Just before spring break, my advanced fiction writing professor reminded us about a large, cumulative author study project due mid-April. Because I was preparing to spend break on a study away instead of home, I went into what I’ve come to fondly refer to as “panic mode”– I took one look at the assignment sheet, saw about 15 different sources we were supposed to have in an annotated bibliography to supplement our 2-3 page report, and promptly felt my face flush, my palms sweat, and my brain get fuzzy. How was this going to get done?
Panic mode results from my tendency to look at projects through an enormous-end-result lens rather than little-steps-to-get there lens. I’ve experienced prolonged bouts of panic mode this semester because I’m trying to balance six classes, two clubs, two club committees, community service, launching a college-wide peer mentor program, miscellaneous odds and ends, and that whole growing-up thing… the little things that add up over the course of the semester don’t seem so little when I’m looking at everything they need me to be doing. So, I panic. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Boyfriend has endured many frantic phone calls and texts in which he reassures me that I can get through it (even if I’m insisting that there’s no possible way I’m getting through the next week, let alone next semester).
Panic isn’t the most effective coping mechanism when confronted with an overwhelming schedule, and it usually doesn’t take too long for me to realize this (yes, generally with the help of Boyfriend who has a clearer perspective because he’s not the one staring at my 15 point to-do list). Phase two is “plan mode,” in which I look at the tasks at hand and the calendar space allotted for each one and figure out how they fit together. Before I left for LA, I hadn’t reached plan mode for my author study, but after finishing the first of three required novels on a particularly productive plane ride, I felt just enough relief to believe in my productive capabilities. Once break ended and I was home once again, I had each part of the project broken down into manageable sections… it didn’t feel like a crazy, terrifying project. Now, it was just a compilation of daily reading assignments.
Just about a year ago, I got my first tattoo (with my mother, which is a story for another day). I got an elephant for the same reason my dad keeps a picture of one in his office– to remind myself that most tasks are achievable with a little persistence and planning. The idea is that you can’t eat a whole elephant in one bite, but you can break it down into parts and eat it little by little. It’s a weird metaphor, but it reminds me that when the big picture gets overwhelming, I can look at the parts that make up the big picture and tackle those one at a time.
Panic mode Katlyn can be a little forgetful about the weird elephant metaphor, but plan mode Katlyn whips her into shape fast, sometimes with enough time in between for an episode (or two) of something on Netflix. It never takes too long for me to be busy, and sometimes I look at the elephant that is everything I want to do and get a little scared– elephants are kind of big and a little intimidating! But a elephant trunk is quite a bit smaller than the whole thing, and so is an elephant foot and so is an elephant toe. It’s important for us all to remember that the elephant is fully available as a meal if you start with the trunk and end with the the toes.