Just decide, already: on plot and circumstance

williwontiOne thing I’ve observed about having older kids is that life isn’t as ‘compact’ any more. I can’t strap them in the car and pursue my own interests while they tag along for the ride. They aren’t as cooperative when it comes to my agenda, and our free time often has to be negotiated because we are four big(ish) people with distinctly different personalities and different ideas about what constitutes ‘fun’. And then there are the day-to-day requests.

As an example, one kid ‘wants’ extra screen time to make flyers for a dance crew, one ‘needs’ to finish an assignment on the computer, or log their reading milestones online, etc.

As classroom education tools change, so does the amount of time kids use screens. But do they really need more time on a screen at home? Or do they just want it? Will it help their learning or their social integration? Will they be ostracised if they don’t have access to instant messaging in their homework chat group 24/7?

Alright. That last example’s a bit histrionic, but you get the drift. The requests for screens come in thick and fast, and my well-intentioned, across-the-board rules for screen time (that were designed to make my life easier) are being eroded because of grey areas. The line between privilege and necessity is now blurry, and I spend a lot of time trying to decide which side of the fence to come down on.

Screen time is just one example. In reality, there are a million tiny decisions needing to be made every day. Negotiation and decision-making, for this writer, are fast becoming a full-time job.

Indecision

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been listening to an audio book: The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, by Tony Schwartz (The Energy Project). (This is Schwartz talking at TEDx.) I listen to it in the car.

One thing Schwartz talks about is that our energy is finite. We can learn how to harness it and build it, but we do have a limited amount. Much energy, he says, is wasted on indecision. Even small, seemingly unimportant, unresolved issues like where we’re going to eat lunch, can consume it. Being in a state of indecision, however conscious, uses energy.

I have an ‘N’ in my personality profile, which (with a Myers-Briggs lens) means I am ‘intuitive’. When making decisions, I may on occasion do buckets of research and context-gleaning before I make a decision (and sometimes it takes weeks or months for me to process all the input), but I can usually reliably trust my instinct when it comes down to it.

Recently, however, my instinct seems to have left the building.

When I sit down to blog, I can’t decide whether to publish my post. I have four ‘complete’ posts just sitting there, but I can’t commit to scheduling them. When I sit down to write my novel, I have the feeling I should be thinking about something else. Nothing feels right. I walk around feeling irritated and dissatisfied.

What’s going on?

Cartoon image
Libby liked to think she asked the hard questions.

Plot

Writers need to know what they’re saying. It sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Problem is, sometimes you sit down to write something (blog post, tweet, opus, whatever) and you realise the thing you thought you were interested in saying is only peripheral. So now you have another problem: working out what you’re really trying to say.

When we’re dealing with longer fiction, it gets increasingly complex.

The reason I was avoiding working on the novel was that I had a few niggling feelings about a particular plot-point. The motivation for that action wasn’t ringing true. I was also starting to wonder if I even needed one of the characters at all. The implication of that, of course, would seriously affect my draft.

Frankly, I just needed to make some decisions … and not be afraid of the hard work that might follow.

Circumstance 

But what about those four ‘completed’ blog posts? Why couldn’t I commit to publishing them?

One reason: I wasn’t convinced I’d thought about them enough to foist my opinions on my readers. And I wasn’t ready to stand by my point of view.

This is one of the most frustrating zones to be in, because there’s an expectation that as bloggers we will post fast and furiously, we’ll be consistent, and we’ll have something worthwhile to say. But I want my posts to make sense, be reassuring or helpful or, at the very least, entertaining.

Circumstance means that sometimes I don’t have all the pieces of the Idea Jigsaw, and I’m not willing to put it out there in an incomplete state.

Eureka moments

Image of Zygmunt Bauman book on the tableAnyone who knows me knows I gravitate towards the writing of Zygmunt Bauman (Sociologist). Despite the ephemeral and ever-shifting themes and subjects of his writing, he views the ‘liquid modern’ state (he invented the phrase) of the West through a surprisingly clear lens. I find his writing illuminating and somehow very reassuring, even though some complain that it provides no concrete answers or ‘actionable’ points.

Occasionally, when I’m reading his work, I have a moment of realisation. Shortly, I will be going back to a blog post (and hopefully finishing it in time to publish next week) to insert a spot of Bauman, to make sense of some circling ideas.

These kinds of Eureka moments are out of my control. I can’t force my ideas to connect, and I can’t force sense – and therefore decisions – to be made. Sometimes, I need to leave it to time and circumstance to present me with solutions.

Mindfulness

Mr10 gets advice from Team Rocket.
Mr10 gets valuable advice from Team Rocket.

But this is no help to me when I want resolution, when my subconscious is working overtime to resolve an ‘open loop’ or a thought process. Which is where it’s helpful to simply have awareness (or mindfulness) enough to recognise that that particular problem can’t be solved right now.

So when it comes to juggling kids’ needs and myriad requests with my own and the family’s needs as a whole, my resolution this week has been to recognise and make decisions as soon as I can, but to recognise that I might need to overhaul our screen-time strategy … in order not to waste energy in the quagmire of little indecisions.

And the rest? I’ll have to leave it to circumstance, trust my subconscious mind to continue to chew things over … and try not to drive myself bonkers with impatience in the meantime.

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