Saturday, January 26, 2008


The idea that we feel broken up into pieces that are claimed by different obligations in our lives is not original with me. Part of me belongs to my job. Part of me belongs to my family. Part of me belongs to my friends. All of those are jointly possessed by myself and the other claimants, and we negotiate whose wishes will win out, like roommates deciding what TV channel to watch. That's an allocation of resources that a lot of people experience.

It's also not original with me to point out that there often doesn't seem to be enough of me to go around, that I'm being pulled into pieces that are too small and that I can't pull together, that more and more duties keep staking out new pieces, which, since I'm finite, are all smaller and less up to the task of covering the exigences that split them off. That, I would venture to say, is just about a universal human experience.

But this morning it struck me that my own odd response to this might go a ways toward explaining my eccentricities.

Whenever I play one of those games that involve getting an allotment of "money" at the start and then deciding what equipment, or even character traits, to spend it on, I have a habit of picking a few choice bits that to me seem to be of primary importance, and then I pour the "money" into them. And I think I do that with my life.

I have an incredibly disorderly house. I know where everything is, and I'm not bothered by my clutter, because I'm the one who made it to begin with. Some whiny part of me complaints that successful, organized grown-ups don't live this way, and I do admit that I like being in surroundings that are neat and orderly. On the few occasions in my life when I've succeeded in keeping a neat house, I've felt a powerful sense of accomplishment. All that aside, I simply am unwilling to break off a piece of myself that is dedicated to the keeping of a clean house. I choose instead to make the job, family, and church pieces that much bigger, and give things like housekeeping no share at all in my finite fund of direct involvement.

The thing is, when I put everything I've got into my priorities, it really seems as though, in the intermediate term, my capacity actually grows. I did this in Nacogdoches, and by doing it I worked my teaching and my church work up to a level of completeness under which they chugged along on their own without nearly as much need for my constant involvement. Then, because I had more capacity to spare, I went to work and cleaned my house up and kept it clean. And that gave me a boost of confidence that came in quite handy. Moving here to Oregon has undone a lot of what I built up, so I'm back to living in a post-apocalyptic state of chaos, but I'm falling back into the pattern of allotting big chunks of myself for the top priorities and simply letting the lower priorities slide for the moment. I know they're there, and at the proper time, when I work up some spare capacity by doing a finished job on more demanding obligations, then I can give them some of the attention I've withheld.

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