By Cathy Eden
Every year I go to great lengths to plan a daily programme; one that includes household chores, meditation, exercise, time to deal with admin and three or four uninterrupted hours in which to write. It seems realistic. It seems doable. I build in some free time for the unexpected.
What I fail to acknowledge, time and again, is that the unexpected is the biggest slice of my daily pie. Each failed schedule reveals the truth about my life: it rampages all over the place. It will not be contained or disciplined. It absolutely refuses to adhere to any kind of routine.
I like to get up at 7, but my street springs to life shortly after 5. It’s either the neighbourhood cats playing tag on my tin roof, or annoyingly conversational joggers, or the first train squealing into Rondebosch station that drags me from sleep, depriving me of two of the seven hours I need in order to function.
Most of my work is done at night, so a 5am start doesn’t suit me. I’ve tried adapting: I could do yoga and be washed, dressed and breakfasted, with housework done by 9am. Imagine! But having dragged my yoga mat to the living room at 5.15, I find myself unable to salute the sun. For one thing, it’s not up yet. For another, I shouldn’t be either. So I go back to bed with hot water and lemon (just for a bit). When I wake I’m groggy and behind in my programme.
No sooner am I on track than other people’s programmes collide with mine. “Hello! Are you home? I’ve got an hour to kill.” Or, “Hello! Can I drop off my story and have a quick chat?” Or, “Hello! Do you have a piece of wire? I’ve locked my keys in the car.” I say yes-and-would-you-like-some-coffee to all of it.
December is a write-off because of Christmas and everyone’s inexplicable urge to have ‘a last get-together’ for friends who are always coming round anyway. January is hopeless because the whole city is on holiday. Just as I’m getting traction in February, the northern hemisphere visitors arrive, in search of sun and entertainment. “Hello! We’re here! When can we see you?”
When they finally return to their thawed-out countries, there are personal issues to attend to. Last year I was concerned about circulation in my legs, which required a trip to Durbanville, to see a vascular specialist. I detest the N1. It’s congested, there are road works and detours. The stress is bad for my blood pressure, which shot up even more when the technician showed me pictures of what can actually happen to legs.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Yours are quite good, except for here and here and here. They will be fine, if you have pressure treatments, wear special stockings, put your feet up against the wall every day, stay well hydrated, eat loads of pawpaw, and submerge your lower legs in cold water.” So now I must rework the programme to include upside-down time and trips to the beach.
If a ‘daughter call’ comes in, it is automatically given top priority. “What are you doing tomorrow evening?” is code for, “Can you have the boys, supervise supper and teeth brushing, pack them into your bed, read them Revolting Rhymes which will make them laugh so hard they’ll have to wee again, then get them to settle down once mosquitoes and thirst and the argument about which of the three has to sleep in the middle have been dealt with?”
Of course I can. I adore my grandsons.
And then there is the drought situation, which consumes at least an hour a day. Buckets in the shower, one to catch the cold water and one for soapy water. When I’m clean, items for hand washing go in the soapy bucket and then into the clean water bucket. The soapy bucket flushes the loo; the rinse bucket waters some plants. A bucket filled with rain water from the tank is heaved into the sink for the dishes, with the addition of the hot kettle water, which was collected from the spring in five and 10 litre containers, which had to be lugged to my car and then to my kitchen. It’s the new normal, and it can be done, but it all takes so much time.
When the washing is hanging out to dry, and the dishes have been put away and the bathroom floor has been mopped, and the coffee has been made, and I’m about to settle at the computer, the phone rings. It is my dear friend, the Great Talker. I say, “Hold on,” and I get the coffee and my book of mandalas and the coloured pencils and I say, “Okay, I’m back,” and half an hour later I decide the colouring-in time will have to be the day’s meditation slot, or I’ll never tick anything off my list.
Emails eat my time too. “Could you just have a quick read of my article?” “I’m sure you won’t mind giving me your thoughts about my plot ...” “I’ve chosen you as an advisor – please tell me what jobs you think I’m best suited to.”
Committing to working all day, no matter what, is tempting fate. The last time I made that declaration, the traffic department turned up and ticketed every car that had two wheels on the pavement. On rugby days, when there is lots of traffic in our narrow road, we get ticketed if we don’t park on the pavement. Life is full of contradictions.
I didn’t land up writing the piece I’d planned, because I had to write to the city counsellor instead. But I have made some progress at the start of this new year: instead of creating another useless programme, I’ve used the time to write this. It’s a tiresome little rant, but it counts as work. And who knows ... maybe 100 years from now, someone will find my daily grind fascinating.
· When life prevents you from writing your Great Work, write anyway, even if it’s just to moan about what gets in the way of your plans.