Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chaos Theory

I am a disorganised person.

There's no escaping from it. I approach tasks in a haphazard way; I take on things without thinking them through; I start one project, then shoot off at a tangent, dabble in something else for a while, flap my arms and dance in little circles, then go back to the original task. It's a form of laziness, I guess. I lack the mental discipline to knuckle down and get the job done.

Knowing this, I can force myself to concentrate on one thing at a time, but then I tend to get obsessive. Novel writing is a case in point - both Natural Causes and The Book of Souls were written in a very short period of time during which nothing else got done at all. Dogs went unwalked, supper went uncooked, and the house descended into some kind of breeding ground for new lifeforms. Pity the poor Horse Doctor, who has to go to an office every day, slave away to earn enough to feed us both, and then come home to find I've not moved from my chair in twelve hours.

Taking on a house renovation project and a full time job, as I did a couple of years ago, was always going to be a recipe for disaster. Something had to give, and in my case it was the writing. I've started two books since moving in, but neither has progressed very far. I am beset with the usual writers demons - those ugly little bastards who sit on your shoulder whispering 'this is shit'. But I've also had to contend with the endless niggling feeling that I really should be painting the spare bedroom or finishing the airing cupboard in the bathroom. And then there's the paid work. I don't go to an office every day any more, but I do have a certain amount of freelance work to get through. And since this pays money, I should really give it precedence over everything else.

So what's the problem, I hear you say. At least I think it was you, and if it wasn't I'd better start taking the medication again. It's easy enough to assign times to various tasks. Work for money in the mornings, on the house in the afternoons, and write in the evenings. What could be simpler?

Well, yes. What could be simpler? I could even have a worksheet for each day with the times and tasks written down. Tick them off as they are done. Be organised.

And there's the nub of the problem. For all that I know how to do it, I'm damned if I've ever managed to put it into practice. I am hopeless at scheduling and get easily distracted by something more shiny and interesting than what I'm doing right now. And when I do get stuck into a project properly, then everything else is forgotten.

Many, many years ago, when I was in very short trousers, I was sent away to boarding school near Watford. This was an odd place of which I have many bitter-sweet memories (although mostly bitter, if I'm being honest). I was disorganised and messy there as well - some things never change. I recall one time being unable to find my compass in my very messy desk - we had those old individual wooden desks where you lifted up the lid to reveal an Aladdin's cave of blunt pencils, leaking ink pens, compasses, protractors and rubbers (or erasers if you're American - I was only seven and had no idea what a rubber was). Angry at something and pushed to the edge by my lack of organisation my teacher Mr Waterfield picked up my desk, turned it upside down and emptied the contents onto the floor. Memory doesn't relate whether I found the compass or not, but the experience singularly failed to improve my messiness.

Another incident that had perhaps a more lasting impression was when the science teacher Mr Hart suggested drawing up a schedule for me so that I wouldn't keep being late for things, or forgetting them altogether. Though naive, I was clever enough to understand that, in the context, he wasn't being helpful but was showing me up in front of the other boys. Having to use a schedule to organise your life showed a distinct lack of maturity. He was either just being mean (which, given the nature of the place, was entirely possible) or trying to use reverse psychology on me, since everything else including severe physical punishment had plainly failed. Mr Hart was very popular with the boys - he'd been taught at the school himself and was younger than most of the other teachers - so his opinions were quite persuasive. The lesson I took from that incident however was not that I needed to get organised, but that only stupid people needed schedules. Daft though it seems, looking back through the misty time, that lesson was one of the few that stuck. To this day I baulk at the thought of marshalling my time into little boxes on a calendar. I have a big brain, above average intelligence. Surely that's enough.

Which makes the decision I made about a year ago seem rather foolhardy. Given the option of selling the family farm and taking a cheque large enough to ensure a comfortable (if not luxurious) living for the rest of my life, or selling this house I've spent two years renovating, moving back to Scotland and taking up farming, I chose the latter.

Now, with the legal nonsense surrounding the inheritance finally coming to an end (and I have my fingers firmly crossed at this moment, as well as touching as much wood as I can find), that decision is finally coming home to roost, so to speak. It's not even as if I can just move into the farmhouse and get started straight away. My share of my parents' estate was not enough to include both farm and farmhouse, and I couldn't afford to buy any of my siblings out, so my brother has taken the farmhouse, the old stone buildings and a few acres of land, leaving me with the modern buildings and about 350 acres of land. I therefore need to add building a new house to the list of things to do, along with sourcing around 300 Romney ewes and twenty or so Highland Cattle to get the farming business off the ground. Then I've actually got to practice some of the shit I've been preaching to Welsh farmers for years - and you can't really be disorganised where keeping livestock is concerned.

But before that can even start I've got to sell this house I've spent the last two years renovating, in a housing market much less buoyant than when I bought it. And I need to start managing the farm even though I'm living four hundred miles away from it - the grazing is let currently, but fences need mending, drains unblocking, and there's a mountain of paperwork the government requires even though the place doesn't actually get any grants. Then there's that paid freelance work that I can't really turn down right now as I'm pretty much skint. And some books to write. And an agent to find. Or maybe a publisher.

More than ever I really need to pull my socks up and get organised. I will start me a schedule, and try to stick to it. Old Chris Hart be damned.  Life's about to get rather hectic, so if you don't see me around these parts much, you know why.

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