My heroine’s motto is “Jill Cooksey does not fail.” Whether she always lives up to that motto…well, I’ll let you read the book. In real life, failure happens all the time. It’s how we learn and grow yada yada yada. A particular kind of failure, however, has little to do with growth and everything to do with the clock. I’m talking about the failure that results when you run out of time.
Time is fluid in stories. The author can speed time up or slow it down depending on what the story needs. A conversation between characters that takes you minutes to read can fill an hour in novel time, while, in the same book, Herculean tasks can be accomplished by plucky heroines in the blink of an eye. We authors serve the story, bending time to our will like bored Gallifreyans on a random Tuesday. The power is intoxicating.
If only real life were like fiction.
One aspect of my life does resemble fiction–my to-do list. It’s mostly fictional because it mostly goes undone. The completed to-do list lives only in my imagination, and, boy, that’s one heck of a story. The heroic writer/teacher makes a plan, follows it with no interruptions or additions to the list over the course of the day, and crosses every item off the list. Just thinking about it makes me teary. What a beautiful story of an underdog beating the odds.
Reality, I fear, is the same for all of us. That task that should take fifteen minutes ends up taking an hour and a half because of technology, bureaucracy, or one of the other horsemen of the apocalypse. The emails pour in, each with an insincere apology for the added work that now has to be done immediately. Or, through misguided optimism, we ourselves misjudge how long tasks will take and pile on too many of them. At the end of the day, that to-do list glares at us like a dog we neglected to feed or a spouse on a forgotten anniversary. We have failed it, and, worse news, we’re going to do it again tomorrow.
The truth is we’re all Sisyphus. Our boulders live on scraps of paper, in beautifully appointed planners, or on our phones. Perhaps if we just accept the fact that none of us is going to reach the top of that hill, then we can all calm down, shrug our shoulders, and use our planners as kindling for the fire pit and our phones for bingeing Married at First Sight.
For most of us, acceptance is too hard. The lists will continue as will our failure to live up to them. If only we could stretch time like taffy, that magical substance that seems to be infinitely stretchable.
Taffy sounds good. Let me write that down.