1. Write a 7-day to-do list, like you do every week.
2. Fill the list with myriad job-related tasks. Grade, prep, read, meeting, read, submit, upload, email, grade, grade, grade, meeting, meeting. Watch your pen fill the page, bleed off the page, make your fingers bleed.
3. Every week, write this at the bottom of the page: WRITE.
4. Scratch off each task with heavy, black strokes of the pen to feel as if you’re getting somewhere, to quell the tremor of your stressed nerves. (Don’t think about next week’s to-do list, lurking as soon as this one’s scratched to hell.)
5. Notice, every week, before you crumple up the page, the one item at the bottom of the page that never gets scratched off.
6. Ask yourself: Why isn’t it at the top of the page?
7. Beat yourself up for awhile. That old record. Wallow in self-pity, really get in there and snuffle around in the muck of your self-absorption. Don’t think about the starving children, though! Don’t think about Syria or Libya, don’t think about grandparents losing their minds and bodies, about the jobless, don’t think about all the things much bigger and more important than you! Nothing stops a good pity party like a reality check!
8. Stare out the window for awhile. Think about the hurricane about to lash the east coast. Wish for safety. Notice the leaves finally turning here in the South, yellow and red and orange, parachuting from branch to driveway. Fall, again. The noun and the verb. Too much symbolism out there in your yard.
9. It’s late October. Think of your father, 17 years gone now. It’s that time of year. It snuck up on you this time. You’d forgotten, in the way that’s not really forgetting, just tucked down in the corners of yourself, because you don’t have time to grieve right now.
10. Think about how dark this list is. There you go again, depressing everyone! Make a joke, hurry!
11. Why don’t cannibals eat clowns? (Because they taste funny.)
12. Drink more coffee.
13. Here’s the thing about old records: You know what comes next.
14. Turn to the page (the blog, the whatever). Take pen to paper, fingers to keys. Write it out. Get it down, get it out.
15. Think of Mamet’s Redbelt: “You know the escape.”
16. Remember Anne Lamott’s advice: Lighten up, Francis.
17. Lighten up, Francis.
18. Look out the window again. Look outward. Notice something, just one thing, just one good thing. Here’s one: That mutable ashy sky, those lovely trees in transition. They don’t need you to describe them. They’ll get along just fine without you.
19. Hear your husband shuffling in socks on the wood floor of your home, happiest of sounds. Listen to it, feel the hum in your limbs.
20. Listen closer.
21. Listen better.