part of that, I think, stems from natural inclination. The rest you can blame on the Roman Catholic, altar-boy upbringing, or on the family chaos in my childhood. Then throw in marriage, children, graduate school, divorce, work, remarriage, more children, and you arrive at a point where planning and structure become the only things that keeps you from drowning.

I have experienced structure arising in two ways. Way One involves it developing of its own accord, with only the relatively passive participation of the person involved. At best, this looks like habit; in the middle distance this can become a rut; at worst we slip into the realm of addiction. Way Two for finding structure involves designing it–making conscious choices about what I will do with my time and when. This, I have found, takes much more energy, at least at first. These days, for example, I have created a design for running that means I have to get up at about 5 a.m., when Dutch and Bobolito are still asleep. It isn’t easy (at least not yet), but without that plan, I found that I wasn’t running at all, despite the promises I kept making to myself that I’d go to the gym at lunch, or after work, or in the evening after Bobolito had fallen asleep.

Design means that, instead of hoping the whim will strike me when the opportunity presents itself, I now make the opportunity. I prepare my clothes before I go to sleep; I get to bed early enough–or pay the price the next morning; I set my alarm; I (should) drink enough water the night before. Hey, it’s a work in progress.

Looking at the structure of a life has always interested me because, maybe more than anything else, it reveals what we value, as opposed to what we say we value. Whether I fall into my habits or consciously choose them, they are the things I spend my life doing. I pledged a few posts ago to write 500 words a day on the novel I’m working on. I understand now that without some design for when and where I’m going to do that, older habits (TV watching, lazing about, surfing the web) will overwhelm my intention. I need a plan; I need a structure; I need a design.

And you? How have you designed your life, or in what ways do you feel the need to? Or does it work better for you when you wing it?

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2 thoughts on “By design

  1. I am very much a person who needs “design,” although I usually use the word “schedule” to mean the same thing. I schedule runs and writing time. I schedule meet-ups with friends and time to set up the craft show. I have to schedule or it gets put aside. Thanks for this post.

  2. “I have to schedule it or it gets put aside.”

    It’s taken me way too long to realize that essential truth. And “schedule” is a perfectly good word for it. I like to use “design” because it makes it sound less like making a list (which I have a hard time doing). Plus calling it “designing” makes me feel more like an artist, while “scheduling” makes me feel more like a tax accountant. Apologies to the tax accountants out there. Thanks for your comment.

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