The Best Unlaid Plans

Unlaid Plans

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:robert_burns_1
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Even without a glossary of Robert Burns’ Scots dialect in his 1785 poem “To a Mouse,” the sentiment is pretty clear: Planning can often be no match for what the world delivers.

I recall one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons of a smiling, briefcase-carrying man in a business suit strutting along thinking about how well he’s taking care of his health, while just above him a safe falling from an upper story is headed straight for him.

When things are going extraordinarily well, it’s natural to project just how good they might get, and therefore it’s equally important to remember that they probably won’t.  A few months back I wrote an entry here explaining how when editing and revising is taken into account, a relatively fast writer can still only produce about 2 pages of finished text in a full day.  Do the math another way, and it should take only 200 days–less than 7 months–to have a complete 400-page novel polished and ready for publication.  I hope that sounds as absurd to non-writing readers as it does to me.

Blue sky, rainy days.  Count on them both.  The trick, I think, is to enjoy every day even if it isn’t what one anticipated or desired.  When I’m traveling and don’t know where I am, I tell myself “I’m not lost.  I’m just not where I expected to be.”  It’s kind of the same with writing, and I’ve found that what’s true about writing applies to pretty much everything else.

So the report for the last three weeks is as follows:  I wrote absolutely nothing, even a diary entry here.  I came to a natural break point in the narrative for my novel-in-progress and couldn’t get myself to dive right in to the targeted research for the next section. And then, the deluge!

I can’t agree with Burns that the last three weeks brought me grief and pain where I had envisioned joy, but it did bring one thing after another, mostly good.  I spent a weekend reconnecting with twenty of my high school classmates as we celebrated our sixtieth birthdays together (I went to a small high school for girls and we have remained close knit).  I was cast in “The Vagina Monologues” at my college and have been rehearsing for that (Come on down to the Saville Theatre at San Diego CIty College on Friday evening March 12 and see me!).  A vacation home I have wanted to sell for a long time is in escrow and I am scurrying around to be ready to close. I applied for a sabbatical for the fall semester and am waiting to hear the results.  I got PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER back from copyediting, with a quick turnaround deadline I’m working on meeting. And then of course, there’s the less fun stuff, like close to 200 papers and 200 tests to grade over a two-week period, as we reach the first round of midterms in the spring semester at my college.

A novel isn’t the kind of thing where one can say “I’ve got a few minutes–I think I’ll get started on that scene.”  To write anything worthwhile requires getting lost in it.  Many times I’ve had to break off from my writing to go teach my classes, and I tell myself I’ll think about the novel on the way to school and try to write more in my office hour if no one is there, but I never do.  Novels are another world, and if I can’t be there, I might as well do something else as wholeheartedly as I write.  Laying plans can be a lot of fun, but knowing how to unlay them with good cheer is the key to enjoying life deluges.