I am a listmaker extraordinaire. The gods of organization bow down before my ability to create order from swirling chaos. My ability to create piles and make sense from nonsense is enviable and astounding.

I had three days off this week, by some freakish miracle handed down from the scheduling gods at my new job. Part of me was tempted to use that time to create – to write in my journal, to make art, to write blogs, to take part in Nanowrimo. And then I had to take a good hard look at who I am and what it takes to make me thrive creatively.

If I’d taken those three days to create, I would have had to work to silence the never-ending stream of babble in the back of my mind pointing out the dusty end tables and the state of the kitchen floor. And that, my friends, sucks all the fun right out of it for me. Yeah, I would have produced something, but I would also have had that icky feeling like I skipped school in order to go to the mall.

So I made lists, and I set some deadlines. And I worked like Cinderella to meet my own expectations. (Unfortunately, I had to make do without the help of woodland creatures. My cat was uninterested in actual labor, and chose the position of manager – no direct assistance and the contribution of commentary, which she performed admirably from the top of the kitchen cabinets). I set myself some realistic goals this time, and I met them all, and that felt good. I’m realizing that in order for me to feel good about taking time for myself – to create, to play, to read, to do nothing – I need to become very clear about what I can do and need to do in order to create space for me to enjoy my time.

My first option is to learn to ignore my environment and create anyway. I’ve done this, and I can do this. But, if I’m going to be honest, I am crap at it – the entire time, I look around and see all the stuff that I “should” be doing, and it sucks all the fun right out of it for me. We live in a one bedroom apartment, and there is no other space for me to set aside for creativity – my workspace is the kitchen table and my computer is in the center of the apartment. That’s just the way it is. So, if I cannot shut a door and shut it out, I have to come up with a liveable alternative.

The second option is to figure out what I need to do to make it feel good to take time for me without feeling guilty. So, I’m doing that. I’m also figuring out how to sustain a system that makes it easier to keep up / be ahead of the demands of everyday life so that I can have more time in my life to do what I enjoy. The first part of that plan is to become very good at throwing things away – immediately. I’m getting better at this every day, mostly because I had the epiphany that if I don’t throw it out, it’s not getting thrown out. I’m the one with the power to stop the nasty cycle of junk mail and other effluvia from piling up around here. The second part of the plan has to do with making a list of the things I planned to get to “someday when I had time” and setting deadlines for them to be completed or to be eliminated.

The reality will lie somewhere between those two scenarios. There will be times when I will have to make the choice to look away from clutter and be creative despite it, and there will be times when I am able to make my preferred system work for me and be creative in a space that feels good to me. Life and all of its many messes will always be there – I know that we all need to steal time to do what we enjoy. I’m just looking to create a way to do that which feels better to me in the long run.

The funny thing is that Jeremy’s actually the one who kicked this whole thought-process off. About three weeks ago, he came home to find me sitting at the kitchen table in my work clothes, with a sour-apple look on my face. He sat down next to me and said, “You know what your problem is?” (Brave words, since this could have gone very badly for him from that point on….)

He proceeded to tell me that my problem was that I wasn’t doing any of the things that he knew I enjoyed doing. I said I was trying to figure out how to fit all those pieces together. So he said, just figure them out, and tell me what I can do to help. Hunh. Okey-dokey. So, we’re meeting in the middle on that one – he’s interested in helping out more, so I need to let him help instead of feeling like I need to do it all myself.

I don’t know precisely how it came to be, but this is a house where it holds true that if “momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” And mostly, it’s because he cares if I am happy. So, I’ve gotta figure out what it takes to make it so I have the space to make myself happy, and then let him know what I need from him to help make that happen. Sounds fairly simple, right? So, I’m going to let it be that simple, and work from there.

And as for the lists and expectations? Well, I’ve finally learned to embrace the fact that they are one of my strongest talents – but I have to use them for good, and for a purpose – otherwise, they’re just one more way to get in my own way.

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