As spring makes its astronomical transition to summer, two things weigh heavily on my mind. The first is the hope that summer arrives more than symbolically. Since four smokin’ hot days that bridged May and June, the sun’s been playing a wicked good game of hide-and-seek. I’ll be damned if I can find it. Late spring of 2007 has been one of those unsatisfying seasons — wet, cold, and wet — that used to drive me out of British Columbia and into the desert in search of epidermal Vitamin D. Everything in the garden has gone into a state of suspended animation with the exception of rare and formerly unknown visitors to these normally dry parts — slugs.
The second thing devilling me is the vast chasm, the yawning crevasse that separates planning and doing. I’m about to either step across it or fall in; it’s impossible from this vantage to tell which. All I know for certain is the planning part of this project is over. It’s time to start doing.
I’ve been planning in earnest since sometime in April. Like any worthwhile planning exercise, this one started with a blank piece of paper, or in this case, a blank wall. The wall is in my living room. The living room is in one of the townhomes at WHA’s Nita Lake development, the one my Perfect Partner and I were lucky enough to get a chance to buy after what seemed like an eternity on the wait list wondering whether any new housing would get built before the rental suite we’d lived in for 11 years got sold out from under us.
The wall needs something other than paint. I need shelves, shelves to hold books, a television, various antique stereo components, electronic detritus, gewgaws, objects d’art, dust collectors. I need drawers to hold the treasures only drawers can hold, including that most essential drawer that allows any household to look as though its occupants are, at best, only distantly related to packrats… a junk drawer. That the wall’s needs and my needs coincide in time and space presented an opportunity to do one of two things: buy furniture or make furniture.
For reasons too obtuse to go into, I chose make. That’s partly because I couldn’t find what I was looking for in my cursory and ill-conceived shopping attempts but it’s mostly because there isn’t enough grief in my life. Having chosen make, one might assume I know something about making furniture, in this case wall units. One would be mistaken.
In theory, I do know the difference between a dado and a dodo. The first is a joint — not of the type I have a working familiarity with — and the second is an extinct bird. I’ll be learning to cut the former while feeling a bit like the latter.
The planning part of this project was fun, if arduous. That’s because planning is what I used to do for a living. It’s also because planning doesn’t involve doing in any serious way. And that distinction is so fundamental to many of the disconnects plaguing the world around us I’m tempted to call it the quintessential hallmark of the Baby Boom generation.
Until this revelation presented itself to me, I always thought the hallmark accomplishment of my fellow Boomers was changing society in such a fundamental way we could wear jeans to church. Other than that coup, I’m not sure what we’ve accomplished.
But now, I’m pretty certain the thing Boomers will be remembered for is not knowing the difference between planning and doing… and its variant, not knowing the difference between saying something is a certain way and actually making it so. I used to think that was a disease only politicians suffered from but now that all the politicians are Boomers — except for a few dinosaurs still standing — I have to grudgingly admit it’s just something my cohort excels at.
Perhaps the acme of this seemingly unbridgeable gap between planning and doing was reached in post-Katrina New Orleans. The city of New Orleans, to all outward appearances, was totally unprepared for what hit it two summers ago. One would have been justified in assuming planners and politicians were completely unaware New Orleans was in a part of the country where it even rained heavily, let alone somewhere hurricanes were known to make landfall.
Except for the fact that New Orleans had an Emergency Response Plan that was, in a word, masterful. It was a plan worthy of whatever the Oscar of plans is called. It illuminated in painstaking detail who was to do what after disaster struck.
But it suffered from Boomer Syndrome. It was a plan without a do. Saying it, or in this case writing it, most definitely didn’t make it so. I don’t know if all the people who wrote the plan had moved away between the time it was written and the time Katrina struck but the only indisputable thing in the hurricane’s aftermath was the actions called for in the plan didn’t get done.
Which is why I’m more than a little worried about the dough I’m about to sink into buying materials for my wall units. I’ve got a plan. It’s full of fractions and measurements and cut plans and dados and shelves and plinths and dowels and stuff. I get to buy a few new tools which, to be honest, is more about planning than doing. But when I bring the truckload of cherry home later this week, it’ll be all about doing.
Doing is way scarier than planning.
You can’t really fail at planning. You can fail big time at doing. You can’t fail at planning because, well, you haven’t failed; you’re still planning. There’s no way to know whether you’re failing when all you need to succeed is a document called a plan. But once you pick up a saw or a hammer or institute a policy, the outcome is binary: you succeed or you fail.
So far, Whistler is failing. At least when it comes to sustainability.
We’re failing even though we have an award-winning plan. We’re failing even though we have the best of intentions. We’re failing even though, or perhaps because, the Olympics are coming.
And time’s running out if we want to turn failure into success.
We can’t wait until we arrive at buildout to stop reaching for what’s been euphemistically called the low-hanging fruit by people who have obviously never picked raspberries. It’s time for more action and less planning. It’s time to start mandating actions that might make people uncomfortable. There are lots of good ideas out there — some of which I’ll be inclined to explore next week — looking for good leadership.
It’s time to cut dados or make like the dodo.