I’ve always been good at coming up with “big ideas”; no one’s ever criticized me for lack of ambition or vision. However, my eagerness to embrace and pursue new, big projects tends to be self-defeating. Eventually, I end up drowning under all of the demands that I’ve placed on myself. To make matters worse, I tend to “rescue” myself by simply throwing my energy into some new project. This tendency makes New Year’s Resolutions dangerous territory for me: I’m always ready to take on something new and, as a result, none of the old gets finished.
I have gotten slightly better at this over the years. Most notably, working on my dissertation has forced me to commit, with real accountability, to a single project. (This did not stop me, however, from recently submitting an abstract to a conference for a paper that dealt with an idea that I wanted to pursue precisely because it didn’t fit into my dissertation…) Nonetheless, I still really struggle to recognize that saying “yes” to some things also has to mean saying “no” to some other things.
As a result, this year all of my resolutions are going to focus on projects that I’ve already undertaken. I’ve learned the hard way that there are only two things that actually make me do things: deadlines and routines. Deadlines are all well and good and I’ve certainly got plenty of them, but I’d like the work that fills my days to be motivated by something beyond crushing fear and its corresponding adrenaline rush. Routines—once I’ve established them—work, but it’s always a struggle to make them in the first place. So this year I’m resolving to establish some routines to help keep the commitments I made to projects last year. I’ll get to what those are in a moment, but first I should explain why I find routines so difficult to begin with.
During my childhood, my life had precious little routine. My father—infected by the same restlessness that dogs me—was constantly up-ending his life in the hopes that he’d find peace: he changed jobs at a good clip, went back to school with hopes of a career change (which he ultimately abandoned), we moved across states and within states (I lived in six different houses during my childhood), and we jumped from church to church because none of them ever really felt like “home” to my dad because, frankly, nothing had ever felt like home to him. My mother did her best to keep some semblance of normalcy in our lives, but with my father’s work schedule veering about so radically it was hard to even keep dinner at a set time.
One of the simplest—but also the most liberating—things that becoming Catholic did for me was give me a “Sunday obligation.” Without the “obligation” part, I don’t think I would have gotten my butt out of bed and into a pew each week, but thanks to it there is at least one part of my life that is regular from week to week regardless of where I am, whether school is in session, or what deadlines are approaching. The couple of times I did have to miss mass—once for illness and once because I was out of town for a funeral without access to transportation—I felt the lack of it, I felt the routine going out of joint, and I realized the degree to which this simple weekly pilgrimage had become a part of me, had become “natural.” For once, actually doing something didn’t feel like a struggle and wasn’t a purely reactive, fear-based response (though the obligation was necessary to the establishment of the routine).
The few times I’ve managed to make a routine it’s been a struggle. Generally, once the routine is there it’s there (unless I really get thrown for a loop, which can happen and does tend to undo the gains I made in establishing a routine)—but the first couple of months are like pulling teeth because I’ve got to buckle down and make myself do it without any external force (deadlines!) making me do it. That’s one reason, dear reader, why I’ve come here to tell you about my routines, so that—if nothing else—I have at least made myself publically accountable for them. And, importantly, one of my three resolutions involves this blog.
I started writing Catholicism for Cutters on a whim last year, and I’m really happy that some of what I’ve written has connected with folks. At the same time, I realize that I’ve been more or less a “hit and run” writer over the past six months, and I’d very much like this to become a place where my readers can hear from me regularly. Thus, I’m resolving to post at least twice a week. At least one of those two posts should be relatively substantive and the other may be more link-based (something like “7 Quick Takes”). I’m also resolving to actually write something in regards to my dissertation everyday, Monday-Saturday. Finally—for the sake of establishing maybe the most important base-line routine—I’m resolving to go to bed early enough to allow for seven hours of sleep a night.
None of this, of course, is remotely heroic—and that’s the point. I’ve sabotaged myself with heroic ambitions enough times. For once, I’m aiming to content myself with the routine.
So, wish me luck! If all goes well, you’ll actually hear from me more than once a blue moon…