I don’t know why that adage “yard by yard, life is hard, but inch by inch, it’s a cinch!” stuck with me the way it did, but maybe it’s because I’m a yard by yard person by nature. I want to dive in and get it done. It’s more satisfying. Inch by inch is maddening. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Steven Wright, who compared something to “being nibbled to death by ducks.” I can, at any moment, list for you at least one thing that feels like I’m being nibbled to death by ducks.
This is, by the way, one of the areas of fundamental difference between me and my mom. My mom can divide the smallest thing into several smaller things and derive satisfaction from completion of each tiny thing. I need to see progress. Like, substantial, honest-to-goodness progress. Knowing that I am 1/264th to my goal gives me an almost negative amount of satisfaction.
But apparently, this is my life right now. I’ve divided my goals into chunks that are almost surely too small to get me anywhere. I try to write for 20 minutes over three lunch hours a week. I try to work out for 20 minutes over the same three lunch hours a week (plus dog-walking). I’m practicing guitar for 15-30 minutes once or twice a week.
Pounds are not flying off me. Guitar progress is comically slow. I don’t have a novel to show for January. Over the course of the past week, I’ve gone out to pick up the yard three times. The first day, I got everything that wasn’t embedded in the permafrost that has settled in several areas of the lawn, and concluded definitively that forcibly extracting dog poop from permafrost is not a good use of my time. We had a really warm weekend, so I went out and collected new and newly-released from permafrost areas. During those same trips to the yard, I was planting tulips and daffodils and clearing the remains of now-dormant or dead plants from pots and garden beds.
It makes me crazy that I had to go out three times over the weekend to get 12 daffodils and 15 tulip bulbs in the ground. Crazier still that I’m not farther along with dog poop and bed clearing. If I look at the accumulated word count that I’ve amassed, it’s less than a week of Nanowrimo goals.
But by the same token, I did get all the bulbs in the ground. I collected three or four plastic bags of poop and there are whole areas of the yard that got cleared of it. Pots and beds are much better tended than they were, even though the progress was slow and that part is incomplete. I’m not down much, weight-wise, but I’ve lost about 3 pounds and am starting to see progress on my measurements. Maybe an inch here, two there. For the same weekend, I got to attend a meeting that made me crazy but about which I felt strongly. I also practiced my guitar, cleaned the house, visited with a friend, had another friend over for a made-from-scratch, labor-intensive meal (which obviously helped my Broncos to win the game we watched and thereby the AFC Championship), I’m caught up on my writing transcribing, I’ve made a decision about writing software, I’m progressing in my study of structural approaches to writing, and starting to know about what to write next (knock on all the wood.)
I think, rather than to use the yard stick and think about how fast I’m not progressing, it could make sense for me to judge from zero. Because zero is the number of times I played my guitar in 2015, and I’m actually playing at least once a week. Zero is the number of times I’ve stuck with a writing project as long as I’ve stuck with this one. Zero is the number of pounds I’d have lost if I hadn’t started drinking more water, eating more strategically, snacking more healthfully, tracking my calories, and working out at least three times a week. And obviously, zero was the number of bulbs I’d have planted, beds/pots I’d have cleared, and places that were going to be left in my yard not covered in dog poop.
The BFF has a word or phrase for the year. I’ve been saying that mine for this year is FOCUS! But there might be a second one, based on another favorite person’s saying: “some is better than none.” It’s totally true, no matter how much it feels like ducks are nibbling.