Third Week of Limbo – and the Power of “Should”


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That’s exactly where I am right now, Limbo.  The first week, starting mid-day on Tuesday, was kind of about decompressing.  The next week (last week) was about starting to get into good habits, but I got a good deal of chores done as well.  Now in this third week, I’m not sure completely what to do with it.

Next week, we have a planned “vacation”.  I put vacation in quotations not because I’m not working, but because we’re headed up to New York to spend the bulk of the week with my various parents.  It’s kind of a long story, but my mother has only recently re-entered my life after a 17-year hiatus.  Both my parents, who split when I was 8, actually live close to each other so we agreed to split the days between the two, so both sets of grandparents get equal time.

I won’t go into the whole thing now, I just don’t have the energy for that, so suffice it to say that it’s not exactly restful for me.  We’re play-it-by-ear people, and with having two sets of New York grandparents, who (not so coincidentally) are typical NYC, Type-A, Baby Boomer Jews, I’m tired of all the calendar negotiations and such.  But I’m pretty damned sure the kids are going to have the time of their lives (and if they are elsehow occupied I may get the chance to relax, though neither is really a place I can do so) so my discomfort is moot – especially now that I can take some “mental health” recovery time afterwards.

So then, this week is kind of a Limbo period.  I want to keep up the creative exercise.  I admit, I did less than I had hoped to do (I really wanted to both write and play music every day) but I did meet my minimum standard (I averaged one creative endeavor, at least an hour, each day) so I feel good about that.

I also got some good thought in about what I want to do with myself, though I haven’t resolved anything.  I do have several options already, and I don’t want to pin myself down yet.  So I guess one goal for this week is to start thinking through those options, continued through next week when I hope to have prodigious amounts of down time, so that when we get back I can start moving in a direction or two.

Just to give you some basic idea – I’m just blathering here and am feeling consciously vague and non-committal – I want to start a big creative project (and I want to wait until it’s well underway before I announce it here) and I need to start thinking about work.  And creative might be writing or music, while work may or may not be in an office.  But more on that too, once I’ve had some time to think about things more next week.

It was interesting on Friday – the wife took the day off and we ran errands the whole day.  I was surprised it was so much fun – without the pressure of “I only have two more days until work, when I have to deal with this, that and the other” – just to be off a clock doing what we had to do.  We were both exhausted from the day, which wasn’t all that active – more like the “hurry up and wait” of the Army, to a much lesser degree.

Anyway, my mind was racing from pretty early on, and the whole time.  You see, I didn’t have an outlet.  Sitting in the car I could sing along with the music, but I couldn’t create.  So I wound up talking a mile a minute to the wife, who kept laughing at me.  So I figured this morning I really needed to write.  (I can’t write if I think someone is going to interrupt (kind of like being pee-shy) so the weekend was right out.

But I don’t want to commit to anything today.  To tell you I’ll do this, and then I don’t do it.  I don’t want that pressure.  One of the biggest things I learned from cognitive therapy is that “should” is a really powerful, terrible word.  I’ll talk about this more another time, after I have the chance to re-read some things (which I just don’t feel like doing right now), but think of it this way:

“Must” (or “have-to”) is important, unfortunately.  Sure, I must breathe, eat and sleep every day.  But I also must clean the house, pay the bills (and therefore earn money) and millions of other things, just not as frequently as, say, eating.  You have to do these things.  Sure you may not die immediately, but if you don’t do these things your life is going to be quite miserable.

“Want” is pretty clear.  I want that piece of cake.  I’d like to drive a fancy car (but I must get to work somehow).  I want TiVo.  But “should” is nefarious.  “Should” puts all of the same pressure on you as “must”, or almost, and with almost the same level of guilt if you don’t accomplish your goal.  Whereas the need level of “should” is closed to that of “want”.

Okay, this was clearer in my head.  Picture a scale of 0-100, where 0=no need whatsoever (pure hedonistic luxury) while 100=pure need (immediate surival requirement).  So on this scale, say if you’ve got arterial hemorraging, that’s probably a 99 in my book (depends on the artery, how close you are to being able to repair it, etc.).  Also on this scale, sucking the cream out of eclairs while sitting in a lazy-boy recliner while getting a BJ is probably a 1 (maybe you need the dairy in the cream from the eclair?). 

(On a tangent, why is reducto ad absurdum not a valid debate tactic?)

In more real terms, let’s look at some more everyday milestones along this scale:

  • 75-100:  Fruits and veggies, reproductive sex, mowing the lawn some time this month
  • 50-75: Meats and plain carbs, monogamous sex, mowing the lawn some time this week
  • 25-50: Carbs slathered with butter and sour cream, (physically active) recreational sex, mowing the lawn today
  • 0-25: Dessert, watching Survivor, (lazy) recreational sex, sitting stoned on the sofa watching the tube

 (As I write this out, I’m curious to do a Web survey having people rate various activities along this scale.  I bet there’s a paper in that.)

I how did I get down this road?  Oh yeah, “should”.  Very dangerous.  So, I have to mow the lawn some time this month – if I don’t, there will be bugs galore.  On the need scale that’s like a 75 (off the top of my head).  But do I need to mow it today?  Or can it wait for tomorrow (or next week)?  (Ah, see how the procrastinator works?)  On the need scale, mowing the lawn today is actually only a 25 or so.  But wait, I have to do X, Y, and Z tomorrow, and then I have to Q, J and LMNOP on Wednesday, so the mowing the lawn today has just moved up to a 50.

That makes sense, at least to my numbers-oriented neurotic (read mild OCD) mind.  It also works in the reverse – I want to sit and watch TV – there’s no need in that at all.  But what if I watch TV while I make dinner?  That’s killing two birds with one stone, so I get both the “want” quotient and the “need” quotient.  But there’s no room in there for “should”.

Take, “I should practice the trumpet every day”, instead of “I’d like to practice the trumpet every day”.  (Because I’m not planning to go out earning my living by playing the trumpet, I classify this as a “want”, not a “need”.  Feel free to swap in “I should look for a job” every day instead of “I need to look for a job every day” and it works in the converse too.)  If I don’t practice every day, then I am going to feel more guilty than I am if I had said “I want to practice every day”.  Subtly, in my head, I didn’t do something I “should do”, which inherently comes with judgement behind it.

Okay, I went much farther than I intended, and hope I haven’t lost anyway, but whatever.  I’m really not able to concentrate today, am really just letting my mind wander.  But I got down this path because I want to be careful about this week.  I don’t want to say “I should write every day”, but I rather “I want to”.  I didn’t do everything I had hoped for last week, and keeping the ability to keep these distinctions in mind will help keep me out of depression.  It really works.

In the past, the thought in my mind today would have been that I didn’t play an instrument every day last week, and although I did something creative every day, that’s what I “should have done anyway”.  Today I would be that much more likely not to do that, or anything else creative, because I “didn’t do all I should have done”.

Yes, I’d like to do something creative every day this week – I’d like even more to do two creative things – one writing, one musical – every day.  But I know I don’t need to, and “should” is nowhere in the picture.  If I skip a day because I’m doing “musts”, and would rather use the spare time to relax and veg rather than play (i.e. something further along the “want” scale) then that’s okay – I’ll just be that much more determined to do something tomorrow.

So, here I’ve kicked off by writing 1600 words (and counting, probably up to 2000).  They’re not great.  Who gives a flying f***?  The point is that I’ve gotten the blood flowing, gotten the metabolism kicked off.  Whatever else I do with my day (and it’s only 10:30 as I write this) then I’ve already met my minimum “I’d like to” quotient for the day, which makes me feel great.  So what should I do next?  Watch TV or play video games?  Go mow the lawn?  Play some music?  Start writing something else?

(Actually, I need to review my list of “needs” for the week, but it’s not that long yet – Weds and Thurs will be errand and chore days to a large extent.  But today and tomorrow, aside from lunch with a friend, are pretty much open to items along the “want” scale.  So here we go!)

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