Yesterday (Monday!) I was going to try to build a good day by taking notes as I went along — processing the process! Just like at Rally! I wanted to know: what does a “good” day look like?
I thought about my Monday like a house I was going to build — something Havi talks about. The conscious act of building it and thinking about it as I went along. The foundation would be my morning ritual — tea, chatting with colleagues, then closing my door for some Shiva Nata and journaling.
What would I build after the foundation? I wasn’t sure, but I had a few ideas to try.
What followed was an interesting day — monsters and other ne’er-do-wells showed up to “help”.
But I did learn things!
For one, I found out that not all monsters are fearsome — some are just dying to take me shopping.
A friend drops by
I was going along quite happily in my morning when the Travel Monster showed up. Sometimes my Travel Monster is an anxious closed-up kind of creature, but today she was in total Loud Talker mode — do you know the type? She doesn’t care if she’s interrupting because she wants to talk about fun stuff! Yay! And she’s kind of a scatterbrain because there are so many details to think about, so good luck getting her to listen to you…
Me: Um, I’m kind of writing an important email right now…
Travel Monster: Really? No, come on, this will just take a second — what do you want to wear to the wedding in October? Ooh wait–let’s go look at the wedding website!
Me: I really don’t have time to think about my outfit one month from now and I don’t have the time or money to go shopping right now…
Travel Monster: Ohmygosh! Look at these pictures on the website! New England in the Fall! Don’t you just love the autumn leaves? Okay, I have to know, what do you miss the most about Cambridge? Let’s make a list of everything we want to do while we’re there! Tea shops! Grendel’s! Black Ink! Who should we ask out to lunch?
Me: Can’t I think about this later?
Travel Monster: C’mon, you said you wanted to get excited about travel, didn’t you?
Me: Yes, but I didn’t know you were going to come today…
Travel Monster: Who cares? You said you didn’t want to panic about this, and you’re totally not panicking. This is just fun! Work is dumb! Let’s play! Let’s visit all the airfare sites and look up luggage and oooh I totally know what shoes we should buy for this trip…
I think you get the gist. I spent almost 90 minutes with the Travel Monster. Can I really be blamed? Her energy is so infectious! Plus we ran into our friends The Zappos Monster and the Obsessive Listmaker Monster and…oh boy.
This was a real lesson in being careful what you wish for; or at least make your wishes specific. Because the thing you want might show up before you’re ready.
The trolls really come out of hiding
The Travel Monster left. Whew. I went to a meeting and was given a new thing to work on. No stress, just the perfect kind of project to keep me going for the rest of the day.
Well, as background, let me mention that that morning, my daughter had staged a particularly heart-wrenching goodbye scene (from her daddy’s arms). Heartbreaking. Even though I knew she would be happily playing not ten seconds after I left.
Little did I know that the wrenching goodbye would invite in a particularly nasty troll, just when I was getting settled back to work.
This troll is never quite what she seems; she makes outrageous demands and then retracts or contradicts them; her eyes are permanently narrowed with a suspicious look at whatever I’m doing; let’s call her Dilemma.
Me: Let’s see…now that the meeting is out of the way I’d better get started on this small project. I don’t want to burn out (maybe that’s why Travel showed up earlier to distract me?) so I’ll just plan to work on it for a few minutes before lunch time…
Dilemma: You know, you really should be a stay at home mom.
Me: Oh, hi. That was kind of out of nowhere. And you know, I thought we talked about this before? I don’t think it would work out…
Dilemma: You’re so full of excuses. I don’t think you even believe them yourself. What are you doing today at work that is so darn important?
Me: Well…maybe I should just go home right now.
Dilemma: Mmmm, I don’t know about that. Won’t your boss think you’re taking too much time off?
Me: Well either way, I really should stay a full day today. I’m sure the baby is having a great day — she’s home with her papa since he has the day off.
Dilemma: Poor thing. How often does that happen? She only gets to see you evenings and weekends. You can’t tell me you feel good about that. Why is it so hard to just change your life for her?
Me: That’s a pretty big request. (Sigh) I’ve tried and tried to think about a way it could work, it just doesn’t add up.
Dilemma: I guess she just has to suffer because of your choices. I bet she’d be happier if you were home right now.
Me: You are making it awfully hard to get any work done.
Dilemma: Oh I’m sorry, is your daughter getting in the way of your work life? Is your child too inconvenient to deal with right now?
Wow. Can you see why it’s so hard when the Dilemma troll shows up? She sneaks in and isn’t even sure what she wants, but it’s so hard to get rid of her. I don’t have good answers for her questions. I don’t know how to settle her pain. All I know is that she requires elaborate ceremonies before she’ll leave: I have to invoke economic charts and budget forecasts, recite fears and mental health triggers, dance around with all the critiques I can muster. It’s all smoke and mirrors until she finally retreats back to wherever she came from. It’s exhausting.
Maybe I’m not ready to give up the Dilemma. I think she knows something I don’t, and I haven’t learned it from her yet. All I can do is dance with her when she does show up, and hope she’ll go away again. I have sacrificed entire days to her before. This day I gave her only an hour, but I was still exhausted afterward.
Back to the house-building (maybe)
At this point my day was so close to being done but I was worn out from dealing with the monsters interrupting things. It seemed like everything I tried to do was getting interrupted by this crew of monsters. (I haven’t even mentioned the other Should Monster that showed up, or the family drama swamp creatures that tracked mud across the floor.)
So I decided to hit the Reset button. At 2:56 pm. I filled my water bottle, closed everything on my computer except the one program I needed, and tried again.
And it actually worked.
It helped that I had to collaborate with two other people in the scant two hours and four minutes remaining in my day, and the collaboration totally turned up the energy in my own work. I got into a great flow, and it carried me right to the end of the day.
Did I build a house? Not quite. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. It had a quirky part on the side where the Travel Monster distracted me (and after all, doesn’t she need a bedroom of her own? for sleepovers?) and a dim basement where the Dilemma could hide until next time (maybe I need to bring her some candles so she’s not in the dark?). There were unexpected places in it that I swear I hadn’t intended to build. It had quite a personality.
The ideas I had about my day might have worked in a vacuum. In a vacuum with no collaborateurs to have fun with. (I had this idea about alternating solid, small bricks of work time with shorter breaks for stretching, which didn’t happen at all. But I may try it another day.)
I guess my house should contain my monsters friends (they really do have helpful things to say sometimes). Maybe each day needs a kind of big open space where the monsters can roost and throw shoes against the wall if they feel like it. Monsters need recess! For hollering and running around, stretching and moving the body, getting big lungfuls of fresh air, playing.
I’m still learning. About recess, about the unintended consequences of wish-making, about how to build a day and really stay present with it. Monday, thank you for your lessons. As always, it pays to be open to the unintended — however joyful or confounding — because you don’t get to choose when your monsters show up. They just do.