My wonderful former advisor from Goddard College, Susan Kim, wrote an article on the alumni blog about deadlines. Susan Kim is a New York City television writer, playwright, teacher, and more. She has a zillion fascinating and important irons in the fire at any given time. And she gave me considered, wonderful feedback on the 30-page packets of material I’d send her in like two days. Considering that she was doing this for me and six other students over the course of a weekend along with her other jobs…color me impressed. Perhaps I have put her on a bit of a time management pedestal in my brain…
So in this essay, “Putting the Dead in Deadlines,” she refers to me:
Are you as crushed by time (or more specifically, the lack of it) as I am? From their process letters, 99% of my advisees seems to be or has been… and the 1% who wasn’t was probably Anne Bean, a graphic novelist who graduated from the program a few years ago. Formidably organized, she had created a color-coded flowchart that mapped out every minute she had to read, write, and fulfill her degree requirements; and by sticking to it, she managed to sail through the program like she was piloting a luge.
I am not Anne Bean.
Honestly? I am not Anne Bean, either.
Let me take you back to my elementary school years. I went to a Montessori school, which had the following system regarding late assignments: your late assignment was recorded on the Late List. If you accumulated more than two late assignments, you had to stay in during mid-day recess and work on them. I averaged six to eight late assignments, and rarely went to recess. This may have been an instinctive defense against playground bullying, but that’s another story for another day. Point is: time is incredibly difficult for me. I wouldn’t say that I’m not crushed by time. I just write down the nature of the crushing.
The flowchart Susan refers to is my Anal Retentive Spreadsheet (or ARS if you will) that I use to record my time. I have used the spreadsheet on and off since I learned about it from Wendy Call in 2010 or so. When I use it, things generally go well for me. All I do is record, in 15 minute increments, when I have done useful things in a variety of categories (writing, paid freelance work, unpaid freelance work, admin stuff, etc). I can see where I’ve been putting my efforts, where I need to spend hours, and whether or not I’ve done enough self-care lately. (Damn right self-care is on my chart.) I also use Asana, which is project management software, for both my own work and my work with Minor Arcana Press.
When I read Susan’s essay this morning, I was both touched and wracked by impostor syndrome. Oh gods, I thought, I’ve fooled them all. They think I’m this basically organized person who doesn’t binge-watch Netflix instead of blogging and pitches to appropriate markets every Wednesday and generates new work on a clockwork schedule. Instead, I haven’t even started my ARS for October and after binge-watching like four episodes of a TV show that I have already seen, I have spent my day face-rolling over my own keyboard in a futile attempt to craft a decent pitch for various feminist pop culture magazines, while simultaneously second-guessing if this is even the best use of my time. My day has been a melodrama written by time management’s evil twin.
But then I remember the voice of my other Goddard advisor, Rachel Pollack. One time we talked about the concept of the authentic self. “I’m not sure why people put so much emphasis on the authentic self,” she said. “Why not consider what the fraud self has to teach?”
Even if my luge-piloting hyper-organized writing persona is a fraud self, I’m pretty into her. I want to glean her wisdom once more. Susan Kim continues her essay talking about the reality of there never being enough time, about bouncing back and forth between the screaming deadlines and chipping away at the work until it’s done. “As writers, all we can really hope to do each day is generate pages,” she concludes.
I think that’s why I’ve had a growing sense of unease the last month or so: I have been so caught up in minutiae that I have not been generating pages. My graphic design jobs have been waning and my desire to be, say, writing pop culture criticism for feminist magazines has been waxing. The urge to generate pages is strong. My level of organization right now is all over the dang place. And I oscillate between trying to reclaim the systems of organizations and writing in furtive bursts.
So reading Susan’s essay this morning, as much as it made me have a moment of flailing guilt for not somehow controlling time and space with my mind, was pretty darn reassuring. It was a reminder to get off the loop-de-loop of time struggle and calm down. Focus on the pages. When I have meaningful deadlines (like, say, a grad school program…cough) I tend to work really well. Deadlines give me strength (sorry, Douglas Adams). I still have my fraud self’s luge, all I have to do is build a track. Quantify the crushing of time. And if I manage to generate pages, call it a good day.