No Wonder I’m Crazy

SpreadTooThinI keep thinking that if I can come up with “the right” schedule to live my days by, I’ll find some sense of clarity. And then I keep laughing hysterically at myself. Creating a successful schedule has been on my ToDo list since about 1996. I’ve taken several runs at it, but none are the elixir to living my juggle struggle.

By the time I find a quiet moment to gather my thoughts—and all the things I need and would like to schedule, I have no energy for the task. This is the reality of many things in my hopper. By the time the day-to-day mundane is addressed, my tank is often empty. I bet you can relate.

This is the lament of the Crazy Lady.

Today is an all too typical day in this realm. Because of the extreme cold in the Chicago area, school is canceled. My family is all nestled in bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, right? Of course not—Christmas was a couple weeks ago. There are no sugar plums in sight.

So instead of this day being the first “normal” day of 2014, it’s an abnormal “bonus” day. But see, there is no abnormal. Abnormal is normal. Every day brings a swirl of things that need attention. Many repetitive, some brand new—but all time-sucking.

If it’s not a school cancellation because of the weather, then it’s something else…As the wacky Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, it’s always something…if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

[For those of you not familiar with the great RR, watch below. Her famous line is at 4:11.]

Of course, there are the “musts” of life that fill the morning…and afternoon…and evening…getting breakfast/lunch/dinner ready, taking care of my 87yo mom’s care needs, laundry, emails, dogs, working from home…

And then because this is a “bonus” day, my son has extra time to catch up on his big research paper…yea for him! And I can help my mom do some of the things she wants done in her room…yea for her! And the house can be cleaned up after taking down the Christmas decorations…yea for it!

But then there’s the freelance work that I’m already behind in, and another project that I have not been able to finish, and oh… this little blog that I like to keep myself accountable to…

Back when I worked as a communication director, I frequently dealt with people who needed “just a little something” from me. I would always try to help them see the math of the “little somethings” resulting from their needs (and lack of planning). If my day is already full, and three or four people need 30 minutes each for a little something…my day gets bowled over. Perhaps they could plan with more lead time from now on?

You know what? It didn’t really matter. They needed it anyway, and the same for the next time, too. And it’s just the same with the various hats I’m currently wearing.

Life is full of “little somethings” that are bowling me over.

The header of this blog says exactly what I feel most days: trying hard not to drop the balls or smash the plates. It is precisely what living the juggle struggle is all about.

I remember fondly the plate spinners on The Bozo Show from my childhood. I never knew then how this particular activity would so resonate in my life as an adult.

Since they sadly don’t do that kind of TV anymore, it’s a bit of a lost art. But thank God for YouTube, so that we can still go back in a time machine to enjoy things like this:

Notice how at 1:58, this master plate spinner drops one…he catches it before it shatters, but…he drops one. On The Ed Sullivan Show.

It’s no easy task, is it? Every day we are running to and fro spinning those plates. I sometimes find myself doing a stutter step in my hallway because I’m remembering several things that need doing. My mind no longer seems to operate at full capacity because, like a computer, there are too many operations running at one time.

And as life would have it, too often when I do have a thought of import, the dogs see the UPS truck and bark like raving banshees at the damn thing, blowing my head wide open and letting the thought shoot right out of my head. And so it goes.

Well, I have to get back to my plates. I’m sure you do, too. My wish for you is that all your plates keep spinning…but if one should drop and shatter, remember that even the best plate spinners weren’t perfect, either.

I Am Not a Tigger

I bounce a lot. But unlike Tigger, it is not a source of joy and exuberance but one of increasing insanity.

Years ago, I used to point out to my husband that women were much better multi-taskers than men. Not only did he not appreciate my air of superiority, he also believed multi-tasking to be the devil. What?! Well, it turns out that my husband was on the cutting edge of being a know-it-all. Studies now show that multi-tasking is actually counterproductive. And at this point in my life, I absolutely agree. There’s just one problem: my brain bounces whether I want it to or not.

I suspect I am not alone.

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I work a flex schedule, and it is a blessing in many ways. It allows me to work at my job, take care of our home and kid, as well as be an on-call daughter to an aging mother. (Disclaimer: I am NOT implying that someone who has a full-time-at-the-office job cannot do these things. Relax. I’m merely pointing out that, for me, flex time enables me to, well, have a FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE.) But a flex schedule also enables bouncing, bouncing, bouncing.

I feel like I’m in a pinball machine, only Pinball Wizard I am not. Bouncing is wearing me down and adding to my crazy. Maybe at this point you’re asking, “What the heck is she talking about??” By bouncing I mean that I as I plan my day with the highest of hopes, the result is that I have worked all day but don’t really know what I’ve accomplished.

For example, as I have sat down to write this post, I have stopped to make three doctors calls, update my calendar, remembered to pay some bills, put another load of laundry in, let the dogs out, tried to figure out what’s for dinner, open the mail (from Saturday. Saturday’s bouncing did not include mail opening, apparently), and written 17 notes to myself (give or take). And this is just the bouncing I remember.

Unlike the “real” Tigger, my Tigger looks and feels like a chewed up dog toy.
Unlike the “real” Tigger, my Tigger looks and feels like a chewed up dog toy.

Yes, I know I should shut out distractions. But easier said than done. I love when I “get in the zone,” but the older I get, the rarer it seems. I think the focusing part of my brain is atrophying. I need a personal trainer to work away the flab. “Give me 20 more deep thoughts! Come on! You can do it! Focus! Focus! Focus!”

I’m not sure how to get out of my bounce-a-lot world, but I do know it’s in my best interest. Though maybe bouncing will be a good attribute when I finally make it to my padded room. Either that, or I have to buy a rubber suit so that as I bounce away, I’m at least getting better spring action.

Techno Interruptus

mobile-technologyI’ve started to write this post about 37 times now. I keep getting interrupted for various reasons…my friends and I refer to it as the “Something Shiny Syndrome” —something shiny passes by, and off I go. Too often it is of the technological variety. Text…email…a thought that sends me Googling to find something out…

It is true: I suffer from Techno Interruptus. And you know what? I have a LOT of company.

Sometimes it just borders on the ridiculous. Like many years ago, when one of my nieces was getting confirmed at her church. My sister, who needed to sit along with her at the front of the church, handed me her purse. “Here—hold this.” Simple enough words, but I had no idea the embarrassment I was in for. Right in the middle of the (very quiet) service, my sister’s phone rang some obnoxious ringtone. I quickly dug it out of her purse to silence it, but it didn’t respond to any of the methods I knew to stop it. All eyes were on me to shut that damn thing up. Eventually, something I did succeeded. The church breathed a collective sigh, and my trauma was over, right? Nope.

You see, they called back.

At that point, I simply got up, walked down the aisle while ringing all the way, found a cabinet in the lobby and shoved my sister’s entire purse into it and shut the door. I gathered my dignity and walked with head held high back to my seat. In silent prayer, I asked God if it was a greater sin to choke my sister IN church, or wait until we were no longer on “official” turf. She, of course, thought it was hySTERical.

I bet lots of us have been in meetings where there’s at least one person who thinks it is totally fine to let all of his audible notifications go off throughout the entire meeting. I mean, the phone isn’t ringing, right? So what’s a little chirp here or there? Sometimes I wonder if they just like people to hear how “phone popular” they are…because why else would that be okay? And the simple answer to silence phones doesn’t always do the trick, either. I have a coworker whose vibration setting makes a sound loud enough that you might as well have it as a choice for an audible sound. And I love when he leaves it on the table and he gets a call…We all just stare at it with our heads cocked like it’s some sort of scientific wonder. (In many meetings it is a welcomed diversion, I must admit.)

Beyond those obvious stories of cell phones causing distractions, there is a subtler form of Techno Interruptus (TI), though. Like when I have texted someone a question that I would like to have the answer to, and then I get into a face-to-face conversation with someone else. The text notification goes off, and…there are times I am guilty of wanting to know the answer right then. In my mind, I’ll be distracted from listening to the person who is right in front of me and think “remember to get that as soon as you can.” But even if I don’t, there is that moment when the other person I’m talking to hears the sound and must wonder “is she going to answer that or not?” I know when it happens to me, I typically defer to the person’s phone. I’ll say, “Go ahead and get that if you need to…” and then…I wait.

And that is kind of a lame feeling. And it’s really lame when the other person chooses to answer the text and then goes back and forth for a bit and finally tells you, “Oh, it was something stupid…” and then they tell you what the “stupid” was (which was indeed stupid), but now not only have you been interrupted for something stupid, but then they’ve taken more time to summarize the stupidity for you…And by the time it’s all done, whatever you were saying that got interrupted has packed its bags and headed for the beach.

It is a struggle to not let technological accessibility become the updated tyranny of the urgent. Accessibility can be awesome…but also detrimental. I love being connected. As someone who works a flex schedule, it is a necessity for me. But that doesn’t mean that because I can be interrupted, I should be interrupted. TI is bad for connecting with the people for whom you should be present in the moment. The easy, obvious answer? Simply power down.

Power what?! Yeah, I know. But disconnecting guarantees that no notification will cause a distraction. And, since I am not a brain surgeon, I’m pretty sure that any work fallout will not cause anyone any bodily harm.

Oh, mother of pearl. I just lost my train of thought because I got an incoming text. And it’s not coming back to me, either. Well, I guess whatever absolutely wonderful sentence or two that I was going to close this post with has now evaporated. Ironic, huh? Yeah, I thought so, too.

I Have a Google Goggles Headache

information2“We are drowning in information, but starved for knowledge” was written by John Naisbitt…in 1982…and I can’t find a more apt commentary about the status of my own overwhelmed brain. 16 years after that statement was made, Google was founded, and since then, countless other technologies exist that enable us to access information like never before.

But my brain hurts. It feels like when Tom from Tom and Jerry gets shot at and then takes a drink of water. As he drinks it down, it just goes right out all the holes he now has. My head is kind of like an old colander these days—I can hold the water of information for a little bit before it just seeps right through.

Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a Google Girl. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they’ll roll their eyes and comment on how I whip out my Droid like a six-shooter and dial up information faster than a speeding bullet. It’s awesome…”Who starred in My Favorite Martian”? Done. “What is the lifespan of a dragonfly?” You got it. “What’s the record number of points scored in a football game?” Dude, I’m all over it.

But I have come to recognize that while a ginormous amount of information is at my fingertips, my retention of it, well…totally blows…as in blows through one ear, takes a brief stop at my addled brain, and then goes right out the other ear.

And it’s not just Google or other search engines. It’s all the opportunities we have to store information that we know we can access later…but will we? And if we do, will we truly digest it, remember it, and learn from it? Like Naisbitt states, we aren’t necessarily using it for the growth of knowledge. Today you can Evernote it, Pin it, Facebook it, Drop Box it, stick it in an email folder, on your phone—you name it. Entire companies are exploding with ways for us to store, store, store. My head is truly in The Cloud.

And the sad reality is that what is stored in my brain is ridiculous stuff that entered in years ago when it had a fighting chance to hang around. Oh, if only I could make room for data that actually matters by hitting the delete key on all of the Brady Bunch tidbits stuck inside my brain. And I don’t have to look far—these little bits of useless minutiae bubble up with no problem.

The name of the kid they brought in when Cindy and Bobby were getting too old to be “cute” anymore? Cousin Oliver. Who played Aunt Jenny, Jan’s lookalike? Imogene Coca. What was the name of Alice’s identical cousin (a popular yet disturbing TV phenomenon)? Emma. What world record do Bobby and Cindy try to break to garner some attention? Teeter-tottering. You get the idea.

I need to defrag my brain.

And as if all of our ability to catalog and store info wasn’t enough, we have things like YouTube now offering recommendations for videos to watch—because apparently they don’t trust me to waste enough of my time on their site without their stellar suggestions! “Hey, if you like that puppy video, we’re sure you’ll enjoy THIS one…” Uh, thanks, YouTube, but I will figure out what videos I want to distract myself with…oh, wait…that one does look awfully cute…

It must be a conspiracy. Information is out to get me! I am getting pummeled with factoids and folklore. What to do?! Where can all this information overload possibly lead?!

Guess I’ll Google it to find out.

Living the Juggle Struggle

Thanks to Bozo Circus, a Chicago area TV show I grew up with, I am acquainted with the fine art of plate spinning. I’m pretty sure it’s a lost art, because I haven’t seen anyone doing it for many years. But the notion of someone taking numerous vertical rods and placing a plate on each of them—where the only reason that they remain atop them is because they are spinning—is a concept that I have metaphorically understood ever since then.

Another thing I learned at a very young age was how to juggle. For some reason, my grade school felt that this was an important skill. Well, not really. But they had this group come in that put on a juggling show and then taught the students how to juggle afterward. I can’t do bowling balls or knives, but I can juggle. In fact, it so impressed my high school gym teacher, that I ended up winning PE Student of the Year my senior year. True story.

From early childhood on, keeping many things going at once became a familiar concept to me, and I’m sure it’s one you can relate to. Many people’s daily agendas are challenged to keep their plates spinning. I call it living the Juggle Struggle.

I work part-time in one world, try to write in another, manage a household in yet another, and finally try to be present in my various relationships, including wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, coworker…and whatever else I’m forgetting.

Yesterday is a relatively typical example of a classic juggling day. Scheduled for jury duty, I first needed to set up an after school “pickup plan” for my son. Thankfully, I have some key friends that I can rely on for help. After that, it’s go-time. Get ready for the day, get the linens in the wash (it’s Wednesday! Linens must get done!), get the kid to school, and head to the courthouse. After several hours waiting in the jury lounge (which I loved because I got to sit and concentrate!), we all got sprung—leaving me just enough time to run and get my son myself (thanks for being there, though, friends!), head off to errands…home to help with homework, make dinner…After, do dishes…make tomorrow’s lunches…you get the idea. Sound familiar? Your itinerary isn’t the same, I’m sure, but I bet the personal twists that make it your own are quite a similar swirl of Have Tos and Need Tos. My little rundown of my day here isn’t to whine about it (though that is a reality sometimes, as is wine. Doesn’t whine always go better with wine?) The point is that this is everyone’s every day. We all struggle to juggle it all.

In this blog, I want to share some of my struggle and connect with yours, because I’ve learned that this helps. It helps me to know that others are dealing with the same kinds of swirlies that I am, and I hope it helps you, too (or is at least worth your time to read).