Jenny: The Good Wolf Lunch: Three Things

3logoKrissie is absolutely right: She has her Bad Wolf so tamed that it’s a non-issue for her. Me, not so much. The power has been strong in my Bad Wolf for weeks now, drowning out my Good Wolf. She’s trying to claw her way back to the surface, but it’s hard because the Bad Wolf is getting so much power from the outside world which is kicking my butt regularly at this point. The thing is, she’ll never make it on her own, so I’ve got to get myself out of the darkness, grab her by the scruff of the neck, and get her back into open air. I’m not there yet, but I realized three things that are going to help.

One came from Mollie. She suggested I make a list of three things I’m going to accomplish every day, and when those three things are done, I’m done. I can keep working if I want, but if I prioritize three things, I’ll get those done instead of getting 1/16th of forty tasks done. It’s a good idea, but when I tried to apply it, I realized that if I only did three things a day, I’d be finishing my To Do list sometime around 2017. And it wouldn’t be finished because forty other things would have cropped up. So I’ve been trying to do the impossible and punishing myself with guilt because I can’t do it. No wonder my Bad Wolf is over there burping.

The second one came from Life on Mars, courtesy of John Simm. Trying to explain this without spoilers means it’s going to be vague, but this is a guy who spends sixteen episodes trying desperately to get back to where he belongs only to find out that’s not where he belongs, that the Very Bad Thing that happened to him at the beginning of his story is a transformative kind of freedom, a freedom he’s about to lose by achieving his goal. So he throws it all away, and the look of sheer joyous relief on his face at the end took my breath away, and I thought, I want to do THAT. Not literally what he did, don’t start freaking in the comments, but I need to not just accept that everything’s changed but embrace it. I cannot reconstruct what I had and keep what I’ve got now; it’s impossible, and more than that it’s destructive.

The third one was just a quiet realization: the Bad Wolf gets fed by the externals in my life and the Good Wolf gets fed by the internals. If I’m not worrying about money or the house or McDaniel or a thousand other things, if I can peel my mind off the ceiling and then pat it until it stops hyperventilating, I’m a very happy person. I like who I am, I like thinking about things I’ve seen or read and writing about them, I like making things. It’s not practical to just do what I want, the real world isn’t just present, it’s necessary, but I need to stop being driven by the real world, restrict my Bad Wolf from gorging on it, give it three things each day and then give the rest to myself so my Good Wolf can start putting some weight back on.

And that means simplify. I have to choose between my writing and teaching others to write, so this is my last year doing the McDaniel program, even though I love teaching it. I get the house into livable condition and then stop; I can do fancy painting and get everything perfect later. I clear out the stuff on the outside of the house and stop; I can worry about making it pretty another time. And I write for fun again. The key is to strip my life down to the basics so that there’s room for the stuff that feeds my soul which will also feed the Good Wolf. That’s going to be really hard–I love teaching at McDaniel and I keep thinking there must be a way–but it’s also really necessary.

Three things. If I do those three things, I’ll be letting people down and my house will still be in squalor and it’ll all be my fault. But if I don’t, the Bad Wolf wins and I’ll end up in the darkness with the Good Wolf whimpering from the cold. So.

Make a list of three things to do each day, leap into a new life, hold onto the things that feed my mind and soul. Three things.

I can do that.

ETA: Also, my new desktop wallpaper:

28 thoughts on “Jenny: The Good Wolf Lunch: Three Things

  1. I do what Mollie suggests but I take it two steps further:

    “A” list has three most important things (must all be done before moving on.)
    “B” list has three important things (must complete at least two before moving on.)
    “C” list has three fun things that have nothing to do with writing but are about my happiness/health/well being. I get to choose one each day/every other day depending on how detailed the “A” list is.

    I’ve always been a list maker because I secretly think I have ADD, and I learned at a young age how to manage it. Time management isn’t difficult, it’s just getting the priorities right, and then the satisfaction from crossing off the big things, which spurs you on to achieve even more. For a long time I was mired in the B list, and had reversed its order (edits, galleys, marketing, promo, social media) and forgetting about writing new words every day.

    I was miserable and ready to quit when I realized that what gives me the biggest high of the day is having written new words, then I knew that writing had to go into the “A” list, and all of the marketing BS had to go into the B list. Social media is now in the C list. It works for me. : )

  2. Kelly S. says:

    I don’t allow myself to do the ‘C’ list items unless they can obtain a purpose and a deadline to move them up to a earlier list. It’s my issue. When I asked my DH what I could do to be a better wife, his response a few days later was to relax and enjoy life more. I’m not certain I can. Your system gives me something to ponder on to see if I can implement a way to give myself permission to do ‘C’ items as ‘C’ items – for the fun of it and just for me.

  3. I still struggle occasionally with accepting that I don’t have enough energy to do more than three things a day: 1) write fiction, 2) do something for the house/yard, and 3) work/play with one other project (e.g., something I get paid for or quiltmaking or some non-fiction writing).

    But mostly, it really does quiet the bad wolf, to be able to say, “Look, I did the three most important things for the day, and, really, that’s all I can do.”

    I think everyone underestimates just how much energy our financial struggles drain from us. Think about someone like Warren Buffet: he doesn’t have to worry about paying the mortgage or the light bills or medical bills. It frees up that much of his brain to do other things. Whereas those of us who are going from paycheck to paycheck (or Social Security payment to Social Security payment or royalty check to royalty check) are spending all sorts of energy figuring out how to make the money cover all the necessary expenses, and looking at our checkbooks under a microscope, because if we make a mistake with the balance, we’re going to bounce a check, and incur all sorts of charges we really can’t afford. And that’s without even factoring the metabolic strain of financial stress. I read somewhere that this emotional drain is part of why poverty becomes a cycle — the poor just don’t have any energy left over, after the day job and a bunch of worries, to do what the critics tell them to do: go start your own business!

    It’s also a bit like healthy eating. Another report I read — that when one is dieting (hate that word, but in the sense of a strict deprivational eating regimen intended to lose weight), the exercise of discipline in not eating the stuff we’re feeling deprived of actually depletes our total available discipline. It’s like we have 10 pounds of discipline available per week, and it takes 1 pound of discipline a day to stay on the stupid diet, so when it comes to the discipline needed to get some exercise or to do our jobs or to clean the house, there’s just not much left at the end of the day or week.

    I’m guessing that stress works kind of like that too, so if we have 10 pounds of stress-coping ability in a week, and we’re using up a pound of it a day, just on figuring out how to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table and medical conditions under control, there’s just nothing left for doing our daily work, however that work is defined.

  4. I’m staggering back in here with a backpack full of stuff and things to think about and a joyful new project just about ready to launch.

    I’m simplifying everything. I have a tendency to do the same thing you do: I over-complicate everything then find myself exhausted because I can’t get it all done. So, everything is streamlined, and my health has to be at the top of the list. THEN work.

  5. JulieB/Julie Spahn says:

    Yes! This is very true! I am just getting over the shock of starting a new job. It’s made me so much happier than the old one, but the mental shift of making the switch has totally depleted me. Plus, we’ve shifted the way we pay bills and have our first in college. I’ve been patting myself on the back for just cooking dinner.

    I’m finally at the point were I have enough energy to do an “extra” here or there. I know if I could work in exercise it would probably help, but I’m just too wiped out now, and trying to avoid the bug so many at work have had.

  6. I’m sure that students who will miss out on the opportunity to take your classes will be disappointed, but that doesn’t mean you’re letting anyone down. You have to do what’s best for you, put you first. I’m happy to hear that’s your plan.

    As someone who is trying to renovate her house while writing, working full time, raising a teenager, and keeping four pets happy, I totally get this. I finally put my to-do list in writing at the first of the week and wanted to run away from home after reading it. But it’s felt good to cross things off as I did them.

    I like this three things idea. I’m debating making a major life change, and I think I’m going to need this concept to make it work. Now, to narrow the top priorities down to only three things.

  7. Yes. I’m trying very hard to simplify. I’m just having a difficult time figuring out what that is for me. I’ve been thinking about giving up writing. It’s been almost a year since I broke my leg and I’m still having issues – which has nothing to do with writing except I’m in pain almost constantly.

    Painkillers are useless. I’m not getting much sleep because the pain wakes me up, but i’m still pretending that I’m doing all the things. Except I’m not. I write a few words a week. I apply to three jobs a week because I must or I don’t get an unemployment check. (My job was eliminated from the school last June.)

    I’m lovely and entertaining during job interviews, but if I actually GOT a job it would probably be a disaster because I can’t concentrate on anything because I’m sleep deprived and hurting.

    Wait. I was going to talk about simplifying. Need to figure out what I want in my life and get rid of the rest. Also, like everyone else, I’m stressing about where I can get 1500 dollars for a down payment so my son can get braces before he stops growing and his cross bite can’t be corrected.

    Wait, I was going to talk about simplifying – not money.
    Seems like I can’t simplify because the pain, sleep and money issues are keeping me from making any useful decisions. Rats.

  8. I’ve read about the three things before, and I always wonder WHICH three things? While I was able to simplify my physical life regarding what I kept in my home, the rest of it has gone out of control. As big a proponent of simplicity as I am, you’d think I’d be better at it by now. Of course, it doesn’t help that I currently live in a bedroom inside someone else’s house. A small bedroom. And no access to the closet, which is occupied by much of the owner’s vintage clothing collection, most of which she has never worn and at this point can’t actually fit into. I desperately need to simplify my living space.

    Three things? 1) Self-care: therapy, eating well, and exercise when I can; 2) Find work/do work; 3) Create: write/revise novel and short stories, crochet, draw, paint, learn to knit, teach housemate to crochet, not all at once. So, every day do one aspect/task for each of the three things and I can call it good.

    I like it.

  9. PS: Jenny, while I am sad that I won’t be able to take the McDaniels program from you when I am finally able to afford it, I’d much rather that you be happy and doing your own writing. Good for you for prioritizing and taking care of yourself there!

  10. I like Mollie’s idea. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and I began doing something similar this week. It’s helping. I’m becoming convinced that only action can slay bad wolves. Inertia and Bad Wolves are BFFs. Fear and inertia are BFFs too.

    Also, are you still watching Revenge? I could be addicted to watching the show.

  11. Jenny says:

    I had about six weeks of low grade pain with that stupid tooth before the root canal, and it made me worthless. Couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t work, but I could feel guilty with no problem at all. I knew pain was bad, but I never realized how debilitating it was. You have all my sympathies.

  12. Jenny says:

    No, but Krissie is and she tells me I should go back. I missed the second season.

    I just finished watching the British Life on Mars and I’m fascinated with it, so I’m going to watch it all again. All sixteen episodes are on Hulu Plus if you have it.

  13. Chronic pain really is a bitch. For all the painkillers we have (and all the secondary problems related to them, especially the opiates, and more and more with NSAIDs that were previously believed to be safe), it’s stunning how little medical science knows about pain or how to treat it. I was at a medical conference of sorts a couple weeks ago, where rare-condition patients and a few expert practitioners mingled, and there was a rheumatologist there, with something like 30 years’ experience, and she was struggling with really, truly understanding her patients’ pain, and figuring out better ways to assess it and even to describe it. It’s almost solipsistic (is that the right word), in the sense that no one can really understand another person’s pain. We all have pain, we all know what pain is, but we can’t feel the exact details of another person’s pain. We can’t even know for sure that the pain I feel from a sunburn matches the pain you feel from a sunburn, for identical degrees of sunburn.

    Oh, dear. Now I’m on a second hobby horse of the day. First the energy drain of stress and now the lack of any real pain management options for chronic pain, despite whole hospital departments dedicated to pain management.

    TL;DR: Pain is exhausting. Cut yourself some slack. And, I’m sorry to hear that it hasn’t abated.

  14. Michelle says:

    When it comes down to it the most important things are family (people and animals). As long as you have people that love you and animals to love, you are ahead of the game. Try not to beat yourself up.

    One of the best new series is Blacklist. It is awesome.

  15. Well, all right, I was a little sad to hear about McDaniel’s because I was dreaming that someday I could afford to enroll, but honestly, that wasn’t very likely. And like everyone else, I believe you taking care of yourself and allowing the space for joy is way more important. Besides, you impart wisdom about writing all the time on your blog. You are so generous of yourself — amazingly so as you share your wit and your understanding, your ponderings and your deep knowledge of craft.

    Perhaps later, if there is room for it in your life, you can teach in short bits that allow you to experience your love of teaching without taking on such a huge commitment. It might not have to be all or nothing. And if there isn’t room for it, so be it. You really have shared so much already. Argh Ink is a treasure house. It’s more than that, too — it’s the community you allowed to happen. Also, it’s alive. I don’t know how to say it otherwise — it has energy and spirit and good will and fun and I love going there and seeing what you start and how others chime in. It’s a gift. (thank you)

    Meanwhile. Simplify. Three things. I am totally behind this. It is so easy to overcommit, to want to do all things, to do for ourselves, to do for others, to follow all the advice about how to be healthier, thinner, wiser, better, stronger, kinder, etc., etc., etc. Impossible.

    I’m really going to think about this. Three things. What are the three things that are the best three?

  16. Micki says:

    I’ve heard of this idea, but it was seven things. And it has to be seven specific things. “Clean the house” doesn’t count as one. “Pick up the floor in the living room” barely counts as one — depends on your floor. “Shine your sink” is definitely one.

    Seven things can be too overwhelming to me, but three doesn’t seem to be enough (never mind that some days, I never get anything done besides laundry and cooking — and some days those are iffy). I really like Robena’s list. Three things. Then three more. Then something nice for my body (which I often hate starting, but often like doing if I get started). Then a break, and then if I have the energy, I’ll start a new list of three things.

    (It’s so hard to keep those thousands of things that need to be done out of my mind, though. But all that looming and mindspace-hogging keeps me from doing even three things.)

    (-: You know, when you take care of you, and blog about it, a lot of people benefit. And by “you” I mean Jenny and Krissie and Barbara and Toni and Lani and all the commenters at ReFab . . . .

    Yoshi! Here we go. Take outdoor plants into the garage. Take bamboo curtains to the garage. Take kitty litter into the house. List 2: fold towels, hang up clothes, fold up sleeping bag. List 3: Make a strawberry water with lime, and share it with my daughter. I might be able to get that done before dinner . . . .

  17. Reb says:

    Jenny, NOTHING makes you worthless. I handed a friend a copy of Faking It last week, and couldn’t stop myself grinning as I did.

    Pain is dreadful, and I’ve realised recently that it makes me feel flat as well as miserable. It doesn’t just introduce a heap of lows, it takes away the highs. F*&^ing pain.

    You and Kate have my sympathy!

  18. hilda says:

    Hi Kate ..
    your have my deepest sympathy for having to struggle with chronic pain. I had chronic pain for many years because of severe OA in my knees. (finally got them both replaced) Pain medicine did not work for me. I researched and tried many alternatives and found several that were very effective. I understand that what works for one person may not work for another. But I would encourage you to try some alternative solutions. Some of the ones that worked for me was hypnosis, guided imagery and acupuncture. If you are in a large city it is much easier to find practioners. Trust your instincts when you meet the people doing this. And i would encourage you to research this stuff on the web. I think hypnosis is usually misunderstood. Look at articles from controlled experiments , for example something like this:

    I did it with a woman who was an RN and used it with cancer patients. I would look for some one who did medical related stuff, you might ask for a recommendation from the local hospice. Acupuncture was amazing for me. I did not get immediate results but after a few sessions I felt much less pain. Another thing, treat yourself. Try massage or soaking in a hot tub. I hope that you can find a way to diminish the pain.

  19. Carol says:

    Good post. For me, it has to be a combination of Mollie’s list and Roben’s list. I tend to do the absolute must do as first then the fun stuff which is write and create something whether in words or sewing, last. I’m almost finished making a blanket for my GD. It has brought me simple joy in doing something so easy for me but will bring such delight to Gray.

  20. Linda says:

    Here’s my idea, for what it’s worth. Take a sabbatical from teaching until you have the house and yard in a shape you can live with. Then when you are ready let us all know that you are offering workshops, like weekend worshops mostly, maybe a 2-3 week once in a while. Charge money for it. With blogs and dropboxes you don’t need an online platform like Blackboard. Then you can teach when you want or need to. My astrologer friends did once a week classes like that for a long time. People want to learn from a pro; many do not need a certificate at the end or an educational institution to put its stamp of approval on it. You are both a teacher and a scholar. To my mind, this is the wave of the future.

    And tell the Bad Wolf you are worthy even if you go a whole day without checking items off the list. There will always be a list.

  21. Linda says:

    And I have become a devotee of the “UNF— Your Habitat” system. I apply it to everything. Still haven’t “unf—ed” my office but i eill get there the first rainy weeked. Unf— things and maintain, then unf— the next thing for a stipulated time, then a break. Works for me, even with yardwork and my ex’s hoarder-level garage.

  22. Micki says:

    You know, you really are amazing. You’ve done the work of at least three people, and it looks like you’ve been taking on the work of five for the past couple of years. I see: writer, teacher, coach for your students, interior designer, furniture maker, crochet expert, medical ombudsman/researcher . . . . That’s just off the top of my head — I bet you are doing more than that.

    I don’t know how you can get the Bad Wolf to see that and get off your back for a little bit. I don’t think it’s in the nature of Bad Wolves to see progress and process as useful things. Bad Wolves want perfection, and they want it yesterday, and if you ever achieved it, they’d probably talk about Mother Theresa or something.

    But keep looking for that tranquilizer dart for the bad wolf . . . .

  23. German Chocolate Betty says:

    I think the key to “three things a day” is to be realistic about it. Sometimes my things are pathetically trivial: wash that one hand-wash sweater with the spot, stitch up the piping that’s come loose on the oven mitt, rhrow away outdated store flyers.

    Yup, those were my 3 things on Sat because I just didn’t feel I could do more. But in doing so, I could see some more of my desk top. Which was a feeling of accomplishment, even though, as I said, my Sat list was pathetically trivial.

    It doesn’t matter what 3 things, they do not have to be “clean all things” kinds of goals. But three trivial things make a difference. I have mucked out my office corner over the past couple of months by, seriously, do three trivial things — not every day, but a couple of times a week. I cut myself slack too…just like you should.

    PS: I like Linda’s suggestion about workshops when you can. I don’t need credits or certificates, but I’d pay for your wisdom!

  24. McB says:

    “It’s not practical to just do what I want, the real world isn’t just present, it’s necessary, but I need to stop being driven by the real world …”

    This, definitely. I’ve been working on this, myself, for the last several months. In a sense I’ve been working on it for a few years, I guess. A few years ago I threw away the attitude that things had to be perfect and it all had to be done at one, which was overwhelming, and decided that if doing anything was better than doing nothing, then I didn’t need to cram so long as I kept steadily at it. Like your three things.

    In my case the rule is that I must put away, throw away, or clean/organize one thing daily. The one thing can be as small as tossing something from the fridge or clearing off one surface. Generally I end up doing quite a bit more; but if not, no guilt. And it’s working. Slowly I’m getting things the way I want them, and I’m enjoying the journey more.

    The last few months have been about giving myself permission to let things go and play more. It’s my house and my life, and as long as the bills get paid it’s nobody’s business but my own how I do things.

  25. I’ve been ignoring my bad wolf. She’s freaking out and trying to get me to freak out with her because I have a week of 16+ hour days starting tomorrow–class all day and then swimming and/or more class in the evening. So I should be meal planning and doing laundry and organizing etc. Hmmm. That baby is WAAAY too quiet. Be right back. K, drinking his bottle; NOT destroying the kitchen. Yet. Anyway, I also have some side bookkeeping work for a non-profit, and I went today to do a quick report for the board meeting: Holy Shit. How badly was stuff posted? I’ll need at least six hours to fix it, and my good wolf said, “hey, maybe a priority for them, but for you? Next weekend works better.” So I came home.

    Before I give in to BW’s mega-list, I’m going to enjoy my ice cream and internet-browsing. Because GW wants to chill for a bit before we get busy, and I’m down with that. It’ll get done. I might get tired this week, but I’m going to (try) not stress about what needs to be done and just do it to a point that feels good enough, if not awesome. Letting go of the difference between “Good Enough” and “Awesome” is what keeps me calm.

  26. Susan R. says:

    I completely applaud your decision on this.

    I’m a big proponent of self care. I’ve seen the results when this isn’t gotten around to or gotten around to until too late. Argh indeed.

    I’ve been doing the self-pity dance this week because I was looking forward to studying with your in a year or so. But I’ve got my lower chin up again….when I’m ready, I’m hoping the classes will still be there, probably taught by someone quite good, and the structure of the program itself will still have your intellectual fingerprints all over it. It will still be good for me to plunge In then.

    And a healthy, happy you out there in the world, writing more of what will be my favorite books is a thought that puts a smile on my face!

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