Unfinished Business, Part I

To Do

As I type this, Orly the plumber, his father, and brother are repairing the tub that’s been leaking since before I moved in.

They’ve already unclogged the drain of residue and hair (mine, I confess) that keeps us from spitting toothpaste into that sink for fear it will still be there thirty minutes later.

We found Orly the way we find many people and things in the South Valley, simply by paying attention to our surroundings. We were driving home from the Dairy Queen on Isleta, when we passed a light post with a sign that said, “Orly’s Pest Control” and a phone number. I called him the next day, and he showed up that afternoon with an assistant and a small tank of bug spray that he applied along the interior and exterior perimeters of our home and office.

When the crew arrived this morning, Henry pulled out two shelves we removed from the playroom to make room for P.’s bed. We want to cut them down to fit in the space that remains. “Do you think they could fix these too?” Henry asked.

Like many people in our neighborhood, Orly does more than just one job. In addition to being an exterminator, he’s a handyman and a plumber. Hence, the drill going through our shower tile at this very moment.

I called him about the bugs and the tub and the shelves because it’s time to get serious, to cut away what no longer serves me, in order to focus my attention on what I want and need to do in the remaining months of the year. I want to finish my book. I need to finish my book. Let me write this again, not as a desire, but as a reality.

I will finish my book this year.

Fall is a time of mindfulness, a state I find difficult to achieve when a rainstorm drives cucarachas and centipedes and sugar ants into our home; when I, once again, have to pull a towel from the rack and toss it on the floor to catch the runoff from our shower. I find it hard to be mindful when a set of now-oversized shelves has been balanced in a corner of the office for two weeks, or a report that is so long overdue I could not in good faith even think of invoicing for it sits as a messy draft in my Unfinished Work folder.

Unfinished business distracts and exhausts me. It pulls me away from writing. Why delve into my grandmother’s lung cancer or the aftermath of my grandpa’s service in World War II when I can fret about the mess of elementary school newsletters piling up on top of the microwave?

More To Do

So I’ve spent the month of September making lists on sheets of newsprint posted around my office and crossing off items with a red Mr. Sketch marker as I complete each task. My lists are categorized: Household, Office, Personal, Writing Business, Mom & Dad’s 50th, Pendientes.

  • Purge closet
  • Clothes to Buffalo Exchange (and, when Buffalo rejects them, Clothes to Barrett House)
  • Cork board for kids’ school notices

For the Yard Sale

Some of my unfinished business is clutter. (Yes, I too am amazed that I have managed to accumulate a distracting amount of clutter only one year after losing most of my possessions in a fire.) I was a screener for a writing contest, and for months, attempted to walk around the boxes of manuscripts stacked up to my thigh along the east wall of my office, in order to get to my desk. An artist friend who is a master of working with recycled materials had offered to take them off my hands, but changed his mind when a major installation took over his casita in Martineztown. What to do? It took me about fifteen minutes to find a document recycling and shredding service and another half hour to load the boxes into the car and drive them over to Broadway and Indian School. Now, the bookcase I purchased months ago from Virginia and Stephanie has a home along the wall the manuscripts once inhabited, and thanks to this bookcase, my workshop supplies can come out of the cardboard boxes piled next to my desk.

Monologues, Micha Rinaldi

Some of the unfinished business is the result of procrastination. In March, I co-coordinated and co-directed the Meganenas & Friends’ production of The Vagina Monologues to raise funds for Enlace Comunitario. Like a good coordinator, I went to the V-Day website right after the performance and entered the information I had close at hand—number of cast members, number of audience members, dates and times of performances. But then there were other questions that required a little more investigation and thought on my part. So I let a few weeks, then a few months pass. I noted the arrival of each email from V-Day headquarters, inquiring about the late report. I reasoned that I couldn’t be the only coordinator who was sending in her report late. Then I felt guilty. What if the Nenas are punished for my actions and can never again perform the show? Then I felt indignant. Why should I be stuck with this report? Who cares how many new people saw the show?

And then I read Chapter One of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book about a year the author spent creating more joy in her life. She dedicated the first month to “Vitality,” and committed the month to–among other things–removing clutter and tackling nagging tasks. I followed her lead and made my own lists of nagging tasks, large and small. Really, her list was five notebook pages. I went the newsprint route because I like big reminders and visible payoffs. I knew a simple checkmark would not give me the same thrill as a giant red line in cherry-scented marker.

So I wrote “Complete Monologues report,” on my “Pendientes” list. And then, I started working on it, even though I didn’t feel like it at all, even though I was sure so much time had passed, the report would be impossible to finish. I did it! I finished the report. It took more than an hour of focused time and attention, a few phone calls and emails, and some follow up. But once I was done, I was done, and a space that had been filled with unfinished report anxiety was cleared. (There’s still the above-mentioned other report to do. That is my task for this week.)

And as I cleared more physical and mental space, I discovered something that surprised me. I like writing at our dining room table. This is not the long-term solution I wrote about a few posts ago, and it does not replace the quiet apartment I lost. But for now, it is quiet and private enough. Most friends who drop by bypass the house and go straight to the office in search of Henry. In the house, I can write quietly for long stretches. I can refill my cup with fresh Pero (coffee substitute, sigh) or green tea, use the restroom, play “Ilusión” on the guitar, or rearrange the middle pantry shelf (from the “Home” list) when I need a quick break (I set the alarm on my phone for ten or fifteen minutes). And then I can get back to writing my book.

Read Part II on Tuesday, September 28.

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Published in: on September 23, 2010 at 7:41 am  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You are inspiring me Michelle! I used to have this commitment to spend 15 mins a day cleaning out clutter and it really made a difference. But then I fell off that wagon… so, back to it!!! Thanks.

    • I’m going to adopt your 15 minutes a day commitment.
      Fortunately, the wagon moves slowly enough that we can jump back on with no problem.

  2. When I was writing my dissertation (painful!) I learned about affirmations of the future of the future–“I’m enjoying looking back at the week I finished my disseration.” (said when I was on Ch. One!) Wonder if you’d also find that practice useful? Ignore or use as you see fit. But, please, we’re waiting for your book.

    • Mary, let me test this out: Now that I have finished and sent off my manuscript, how about we go to Season’s and get drink?
      Ooh, I like it! Thanks for the tip.

  3. Thank you for this…. you gave words to my own delaying of the dissertation. Would my reading the Happiness Project be another delay tactic or a step to energize my own little project??

    I too want to finish this year. A goal… focus… a schedule… knowing someone else is working on a large writing project with a goal. If it is ok with you (and Mary adn any others in the vast writing projects) I would like to think of you as my new marathon of writing training partners.. slow and steady training runs, one step at a time, FOCUS… we want to get everyone to the finish safely, with pride in the hard work, and enjoy the scenery along the way…

    Thank you! Your Unfinished Business has been motivating…

    • Tricia, perhaps you could read a chapter of The Happiness Project between writing chapters of the dissertation? 🙂 (I just rewarded myself for a morning of writing with organizing my workshop/art supplies on the brown bookcase referenced in the latest post.
      Think of me as your new training partner. We’ll reach the finish line together, one step at a time.


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