Chaos and Whim

July 31, 2006

What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.
                                — Annie Dillard, b. 1945
                                    American writer, from The Writing Life

Chaos and whim. Two of my best friends, it seems. When I was a teacher I had a schedule set by administrative fiat. Students expecting to study American literature arrived at 8:00, and when they left forty-two minutes later, a group needing lessons in general composition arrived. The school term started and ended on particular dates, and though I had some freedom in the ways I chose to present the material I taught, I pretty much knew that if it was November we’d be reading Poe and if it was April we’d have advanced chronologically through the history of American literature to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Diversions had their place, of course. If a famous author died or an American won the Nobel in literature I’d read from their work even if they weren’t on the schedule (especially if they weren’t on the schedule). Such an arrangement kept chaos under control while allowing for whim.

On my own now these eight years, I’ve struggled to be productive while being able to indulge whim. It was whim that allowed me to go to three baseball games two weeks ago, but the need to stick to a schedule that prevented me from going last week. And I’ll miss this week as well, when the team plays for the state championship. I have a lot to do yet before Friday, when I embark on my August Gallivanting.

The Six Goals of a Quality Life still serve as a map for me. I’ve worked to refurbish Refiguring (Goal #1) and establish Always Books in Your Room, Margaret by reading a lot, getting ready to make the most of the rich literary atmosphere at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.(Goal #3). I’ve been moving material away from the space I’ve used at Typepad so I can close that before it rebills for another year (Goal #2). I attended three drawing workshops and took up again the illuminated journal I stopped working on in 2002 (Goal #4), working in the same book, providing continuity and eliminating the need to invest in more blank paper (Goal #2 again). Goals #5 (see friends more) and #6 (declutter the house) have the least progress to report. But at least I know where I stand with them.

When I was a teacher I thought of “a year” as the period between September and June, with “the summer” as some uncategorized time that was neither “last year” nor “next year,” but instead was only “now.” I’ve made a lot of changes in my life and I no longer have a school-age child at home to look after, but the academic schedule continues to influence me. It seems I live my life now from September to July, with August as that floating time to regroup. I’ll be “at home,” that is, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, no more than eight days over the next month, depending on when I come back from Vermont (definitely by September 1, the date of Lynn’s first regular season hockey game).

I’m defending against chaos by having at least an intention, if not an actual schedule, for posting, but it will be whim that decides what subject I address in which section. As always, I hope you come along.

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margaretdeangelis [at] gmail [dot] com (replace the brackets with @ and a period)