What should I be doing instead of this?
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Gone By

By Kathy Y. Wilson · December 27th, 2012 · Kathy Y. Wilson
nyntg 12-27
I am a compulsive list-maker.

Phone calls. (My Aunt Janice; my sister, Devin.)

Emails. (I am not on Facebook. I keep up the old-school way.)

Groceries. (Asparagus, chicken, salmon, milk, cereal, pasta, bananas, cheese, eggs, turkey sausage.)

Story ideas. 

Potential sources.

Blown deadlines.

How to stretch then move them like the counterweight on a doctor’s office scale. 

Teaching schedules. (Two classes. Tuesday. Thursday. Same building, different rooms.)

Course outline details. (Readings. Instructions. In-class writing prompts. Guest speakers. Mandatory conferences. Grades.)

Bills. (Rent. Duke. Verizon. Car insurance. IRS.)

Who gets what and how much. 

Who gets less than that.

I keep the calendars that kept the appointments, lists and abandoned ideas from years gone by.

According to my 2011 calendar/planner, last year this time I was doing precisely the same things: scheduling time to see out-of-town friends; figuring out what money was going to land when; staring at social engagements I knew I wasn’t going to attend when I wrote them down; adding up incoming income to see the total of my paltry finances.

Years ago, either at the behest of Oprah or my therapist, I started writing out specific five-year plans.

Another list. 

But what’s beautiful about the five-year plan lists is, yes, I give myself five years to tick things off the list because they’re big ticket-life-changing-next-level type things.

In the late 1990s I wrote a five-year plan list and on it I’d written: 

• Write and publish a book

• Go to Cuba

• Go to Europe

• Write significantly for a living

• Buy a house

• Have or adopt a child

Of those six things, I’d accomplished the first four within the five-year window and I’ve yet to figure out which came first — the list or the will to achieve its contents.

I walk around with monumentally intense pressures only on myself to get things done, things I never tell anyone.

I never want to be one of those Cincinnati niggas who talk a big game about what I’m working on because most of those things I’m “working on” are internal self-improvements and world-class manifestations of my gifts.

They’re things that will not matter or make sense to the outside onlooker. Like carving out the uninterrupted time to write long-form narrative non-fiction, or writing a semi-autobiographical screenplay or having a child before I no longer have the energy to raise that child the way I was raised.

Or, worse yet, I fear my private aspirations will likely be judged as silly fodder to the folks who acquire frivolous material possessions and who must remain enslaved to unfulfilling jobs that keep the material goods coming on a Lucille Ball-esque conveyor belt.

I know these people. 

I love these people.

But, our lives are apples and oranges. 

What I don’t think they understand is that I have essentially taken a vow of poverty in exchange for the freedoms to write for money as I need it and to teach because it feeds my writing skills and makes me a better writer. Further, I know they assume because I am conversant on what Wendy Williams covered in “Hot Topics” (Kanye and Kim/The Real Housewives of Atlanta) or because I don’t answer my phone during back-to-back midday episodes of Law & Order — episodes I’ve undoubtedly seen multiple times but watch like they’re new, anyway — my days must therefore be insignificant. 

Must be nice to watch TV and sleep, they think.

It is.

But there’s nothing nice about writing all night until my right wrist feels like it’s dislocated from my arm.

There’s nothing nice about the constant whir of sentences writing themselves in my head until, rudely, I can no longer participate in conversations for fear of losing what’s breaking through my psyche to the page.

There’s nothing nice about the immediacy of language, so breakneck I have to write on the walls around me it comes so fast.

Then what? 

What to do with it all? 

It must be lassoed and corralled.

And this is where I get into trouble, where I start making lists — maybe as distractions from actually getting the work done, or maybe as portals to getting to the work, or maybe the lists are simply compulsory avenues leading to something else.

Whatever they are, the lists do not appear to be helping except as sugar pills to organization.

What I haven’t quite mastered is the supernatural discipline it takes to keep all my plates spinning. 

But I have never been disciplined. 

I have always been beset by and caved in to whatever emotional stressors my life would acid reflux up around me, unable much of the time to press forward past them.

Eventually that stress makes good grist for muscular sentences but usually too late for the deadlines dotting my path.

So here I sit at the close of another year glancing down at yet another handwritten five-year plan written “Saturday, December 31, 2001 (at) 1:05 a.m. EARLY Saturday morning; Friday just left.)”

I was brutalized by 2011. 

I crawled through most of last year, uncertain, honestly, of whether I was gong to make it. 

Would I live?

I couldn’t support myself financially and I am at that age where bailouts from friends and family become a matter of pride.

But I was bailed out, bit by bit and though I am not completely standing in the clear, it is clearer. 

I feel like now I can see in front of me.

According to last year’s list I have until 2017 to:

• Write and publish Do You Know Who I Think I Am? (my next book)

• Adopt a child

• Write a script about a lesbian love story (slowly in the works)

• Stable employment


I am painting some.

The book is all outlined and mostly researched.

I have no idea when God is going to bring me this child or the stable employment I’ve been wanting.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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