2018 has been a year for reviewing things I already have rather than just plowing forward into something new. It is a practice I planned to form a habit around and have it become a part of who I am. Of course that could all go out the window at any time….I am constantly challenged with reminders that this is actually a “thing” I am working out internally, and it happened again last night.
In fact, I heard the reminder coming out of my own mouth. The listener was taking it in and actually paying attention (it was one of our children, so he was stuck with me at the dinner table). And as I heard myself saying it, I thought “ohhhh yeah, that’s actually really good advice across the board. Hm.” We all learned some basic lessons when we were younger (for some of us that goes back a few decades, for others, well…you are a few years closer to young), sometimes they come back around and smack us in right in the face. This particular lesson I was reciting was picked up back in English 101 as a basis for creating credible and cohesive research papers.
So the topic at hand was history (one of my personal favorite things to ramble on about, as many of you know). In AP US History at the high school, an optional project has been assigned, and the theme of the historical research presentation is “Tragedy or Triumph.” My husband and I were so enthralled with the very idea of it, we pretty much took over the conversation and our high school junior basically gave up trying to get a word in for the next 30 minutes.
“The New Deal,” I threw out there, then cut my husband off yet again “Or Washington’s secret spy ring!” Topics of war flew around the table, topics of conspiracy and then inventions…just endless possibility. I perched atop my infamous women’s rights soapbox and started in on the fact that we couldn’t even OWN PROPERTY….which my husband and kid began reciting along with me until I was shushed. They are both lucky they didn’t wake up to a women’s history quiz at the breakfast table.
Once the two of us finally recognized that we aren’t actually in school anymore, and this actually isn’t our project, we finally posed the question: “Soooo…did you have any topics in mind?”
Tentatively selecting his words in order to avoid another re-enactment of the historical events of the past two centuries right in our dining room, he said, “I was thinking maybe something about World War II.” My husband smiled…he immerses himself in World War II studies at every possible moment. I purposefully stepped into the kitchen in order to avoid the temptation to teach about the 350,000 American women who joined the military during that time period…or the fact that World War II officially spanned about six years and fatalities are estimated to be anywhere from 50 million to 80 million, depending where you get your information. It was a war that would change the face of the globe forever in a multitude of levels. Impossible, then, to encapsulate all of that information into one cohesive high school history position paper.
What I came back with, however, had a bit more practicality involved. I listened as the conversation turned from the power of aviation and it’s impact on the war to the Pacific theater, the USS Indianapolis and all the incredible stories from the South Pacific.
“Start broad,” I suggested, “and then start narrowing it down. You have to continue to simplify until you reach the crux of it all. That’s when you will be able to make sense of the chaos and create your best work.”
This comment alone gave the two dinner table historians some purpose to their discussion, and I left them to their own devices. But as I stepped into the other room to finish a few things up for the evening, I thought “wow, if I could only remember that on a daily basis.”
And so this morning, that is how my approach has come back around. Simplify. Narrow things down. Prioritize. Clearly I am not in the practice of breaking down components of historical battles and wars in order to understand the purpose behind world affairs. I am, however, in need of clearing my plate of extraneous events in order to focus on the things which must take precedence over others. There are only so many hours in a day, and there are only so many plates that can spin at the same time before one brings them all crashing to the floor.
So far, so good…I have created a list of things I would like to get done each day. I have deleted files that serve no purpose in any realm of my life. I have organized my writing in a way that makes sense, so that I am not looking at chaos when I sit down to multiple projects, instead, they are narrowed down into something that makes sense. I have organized my refrigerator to include things that are healthy and delicious. And I have put systems in place to make all the events that need to happen each day just a little bit easier.
It just gives you time breathe. Turns out, that’s kind of important.