Never All Done


I'm striving to destroy the myth that I'll ever get everything done…

… and, along with that, I'm struggling to accept that this never-ending quality to the deeds I'm charged with doing need not be a lamentable fact. After all, if we're 'done', doesn't that mean we're dead?

Want a good lesson in 'never all done'? Try writing a fresh batch of horoscopes every week. As soon as I'm 'done', I have only a few moments to catch my breath before I've got to start all over again. As long as the planets continue to move through the sky (and I'm banking both my career and my very existence on the fact these movements will continue indefinitely), there's always a new astrological vantage-point from which to compose my twelve weekly love-letters to the zodiac tribes.

Talk about a writing practice that forces one into a quasi-Buddhist attitude of conscious detachment. Not only must I maintain a consistent timeliness in meeting the expectations of my readers, who aren't shy about letting me know they've noticed if my horoscopes are posted later than my usual midday-Sunday-in-California schedule (which I consider a fair payoff for the fact that my career's freedom allows me to write and post horoscopes from anywhere in the world)… but once each week draws to a close, the writing that took me hours during the previous week becomes pretty much worthless.

For the most part, outdated horoscopes are garbage. The occasional curious reader will peruse the archives to check for further insight into events that already occurred. But the broader audience for, say, a collection of last year's weekly horoscopes is fairly non-existent. And so, while most writers who produce a roughly 2,500-word weekly column (which amounts to more than 125,000 words a year and I've been putting out horoscopes since mid-2003, so you do the math) end up with a lot of material to gather into a published anthology or three for merchandising on the featured-promotions tables at Barnes & Noble, I merely possess a heap of words past their expiration date. Horoscope-writing as a mode of self-expression is like ice sculpture, sand mandalas or sidewalk chalk-drawings: beautifully bittersweet in their ephemerality, as life itself.

Yet, I am not bitter about this fact (at least a vast majority of the time). If anything, it has been an instructive lesson in coming to accept my need to find personal satisfaction in the process of being productive, rather than merely concentrating on whatever forthcoming development I'll enjoy as a result of having completed a product. This notion flies in the face of what I was brought up with believing, which is: When I provide correct answers or do good work, I receive awards and accolades which entitle me to the next level of achievement, where I must find ever-more-sophisticated answers and conduct that-much-more-impressive work so I may win bigger and better rewards and climb higher and higher.

Under that former belief-system, I must wager my present moments on future satisfaction. These days, I aim to find satisfaction right here and right now as I'm 'doing', since futures are always only a possibility while the present moment is a sure thing. Needless to say, it's a challenge.

Besides, the achievement model offers no real alternative to the intrinsic 'never done' quality of appreciating the process as it's happening. While we may seem to reach completion by snagging prize clients, winning important cases, passing exams and securing promotions, there's always another loftier goal that the ambitious achiever sets in his vision for the future. So the satisfaction of completing something must usually compete with the promise of even greater satisfaction later, when our second book or album or film or show generates more acclaim or profit, we find a hotter guy or girl to date, or our forthcoming triumph eclipses our current success. Meanwhile, in the process, we've missed the contentment along the road: the sharing of meaningful interpersonal experiences, the embodiment of struggle, the stretching in the midst of evolution. Blink, and we miss it, blinded by wondering what may be up next.

My fantasy of wishing to get everything done is a yearning to feel content as I already am, without having to lift a finger one more time to earn an inner peace—a loving self-acceptance, really—I intellectually believe I'm innately entitled to, simply by being alive. I project this yearning into my ambitious to-do lists, falsely presuming I would finally get a rest (that is, allow myself to take a rest) were I to finish every task listed there. The fatal flaw, of course, is that I can always find another task still unfinished… and thus my ceaseless inner critic is never lacking a tangible item with which to browbeat myself, preventing relaxation from being possible.

And in this fantasy, once I have gotten it all done, my supposed desired response is to lazily loaf around doing absolutely nothing, which might feel good for a day or two tops but would ultimately leave me feeling, well, lazy. Activity—sometimes but not always the same thing as 'productivity', I keep telling myself—is what keeps us vital. Few souls actually find satisfaction in the pure absence of doing, though it does make for a marvelous fantasy. Yes, I fantasize about huge expanses of uncommitted time and its promise of allowing me to experience being… without reducing it merely to 'doing'. (And yes, there is a difference.) But even as I write that, I'm not sure how long I could possibly 'be' before feeling guilty for not doing more.

I am far from the only person contending with how to happily concede to the knowledge that what I do never actually feels done. Horoscope-writing was merely my dramatic initiation into unmistakable awareness of this fact, though I suppose I'd already realized that my clothes always seemed to dirty themselves no matter how many times I do laundry and my stomach would repeatedly become empty and hungry regardless of having fed it yesterday and the day before.

Since then, I've taught myself consistent diligence with never-ending practices such as watering plants and going to the gym. I also opened a retail store (The Sacred Well), where tasks such as bookkeeping, inventory and payroll must be perpetually kept up with or the business fails. And of course, the biggest job-that's-never-done of all? Parenting, which begins for a mom right after discovering she's expecting and continues without any breaks through the child's 18th birthday… and really never ends until she breathes her last breath (though I hear the hours get a bit more reasonable once the kid's out of the house). Let's just say my experience raising a dog gives me enough of a hint at what I'm missing, I can't help but be humbled: If I often feel I can never get it all done, how must an attentive parent deal with it?