Embracing the Unexpected, Welcoming a Change of Plan (pt 1), by Kimberly Lee

My pre-workshop checklist is dense and lengthy. With the level of detail, one might wonder if I mistakenly think I’m creating the manifest for a space shuttle launch. I even write it that way, with a full-scale countdown.

10 — Ensure all devices are charged to 100% capacity. Panic if they aren’t.

9 — Increase lighting in room and on all devices to their highest, squint-inducing value.

8 — Cue up power point and ensure smooth movement through the slides, but remember to speak in an off-the-cuff manner during the presentation. Reading slides prompts participants’ eyes to glaze over.

And so on. I print out a clear-cut agenda, timed to the minute, important points highlighted. I jot out a list of the participants on a separate sheet with columns, to keep track of who is present and who has shared their work. A must-have is a schematic that helps me decide how long to allow for sharing and in what format—large group, breakout rooms, the chat box—depending on the number of participants and their mood. I keep a blank notepad for notes and comments to make in support of a piece of writing, and another blank one for any writing that I may do in response to a prompt. I also have an extra activity or two in mind in case an empty block of time looms.

All of this springs from my belief that extensive, exhaustive planning is the key to a successful workshop. It’s my security blanket, my spare tire, my five extra outfits for a weekend trip. “Be prepared”—the Scout’s motto from way back. They must know what they’re talking about, right?

The planning trait emerged early in me. As teachers in the local school district, my parents each received a complimentary appointment book each year. These spiral-bound books, with their black, pebbled, vinyl covers and gold block letters, inevitably found a home on our kitchen counter, unused. My parents had their own ways of organizing lesson plans and scheduling parent meetings; all I had to do was ask and the datebooks would be mine. As a third grader, this arrangement worked for me. I dutifully recorded my important engagements—ballet lessons, piano recitals, salon appointments, an upcoming trip to Lake Tahoe—in the cursive I’d recently learned. Cue the beginning of my life as a “planner.”

By high school, I’d adopted a 6 x 9-inch steno notepad with lined, pale green paper to keep track of homework assignments. Later I moved on to the binder planners, called “systems,” blanketing them with stickers (“messy bun, getting things done!,” “you got this!”) and neon pink highlighter. On some days, every hour would be taken with some appointment or task, every blank space filled with extra things to do.

My tendency to over-plan has continued over the years, including packed trip itineraries that have left my family exhausted at times, in need of a vacation after the vacation. We recently hosted a retreat for extended family. Leading up to their arrival, I sent a comprehensive agenda for the week. After a complaint disguised as a polite inquiry from my cousin, I re-labeled it, calling it “a highly flexible, suggested itinerary.”

I was starting to get it—even if a ton of fun is in store, plans that don’t allow for spontaneity can feel confining, restricted…

(Editor’s note: Look for Part 2 of Kimberly’s piece next week.)

Kimberly Lee practiced law for some years, then turned her attention to motherhood, creative pursuits, and community work. She is a SoulCollage® and Amherst Writers & Artists facilitator and an editor and contributor at Literary Mama. Her work has appeared in Fresh Ink, Words and Whispers, Toyon, The Ekphrastic Review, Minerva Rising, and elsewhere. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three children. Connect with Kimberly at http://kimberlylee.me

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

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