So. A month or two ago I read Henry Troyat’s biography of Leo Tolstoy, and was once again confronted with certain lifelong habits of that colossal writer, one of which involved writing down and revising his life’s goals, on a near constant basis. He was partly inspired by Benjamin Franklin, who would actually mark down his failures and successes at the end of every day, in different matrices, almost as though he was keeping a financial account of his life’s experience.
I had always sort of wanted to imitate this practice, and I began doing so a little after I finally finished working at a public school just about two months ago. This gave me a ton of free time to devour, at least when I wasn’t taking care of the baby.
Nonetheless, in the face of all challenges, I began my program of self-improvement! There were different columns for writing, editing, learning Korean, guitar playing, exercising, and photography—and, believe it or not, there were some days where I managed to tick off every single column. I would feel so fulfilled as a result of doing so. If I could run for an hour, practice guitar for an hour, write five pages, edit for an hour or two, learn Korean for an hour, and then wander around and take a few pictures, all in one day, I was liable to feel pretty goddamn content with how I had spent my time.
But of course the story of Tolstoy’s diaries is also the story of how he failed to live up to those diaries, and to his own expectations. Although the man achieved far more than many people could ever hope to, he was never satisfied with himself, and when he was my age he was mostly addicted to gambling, drinking, and loose women, despite all the proscriptions against those things in his journals.
The brief story of my own self-improvement columns, or whatever you want to call them, is more or less the same. Achieving all of those separate goals meant that my daily schedule was pretty precarious, and that if some outside event disrupted that balance, I could actually be thrown off for weeks. I randomly decided to publish part of my book about a month ago (the process is still continuing…) and as a result I had to devote about five full days to editing a hundred pages of text and then work them all into the proper format. It was an exhausting process. I didn’t have time for anything else (except for the baby!). I didn’t bother to tick off my Tolstoy-Franklin columns and as a result the whole project fell apart and collapsed entirely. It’s been weeks since I’ve written anything there.
But I think, as a result of writing this, I’ve gained some new inspiration. I’ve got to stick to it! I’m going to write up some new columns and give the whole thing another shot. The whole thing is futile and repetitive from any cosmic or reasonable perspective, since I’m fairly certain that I’ll screw up again relatively soon (especially when my parents come to visit us in a few weeks and throw everything off), but regardless I want to give it another go.