The Problem with Plurals

the problem is I got more ideas than minutes
more ambitions to begin than I have reasons to finish
more horizons to explore than I have means to their limits
more pulpits to preach from than there are people to listen

I wrote that. (Here.) I wrote it several years ago, at a time when my life wasn’t nearly as situated as it is now. Those were actually the first bars I wrote of that verse, and they simply fit nicely into another metaphor I was playing around with. In a vacuum, though, these are some of the truest words I’ve ever used to describe myself.

Recently, a friend asked me how my book was coming, since last time we chatted I was tunnel-visioned on finishing a particular novel(la)-length story. Since that time, I’ve maybe finished another few thousand words of it, starting a second and third project as time has tiptoed by. Now I have 3 partially completed ideas to match the thousands of specters of unfinished ones. I’ve been working, no question, but the harsh reality of the world is that something isn’t real unless it’s complete. Your time, energy and effort are nice ribbons, but if they don’t circumnavigate a ready-to-open gift, they really are meaningless. Sorry.


And yet, despite my crises-inducing lack of accomplishment, I still teeter-totter between the tedium of routine and existential boredom, as if I have earned my apathetic waste of free time. I wrote about that too, once. Well, several times, but more specifically, an old, maybe high-school-aged rhyme of mine mentioned how I felt like Joseph Heller without a Catch-22 to my name. The rhyme itself is forgettable, but the message of it has been a consistent theme of my short Earth-tenure thus far.

*     *     *

When I was teaching back in the states, a singular message was delivered to me, often with lowered heads and firmly locked stares: “Our kids don’t fail.” It was never elaborated on further, for good reason. It wasn’t an appraisal of our students’ aptitude so much as it was a warning that, should I try to enact a meritocratic relationship between grades and performance, I would encounter administrative obstruction. Thus, each report card became an A-or-B roulette that most of the kids were hip to, realizing that hey, last year I didn’t do shit and I still moved right along to the next grade, what’s changed since then?

The Impotence of Discipline

My teaching atmosphere now, cosmetically, couldn’t be more different. Instead of teaching Special-Ed at a public school, I teach advanced classes at a private, business-modeled school. I’ve basically swapped the method of obstructionism; what was once administrative is now parent-driven. If the parents aren’t satisfied with the grades their kids get in the class they pay almost twice as much for, the solution is simple: switch academies. The implications of market principles failing in an education system are obvious.

Either way, the underlying causal agent is the same – we are all incentivized by the bottom line, be it federal or consumer funding. At least in this setting, I’m able to maintain the muleta of accountability more effectively than I could before, but I still force a zygomatic smile every morning as I collect their homework and distribute tests that will achieve nothing more than uphold their busyness and profligate me of my time and sanity.

Meanwhile, I fight my literary inattention daily, struggling to maintain focus on any one thing in any one area of life. If that is redundant to hear, it’s nothing short of dizzying to live. I’ve second-guessed myself several times even as I go about typing this. I could/should always be doing this, that and the other thing. And time slips through the sieves of my schedule, like the silent assassin it can’t help but be.

Too, too many things, always. That’s the problem with plurals: they’re so self-defeating in their coquetry. I can hear my mom’s voice in my head, in the nasal mock tone my brothers and I have adopted, saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” That farmhouse wisdom falls upon deaf 21st century ears and idle millennial hands. “Less is more” seems to hold steadier under a reflective microscope.

I see you smiling, Sisyphus. The only difference between us is that I’m afforded the luxury of delusion.