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The Dayrunner Blues

I’m trying to be optimistic, but it probably doesn’t bode well for my future orderliness that I just bought a 2004 calendar a week and a half ago. With this kind of sloppy planning, 2005 is almost sure to be a washout, as well—organizationally speaking. I have gone so far as to make a note in the December pages of the new Day Planner to remind me to purchase another one before the New Year, and I may make good on that. But even if I got to Office Max in time, it’s no sure bet that I’ll put the thing to good use—I just don’t seem to understand the technology of keeping it all together.

My confusion about the utensils of order cannot be chalked up to any lack of trying: Name a brand of paper-based personal organizer and I’ve likely owned it—from Mead to Franklin Planner. I even dabbled in digital for a while, attempting to work with both a PDA and the various life-tidying functions of Outlook Express. All for naught. I remained as dizzy and disorderly as ever, just grouchier and more defensive about computer-related issues. (The mere presence of a PC seemed a tacit accusation, and acquaintances facile with the intricacies of more-involved processes—like downloading the White Stripes cover of “Jolene” without reducing one’s hard-drive to smoking slag or permanently setting one’s home page to a West Indian amputee porn site—were subject to random outbursts of my childish scorn and envious derision. The smug geeks, with their KaZaa and their firewalls and their “just right click, smut hound” wisecracks.) I just couldn’t seem to get it right. So, my house was littered with the faux-leather-bound husks of my elaborate month-at-a-glance failures, and the PDA was donated to a physician’s-assistant friend of mine—who will pay me back, I’m assured, with any sample anti-anxiety meds and/or high-grade tranqs that come his way.

But I’m just not Buddhist enough to give up altogether, to live comfortably in a perpetual now. I mean, even if my boss and daycare provider could be convinced to have more flexible definitions of “on time” or “noonish,” and could let go of such concepts of “job responsibilities” and “late fees,” I’d still be animated by this—perhaps, curiously American—notion of self-improvement. I’d still have a task-
oriented sense of self. I’d still look at myself insecurely as a project, something to be tinkered with, modified going forward. I’d still want to take steps now to whip the future into shape. And, hence, I’d still scour the aisles of book- and office-supply stores looking for the proper tools. (I long ago stopped scoffing at the notion of Self-Help, and would gladly shell out the $22.95, or whatever, for a copy of You, for Dummies. Perhaps it would give me some insight on why I’ve not yet cracked the spine of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, which I bought two years ago.)

Maybe it’s a Sisyphean job. It’s certainly got dark potential. Though the Horatio Alger-style rags-to-riches story is an enormously popular trope for Americans of even passively Calvinist stripe, it’s interesting to note that The Great Gatsby—still regarded the quintessential Great American Novel by many—shades that theme of personal betterment in a less-rosy hue: After Gatsby’s death, the narrator meets that self-invented man’s father, who shows him a rigorous schedule kept by the young Gatsby, a disciplined regimen of self-improving techniques and exercises. Gatsby’s indefatigable drive toward an envisioned perfect self made him rich and celebrated, but led nevertheless to a pathetic and petty demise. A far cry from the unqualified success of, say, Alger’s Mark the Match Boy or Paul the Peddlar or Lucius the Lucky, Lucky Bootblack, Favored of God or whatever.

So, there’s a part of me that wants to turn up my nose at any starry-eyed better-living scheme and free myself from the perceived obligation to improve in any way at all. Fuck it, you know? Love me, love my dog. But the thing is, I know people who are good at it.

A friend of mine not only uses her personal organizer with great success in a day-to-day kind of way—I’m not listing her accomplishments here because it just makes me feel bad about myself—but also in a big-picture way. Each year with each new calendar (which she names, but that’s a different story), she assigns herself a new life-
improving goal; for ease of recollection—and maybe also to prevent taking herself too seriously—she formulates it as a rhyming motivational motto. Like “Be more free in 2003,” or something like that. It sounds a little bonkers, I know, but she gets it done. She’s repaired relationships, bolstered friendships, and checked self-destructive or just undesired behaviors. And she’s no
crystal-gazing, Goddess-blessing, incense-burning, past-life-regressing, gong-ringing nincompoop. She’s very much in the world, and very much in her life. It’s both baffling and inspiring. As incredulous as I am, it’s hard to argue with success.

So I’m vacillating between my native cynicism and a shaky hope that such proactive schemes can actually work. I’m trying to accept that though such routines might not make me a particularly good person, one might make me a better person, and I’m trying not to phrase it in any way that seems like it would be most at home scrawled in calligraphy over a beach scene laminated on a cross-section of driftwood. I’m trying to negotiate with Order and Discipline and Foresight. I’m trying to befriend my daily planner and take it into my confidence, to share my aspirations with it, to partner with it. I’m trying to ally myself with the Day Runner.

The alarm clock, however, I will continue to regard with great wariness.

—John Rodat

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