“The ‘Later’ Shelf” or “Why Don’t We Just Tie Our Friggin’ Shoes?!?”

I’m usually on time. Often early. But I’m always paranoid about being late. It happens occasionally, and I never fail to feel awful about it. I hate wasting other people’s time. So, to prevent being late, sometimes I’ll leave the house in a rush and not button up my shirt or put on my belt or tie my shoes. My rationale is that after I catch the bus or find a parking space, I’ll tie my shoes and thread my belt around my pants and button up my shirt then. But doing those things before I leave the house would add time to my commute and push the likelihood of me being late just a bit higher.

I recently got a car for the first time in nine years. Prior to this I would take public transportation (which went significantly down in quality after I moved from Chicago to L.A.) or borrow my girlfriend’s car. And she was extraordinarily nice about letting me use it. I know she endured some (really a lot) of personal hardship because she would sometimes feel stuck at home and get cabin fever (the painful kind and not just the ‘aww shucks I’m stuck indoors’ Cat In the Hat kind) just to let me drive to auditions or rehearsals or several things during any given day. I digress, but do like bragging about how amazing she is so I don’t regret the last few sentences. My point is that even driving a car I still feel the same sense of panic at the idea of being late and I still leave the house sometimes unkempt if I fear that every second will count toward my punctuality.

But regardless whether I take a bus or drive a car, the point remains that I walk out of the house not fully ready for where I need to go. I can button my shirt while walking. Same with the belt. But the shoes are different. Not tying my shoes affects my ability to walk. I’ve never done accurate assessment or experimentation, but my guess is that the time it takes me to tie my shoes is equal or less than the time it takes me to compensate my walking ability with untied shoes. In other words, taking the time to tie my shoes before i leave likely doesn’t add time to my commute, but maybe even helps my commute.

Again, I don’t know for sure, but what I do know is that when I walk with untied shoes it bothers me. Usually just a nuisance at short distances (like to the car), but over time it could prove to be detrimental. Walking too long with untied shoes could cause me to trip, roll my ankle, rub a blister into my foot, or even other things probably that I can’t think of. And here is where the lesson comes in. It’s a metaphor for life. If we know we’re doing something that does not help us, but we do it anyway because of fear, then we’re just being our own worst enemies.

Here’s an example from my life: I have wanted to be a novelist since the early 2000s when I asked my sister-in-law to let me on a ride-a-long with her. She was a cop in a small town in Texas at the time and I wanted to write a novel about a small town female cop. I wrote 119 pages of that novel. It’s stayed with me through five computers in twelve years. Never finished it. Since then, I began three other different novels. I made significant progress on all, but never finished a full first draft of any. “Why not?” you may be asking. Who knows? Laziness. Fear of success. Fear of failure. A little voice in my head saying ‘you’re worthless.’ Maybe a combination of all of those, maybe none of those. I don’t really know. But I now believe that I don’t have a lot of time left on earth – relatively. I’m still young, but like everyone else, I too am getting older and will die someday. Hopefully, that day will be 100 years from now. Regardless of when it comes, I know it’s coming. And I need to start doing stuff now that I once put off til later. Because like the untied shoes those undone things bother me and probably hinder my life way more than they help.

Later is like a closet or a shelf. I gave myself a gift once. It was an idea for a novel. And much like a children’s toy, I spent a lot of time with it when I first got it. But at some point, I allowed myself to get busy with other things and put it on the shelf. I remember intentionally putting it on that shelf, because I needed a break from writing. The goal was to stop it just before my last sememster of college, do that semester and then start writing again. I didn’t start writing again for two more years. And that was a piddly attempt. So, what’d I do? I started a new novel. Maybe it wasn’t my lack of ability as a writer, but the project itself. It’s not that I couldn’t finish a rough draft, it’s that I couldn’t finish that particular rough draft…or so I hoped. The second novel made it to sixty-one pages before I put it in the shelf of later to join it’s older brother.

But the shelf of later was much larger when I was 25 than it is now. There’s still lots of room for stuff, but I can see it shrinking. And much like someone who has become aware of something new I am now necessarily forced to make a choice. 1. Allow it to sit on the shelf of later and know that the shelf is shrinking or 2. Take it off the shelf of later and put it on the work space of now. I shouldn’t judge myself for my choice, but I must be responsible for that choice. I can’t beat myself up for putting it back on the shelf if that’s my choice. I need to own my actions regardless of which one I do.

So, I have chosen to give the ‘later shelf’ some more room by finishing one of my four books. I’m working diligently to finish it. But my point is that this unfinished novel is much like my untied shoes when I leave the house. It’s bothered me ever since I did it. When I made the conscious decision to not tie my metaphorical shoes, I judged myself for it. I felt bad about it. It wasn’t too bad at first much like walking with an untied shoe doesn’t bother me for short distances, but now I look back and beat myself up for it. I rolled my metaphorical ankle.

Well, my goal is to live my life much more in the now. I still have a ‘later shelf.’ I have to. I can’t physically do everything I wanna do right now. But I’m changing my mind set to constantly be checking in with and pulling things off of that shelf. The goal isn’t to make the shelf empty. Far from it. Rather it’s to change the function of the shelf entirely. I’ve changed the name of the shelf from ‘later’ to ‘soon.’ Now it serves more like a weigh station for projects and ideas. I think of something I don’t have time to do at the moment and I put it on the shelf until a time soon where I can deal with it. I may ultimately decide to not do it. But in that case I don’t put it back on the shelf. I throw it away. And I don’t feel bad about it. Either way, I’m owning my actions rather than beating myself up for my inactions.

At least, that’s the goal. Here’s hoping I can keep the sentiment alive for the next 100 years.

Thanks, y’all!
Rich

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