I’m not paying attention. But I don’t want you to know that. I do a pretty good job of pretending that I am in the room, but I have more interesting things to think of: monkeys with lasers; the etymology of the word bishop; the positives and negatives of the plot of my next book. It’s all important to me. I have spent years developing the strategies required to only superficially notice your inane burbling.
Sometimes my full attention is devoted to a conversation I am having, yet it is generally assumed that I am on a different planet altogether. No matter how much / aggressively I protest that I know where my attention is focussed better than they do, it is always assumed that I am lying for some poorly identified personal gain. That’s not my way of playing cricket, good sir. I can never get it right.
I seem to have this concurrent pair of reputations whereby I am both deliberately fucking with you for my own personal perversions, and that I am so flaky that I have no idea what anyone is saying, and that I am just sitting here listening to the Magic Roundabout theme on a permanent loop. As much as I am offended by the combination of these ideas, it is the conflict between them that hurts.
I once had a girlfriend who was convinced that my biggest deficiency was not having a diary. I still don’t understand. It seems a prevailing notion that I need to find a way to enjoy the sunlit uplands of self-organised behaviour. That I need to plan in order to be fulfilled, because they are, and they would like the world to be more like them. It’s part of the universalisation of humble bragging.
I keep notes and I make plans for my working life. I have entire separate computers for the different kinds of activities I get up to, and large systems of reminders and notes for what I need to do when. The Japanese had a handle on this decades ago: the Kanban Board allows teams to work together on projects great and small, with all of the workflow there in view for all to see at a glance. It works.
Personally, I use electronic sticky notes. They come with Windows as standard, and they cling on to my desktop as a primordial Kanban Board, only set to my own personal needs, views and levels of expectation. My partner – a Business Architect – would like a Kanban Board in our kitchen in order to plot and manage all of the projects running a house entails. If she maintains it, she can go for it.
Thankfully it won’t become a vehicle for me to establish and maintain new hobbies. I have one small child, with another due later in the year: I am utterly exempt from the need for hobbies from here on in. Apart from writing and publishing blogs and books (which just happens anyway) and learning to play the guitar (which doesn’t). That has been the historical need for me to engage more.
Nowadays it is remembering from one month to the next which bathroom tiles we liked and why (Bathroom now complete, so nix that) and what the plans were for the holiday in Cornwall (What? That was a plan? I thought we were just discussing hypotheticals. What do you mean I’ve ruined it?). I can’t do any of these things, and that causes conflict. Hence the need for me to organise my mind.
I can deal with the need to keep backlogs and in progress items in view, but don’t make it look like it’s just me who needs an aide memoire. It is a truth, universally acknowledged that a middle-class family with a child is in want of more time to get everything done. Our ambitions are sometimes in conflict with our capacity for involvement in our own life. Out-sourcing is not always the worst.
One of my issues is that this may then become / originate as an extension of our family calendar. A family calendar is a month-in-view object which hangs on the kitchen wall, and has five (always five) columns; one for each of the five people involved in the running of a modern household. In our case that is two parents, (currently) one child, and two grandmothers. My column doesn’t show much.
The problem is, sometimes I just don’t care. About other people’s plans. Mine: fine. The people I live with: good to know; I’ll be there. The rest: no. I’m not about to write that down, even if the plans are more than likely going to intersect with my business. You look after yours and I’ll look after mine. Yes, that does mean that I have no idea when your holidays are, but I have your mobile number.
If we were going to use this wonderful innovation of modern business processes to manage the work which is still ongoing on our house – the lights and carpet we still need to buy, the cupboards, the shelves and the furniture – and the projects we want to play with – planting cool things, making stuff out of things, and doing stuff at the beach – and our extensive holidays, then I’d be fully on board.
Like I have said, I am organised enough in my working lives. That’s fine. It means that I would like the opportunity, if at all possible, please the court, to take a more relaxed, less caffeinated attitude to my non-working life. There could feasibly be conceived that there is a flow; I would like to go with it. It is how I function best. That and planning our menus ten weeks in advance, but that’s just fun now.
Like I have said, I am paying attention when I look like am not, and I am zoned out when I appear to be paying attention. Except for when neither of those things appear to be true. You’re never going to be able to tell which it is, so stop being so angry with me. Just because I don’t have total recall of the things you remind me of several months later doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening: it’s been archived.
Like I have said, there is room for organisation in this world of ours, so let’s get creative with it. It doesn’t need to be an off-the-shelf solution for other families, but it does need to feel natural for our family. Things are most easily adopted when they feel natural. Having other people’s lives on my to-do list does not feel natural to me. They might start dictating what I do if I let them in too far.