One week’s evidence says yes, but it is much too soon to be sure. It is embarrassing to admit that this could work. Why can’t I just decide to do something and then get it done? Why is it that I can find so many reasons to do other things first and never get to it, something I have been trying to do for at least two years? I had just about given up and accepted that it would simply never happen. Then serendipity intervened. (My faith tradition suggests the possibility that Serendipity has a Name.)
“Just a Minute with Laura Vanderkam” is an E-newsletter that appears very rarely in my incoming Email. I can’t remember the last time one came through. Just over a week ago the E-newsletter appeared. I was midstream in looking at a book and program for organizing tasks in hopes that it might offer one more chance to restart writing the book I have been talking about writing for so long now. It would have taken a lot of time to re-read the book and try to get the program going. I have been down that road before, spending much time on a program that ultimately didn’t change anything, old habits returning quickly as I tired of the discipline of working the program.
Here is a section of the email that appeared ten days ago:
Who’s holding you accountable?
In theory, I’d like to write a novel. I have an idea. I have an outline. All that’s missing are the 80,000 words that separate me from a finished draft. While “work on novel” occasionally appears on my to-do list, it tends to get pushed down by more immediate deadlines and projects with quick paychecks attached.
So what to do? I’d emailed a friend recently about an article she’d written on whether business coaches were worth it. She wrote back that she didn’t think she needed a coach, she needed an accountability partner to keep her focused on long-term goals that she knew she should work toward, but never did …. Sensing an opportunity, I proposed. Would she be my accountability partner?
She accepted. We discussed goals. I wanted to write 2000 words of fiction a week. I wanted to spend time weekly brainstorming a Big Business Book Idea. She wanted to carve out a few hours per week for researching and pitching longer magazine features — the kind that get her cover lines and awards. We’d check in every Friday with an update on how we were doing.
We’re just a few weeks into the experiment, but despite turning in several big projects this month, I’ve managed to write 9000 words of fiction, too. There were several weeks when, if I hadn’t had to check in with my accountability partner, I would have skipped it. But the idea of sending an email saying “I failed” really bugged me. That, indeed, is the point of an accountability partner. No one wants to look like a failure in front of people whose opinions they value. So I wrote my words. Eventually the miracle of progress takes over, when motion begets more motion, and it’s easier to keep going.
The Email came to my inbox on Friday, ten days ago. On Saturday morning I phoned John and asked if I could come over and talk with him for fifteen minutes. He suggested meeting for coffee (clearly he knows me well). I doubted that he needed an accountability partner, but he had served as a Care Partner during the last years of my ministry. The Staff at the parish were invited to choose people as confidants and encouragers, people who would help us provide balance in our lives and advocate for us. I had chosen John. When we met last Saturday he immediately agreed to meet with me every Friday morning at 7:30am at PT’s (the Monkey) for the next five weeks for a face to face accounting of whether or not I had written at least 3000 words on the book that week.
On Thursday evening of last week I came home to a message from John on my answering machine. He was at the hospital Emergency Room and had just been informed that he needed to be admitted. Typical of him he was more concerned about the commitment he had made to me than his own needs. Later that evening we talked on the phone about his status and he assured me that he was fine, just waiting for a clear diagnosis. Then he asked about the writing. Happily, I was able to report that I had written just over 4000 words during the week. Without so much as a pause, he reminded me that next week’s total still needed to be at least 3000 words. There would be no subtracting the extra 1000 words written this week from next week’s required amount. I just laughed. I knew that was what he would say.
I can’t know what the future will bring, but at least it is a start. Yes, I am a little embarrassed that I couldn’t get this going on my own, but I guess sometimes it is okay to ask for a little help from a friend.
As Laura Vanderkam testified happened in her case, I was still able to do lots of other things in the week. I went to Spanish Class and have done quite a bit of homework during the week. I attended a lecture in Kansas City (an hour each way) on Wagner’s Opera “The Flying Dutchman” for which I have tickets. With the Current Pastor’s blessing, I took Communion to an older member of the Congregation I served and spent time with him. Again with the blessing of the current Pastor I counseled with a couple around my age who are in a difficult time of transition. There were a couple of other appointments along with the two hour Spiritual Formation group that meets weekly. Admittedly, it seems as if I am back on the job rather than retired, but it felt good to make some progress on the writing.
This weekend included errands, scheduled maintenance on the van, groceries, laundry, the usual household tasks. I made a huge pot of soup, starting with a dried mix for Minestrone from Huber’s in Southern Indiana, adding lots of extras so that I ended up with eight hearty meals for the freezer.
Today after church, a group from PT’s Coffee’s Café (the Monkey) rode with me to Kansas City to the Nelson Art Museum. We call ourselves the Culture Club. My role is to provide the transportation, and the role of those who come with me is to teach me things about the visual arts and art history. There were a total of six of us, the largest group so far. We have done these outings four or five times in the last year. One exhibition at the Nelson contained some very ancient Chinese brush and ink drawings many feet long done so that they could be rolled so that people to whom they were given could look a them scene by scene, thereby following the story. The paintings will not be brought up from storage again for ten years since in light they deteriorate quickly (some are already almost a thousand years old).
Our evening ended with a meal at a restaurant in Kansas City called La Bodega (http://www.labodegakc.com/dinner). Words cannot describe the experience and if they could there would not be enough space here for all the words that would be needed to do it justice. Look at their dinner menu in the link above. Each of the six of us ordered two or three of the tapas items marked with the blue hat. They were half-price due the early seating time (Happy Hour). So many different tiny servings (18) stimulated our palates in endless ways. By the time all the items had been eaten we were pleasurably sated and very content, just savoring the experience.
One side effect of starting to write is that posts to this blog may come even less often than they have in recent weeks. Since writing these posts has been an important way for me to process life’s experiences, I will post as often as I can.