Tag Archives: writing

Zen and the Art of To-do Lists

In the past week, as my life has gone from one extreme to another, I’ve come to a very clear realization:  the less I have to do, the more I feel like I need a to-do list.  This raises two important considerations – firstly, just how this bizarre fact manifests, and secondly, what that means about the very nature of to-do lists.

On this occasion, the best course of action is to start from the middle.

Around the time my accountability partner and I decided to start working together, I suggested that the best way to measure our outputs would be to use to-do lists.  My thinking was that it would help us to identify specifically what needed doing in the week, picking out the step-by-step process of getting from point A to the sometimes elusive point B of freelance writing, and, hopefully, identifying what specifically wasn’t getting done each week.  Ideally, we would be able to reflect on what was getting in the way, what wasn’t working, where we were spending too much time, what we were consciously avoiding or where less-important aspects of our lives were interrupting more important tasks that were therefore being neglected to our productivity’s detriment.

Does this sound like a good foundation for creativity?  No.  The answer is no.

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Cause vs. Reason

I’ve been thinking a lot about that famous poem by William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow“.  It keeps popping up…and I find that it intoxicates me for reasons I can’t explain.

Words are like that.  They can be magically and musically inexplicable, for all their ostensible explicability.  I’m reminded of Bill Borroughs’ cut-up novels…the way that Kerouac chose the words in his novels for their be-bop readability…the way that Shakespeare would rather make a word up than let insufficient syllabic content muss up his perfect iambic pentameter.

I’ve recently been forced, by way of my efforts to secure a slightly more dependable paycheck, to undergo a bit of intense personal reflection.  It started like this:  I received a convocation from the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) informing me that I would need to attend a one-day information session on la vie française.  

Lunch would be provided.

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There is always, always a plan.  Even when I try to let life lead, there is always a plan.  Even when I don’t know exactly what the outcome will be, there are a number of options.  Like the doors on a gameshow, I expect the outcome to my big life decisions to fall within the confines of one of them, or some combination of the lot.  This time has been very different.

When the idea to write for a living came along, it was as though, for a moment, I suddenly had sea legs.  Is that even legal?  Surely I’m not one of the beautiful people.  I’m not someone who gets to spend her days creating.  Surely my mind isn’t independent enough, I’m not relentless enough, and after all, who on Earth wants to read what I’ve got to write?

Alas, I’m over a year into this endeavor and I can say that, without a doubt, I’ve not yet figured out the answers to any of those questions, or calmed any of those doubts (with the exception of that question on legality.  Apparently it is.  You heard it here first, beloved readers).

Don’t get me wrong – this post is not some big fishing festival – you read me, ergo, I’m gonna go ahead and assume you think I’m wonderful, either because of my uncanny ability to whittle words or because you just love me from way back.  I’ll take either one.  As to the editors I’ve contacted, the feedback has been…limited.  I’ve sold a few articles, I’ve written several more for free, and I keep on keeping on.  But there has been more than a little hubris along the way.

See, the first thought was this:

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9 thoughts on homelessness

Last week it occurred to me that, although I’d spent the better part of a decade working with homeless people, and although I’m now endeavoring to rebuild my identity as a writer, I’ve never written about homelessness.  If there’s anything I might know a tiny bit of something about, it’s gotta be that, right?

Oh, but then the subject is tender, tricky, and tenuous.  How can one know, how can one properly understand this state of the most absolute poverty, that exists everywhere, that we all so complacently accept as normalcy (most often because we must!  Because what else can we do?).

At any rate, it was the subject of my last article at Elephant Journal – do have a gander if’n you fancy, and let me know what you think!

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What a whole lotta love.

It’s more than a little interesting to consider all the knock-on effects of any new given thing we choose to do, or to stop doing, or to change.  For instance:  we left England because we wanted to spend a year volunteering, without the hassle of balancing work alongside our donated time.  We also wanted to explore new career opportunities, to see if there was anything in those new roles we wanted to hold tight.

Some of the outcomes were extraordinary.  Some were disappointing.  Some we haven’t fully absorbed intellectually or emotionally as yet, and are still trying to piece together.

One of the more unexpected outcomes was the direction Chris and I have taken in our careers.  I had no plans at any point from roughly the age of 16 to try to write professionally, and yet here I am.  Chris had given up on the world of IT more or less right after the Dot Com Crash in the early Naughties, and yet here he is.

And, of course, there’s this blog – What If and Why Not – a question and a statement and a quest, I suppose – the brainchild of a childless-by-choice couple, born out of a need to update friends and family, to make sense of the crazy decision we’d just taken, and, eventually (particularly for me), to write.  What we didn’t expect was the community that would form around us:  bloggers we’ve come to admire and respect and learn from constantly, readers who would make a point of reading us virtually every time we posted.  We didn’t expect that perfect strangers thousands of miles away would be able to raise our spirits, give us food for thought, empathise and propose solutions.

One such extraordinary character can be found here on WordPress.  She goes by Colgore on here, but I’m pretty sure most folks call her Coleen.  She’s a yoga instructor by day and a word whittler by night (or the other way around?  I’m not sure.  Time differences, you know), and she absolutely. Cracks. Me. Up.  She also makes me think, and she also comes over here to What If and Why Not to make us feel good about what we’ve got going on.  What she’s got going on is called Prana and Peaches, and for whatever reason, she digs us enough to have nominated us for a bright and shiny:

Isn’t it purdy?

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Go, bird, go!

Well, this was going to be an insightful piece about how social media is taking over our lives.  I was going to endeavor to inspire you all to foreit the Facebook in favor of more face time (no, not the Apple equivalent of Skype.  The real deal). I’d all but written the thing – in fact, I’d gone through the first draft in my head already on my morning run yesterday.

See? There in the middle. I don’t make this stuff up, people.

Then, on the same day, I went and created a Twitter account.

Hypocritical?  Yes.  Necessary?  Also, I think, yes.

See, the post about the “Facebook Age” (which I may very well still write, mind you!) was inspired by my current predicament.  The fact is that it’s becoming increasingly obvious that, given the following circumstances…

  1. I am still relatively new to professional writing
  2. I have no journalism degree
  3. I work independently – freelance – and so must generate all my own business

…I kinda need a social media platform.  This wasn’t my idea.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about it.  It was just that when I thought about it, it was sort of in a stop-thinking-about-this-right-now-there-that’s-better sort of way.  Like the way I think about how I need to stop eating so much chocolate.  Wait, what?  Forget about it.

But, try as I might, this niggling notion of my lacking social media presence kept creeping into my brain, courtesy of the various bastions of IT know-how in my life, namely Chris and my Accountability Partner.  And then the folks over at Elephant Journal strongly encouraged it, too (but by no means insisted, mind).

So I’ve compromised.  Not my integrity, mind you.  But my insistence.  Facebook still makes no sense in my life.  But I guess Twitter does.

What makes Twitter different?  I guess that, for me, the big difference is the respective primary functions of these machines perform.  From a distance, I see Twitter as a sort of constant stream of ideas.  Like headlines on a newspaper’s website, a user can pick and choose the ideas they want to look into more deeply; like “thoughts of the day” a user can quickly glance into the psyches of those s/he follows.  Facebook, on the other hand, feels increasingly like the social media equivalent of a high school reunion hosted by Kodak.  More on that eventually.

I’m not completely convinced by Twitter.  I am a firm believer that human beings say stupid shit.  And it seems to me that Twitter empowers the stupid shit people say sometimes to get the better of those people themselves.  Also, I do not need yet another reason to be in front of my computer.  I also realize that I’m coming into it really late in the game.  I’m a bit intimidated by the idea that I’m trailing behind on this by miles and miles.

But I’m hoping it’ll be a platform from which I can benefit from the brilliant ideas of great writers like Andrea Gibson and Charlie Brooker (two of my word heroes, incidentally), and maybe also get quick ideas and important news out to you all a teensy bit more quickly and easily.

Here’s hoping I’m not at this all day long…go bird go!

(Ahem.  Sorry about that.  Couldn’t help myself.)

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