Choices, Mindfulness

From To-Do to Done

Eero Saarinen list
Eero Saarinen’s list of Aline Bernstein’s good qualities, ca. 1954.

Every day I wake up to a checklist panting in my face. Every day for my entire adult life. I never considered questioning it. Bottomless need? Multiplying demands? Expect only this, nothing less, certainly nothing different. Tasks on the to-do list comprise a responsible life.

Wake up and get to work, Smirk.

Oi vey, what a wretched way to start each day.

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Art, Writing

Write Any Way


He asks me, “What are you writing?”

Should-be-simple question.  Nevertheless.  WritING and What suggest a singular focus towards an identified goal, and if only.

Of the half dozen projects begun in the past dozen years, I am WritING exactly zero Whats.  To complete that sentence: half dozen projects begun and abandoned because (– excuses dolled up as reasons –) keep damming the river.

The biggest boulders of debris may look like procrastination, may feel like avoidance, may clang like doubt

May choke like syrup even as it caulks the leaks where the hunger seeps through

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Art, Creativity, Writing

Draws the Eye

Paul Heaston Sketch

For the past year at least, I’ve been struggling with writing.  The struggle is against a sense of futility about words that begin in my journal as reflections on my own mind and experiences.  Who cares about my son’s bedtime, the trees leafing out along a bus route, the music the metro escalator makes as it howls and sings along its rusted track?  My words are outdated vehicles for tired ideas, or so my jerk-brain tells me.  I “should” be writing well-researched pieces about student development.  Or finely crafted poetry.  Or even fiction.  But I don’t.  Instead, snapshots of this little corner of the world (and my bumbling interactions with it) fill my journal and eventually make their way into my roughly drafted pieces.

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Brain, Creativity, Poetry, Writing

How to Use a Rotary Phone

Rotary Phone

Paint it white. Remove the bottom and peer into its whispering guts. Lay out the parts in a row and dare your child to build a robot.

Make it ring.

Hang the dial in a sunny window. Measure spaghetti with the holes. Braid the cord into the unruly mane of a wild pony. Replace the numbers with photographs of monuments and dead jazz singers.

Walk through a train station talking into the receiver. For dinner, serve a bratwurst on the cradle. For dessert, a cannoli.

Put a tiny baby down to sleep. Ring the operator and ask for a line to Newark.

Scroll down.

Plant rosemary in it.

Call off the Enola Gay.

Scavenge parts to fix a radio. Smack an intruder in the head. String it across the door to catch your teen trying to sneak out.

Speak into it all the things you wished you’d said.

Hold it to your ear and hear the wheels and waves, Coney Island, Venice Beach.

Carry it into a small closet and put on your tights and cape. Fill it with birdseed and set it out after the first thaw. Open the front and store inside a tiny book filled with photographs of switchboards and phone booths.

Replace the dial with a mirror. A clock. A contour map of Mt. Kilamanjaro.

Stack tinder into its corners to prepare for winter. Stuff the seams with the names of those few still alive who knew you when you were young.

When you have lost your way (or maybe when you’re most sure of it), lift the receiver. Listen for the voice of an absent god.

Learn more about the Alternative Uses Test and divergent thinking.


Image: Trendhunter


Self Help Book

“Don’t look back.” This is a handy rule for keeping a journal. Write forward, write now. Or, in the priceless words of Natalie Goldberg, “Keep your hand moving.”
Not looking back is also a handy rule to break. Inside those nights that flood your throat with brine and scour the art from your hands, you might have no choice but to turn around and fix your eyes on the shoreline. Open the old books from the previous years. Peek at where you were. This is a good way to remember that you have arrived at exactly the place you need to be.
Tonight is such a night. My year-ago self hollers directions across the distance separating us, calling me back from the undertow. It is awfully cold and not a single star orients the sky. A person could take an unplanned detour into the Bermuda triangle. Thank goodness that girl packed the map and a bullhorn.  
The entry below, from April 30, 2011, is translated more or less directly from the cursive.

So, you let go of your joyful thing because you are not as good as the good ones (you tell yourself), you lack the drive or talent or passion (you believe), they are wise and better and more together and older (or something) and you feel so young and directionless and wide-open and full of unlimited possibility.
And so. You let go. You move on to a different hobby, find a love or a project or a child or a simplified identity to consume you. And your life is full, you smile a lot, you have friends, you climb things and make things and learn things and master things, and life is good.
It is all just rocking along until one day you stumble across a person doing the thing you used to know as your joyful thing. And that person? That person is so very young. That person has cobbled together a way to do the joyful thing from scraps of potential, a handful of opportunities, a pinch of time. That person is just as muddled as you were (and, in fact, still are). But, that person is doing the joyful thing anyway. Doing it with dedication, doing it well, making something beautiful with it. And you see now that no one was wiser than she is now. No one was wiser than you were then. You had an answer in your hands, in your life, in your daily practice.
Do your joyful thing. Do it badly. Do it in the spaces between. Do it sloppily and selfishly and with too much self-absorption. Do it no matter how much better someone else seems to be at it. Stumble doing it. Be awkward doing it. Make an ass of yourself doing it. Improve and adapt your way of doing it. Seek new approaches to doing it. Talk to others who do it (but not too much – you need to be doing it, not talking about it). Do it for an audience of 1000 even if no one shows up. Do it for god, for the neighbor kid who beat you up, for the other kid who rescued you. Do it for your ancestors and your grandchildren. Do it because you know you have to.
Do it because you suck at it but the world doesn’t care that you suck and the world doesn’t care if you’re a genius. It is not up to the world.
You are not great for doing it. You are not a martyr for not doing it. You are only less you if you don’t. You are only getting one thing right if you do.
Practice. Every sing day, practice your joyful thing.
It’s true you may never be any good at it. So, you should spend the rest of your days doing it because it is yours. You cannot escape it. It will haunt your years if you don’t do it. Don’t fool yourself. If you are not engaged in the daily practice of doing your joyful thing right now, something is askew in your life. You may be drinking too much, or having dreams of infidelity, or living a little too stretched to fit the role you’ve taken on, or you hate your job, or you don’t quite have the energy to make a decent meal, or you spend your evenings watching TV and zoning out on Twitter, and something feels wrong but you can’t put your finger on it. Maybe you still do your joyful thing a couple times a year, and you think of it as a hobby, and call your life “balanced.” But when you do it, it feels hard and a little forced, and doesn’t feel like the joyful thing it once was. And so you wonder, Was it just a passing fancy? Maybe it wasn’t really my joyful thing. . .
Don’t let yourself off the hook. You know better. The reason your occasional attempts fall flat is because your joyful thing is rusted out, thirsty, and in need of a good cleaning. You can’t just hop on and roll it around the block once or twice a year and expect it to function optimally. You’ve got to get back in there, take it down to bolts, oil it, prime it, feed it, get it moving. You need to work the kinks out a little every day. Every damned day.
Your joyful thing is not a toy. It’s not a hobby. It is you. It is your limb. An organ, maybe. You have to treat it as an undeniable, irreplaceable, necessary part of you. A part that will turn septic and poison the rest if the nourishment is cut off. A part that will feed and energize and balance the rest, if properly attended to.
It doesn’t take much. Just daily practice. Start today. Do your joyful thing.
Now, this very second. This is when you return to yourself.