Derailment, deconstructed

diorama of alice chasing white rabbit down hole

1. Launch writing program to begin rewriting work for the day.

2. Work on rewrite for 10 minutes. Hit snag, and decide I need grounding exercise writing buddy created for me last week when I hit previous rewriting snag.

3. Open email client to track down writing buddy's note, because I appear to have willfully refused to keep the usual three or four redundant copies handy, and email is the only place I know I can find a copy.

4. Note new email in inbox!

5. Read first new email. It contains a simple request for information, accompanied by a factual error. Rather than fulfilling request (which could be dispatched in roughly 15 seconds), I fixate on factual error, moving swiftly from assessment of my history with correspondent (contentious, fraught) to speculative analysis of his intent (passive-aggression? none?) to my own response (judgmental, assumptive). Briefly reflect on the subject of mirrors. Succumb to mounting moral indignation over misguided accusation of imprecision, and begin hashing out a reply.

6. Catch myself acting like horse's ass and save email to "drafts" folder. Win!

7. Read next email. It is an autoresponse from a company whose product I downloaded for trial yesterday during a promotion. Robo-mail notes that I have not replied, and extends grace period of an additional 24 hours, but at what looks like a reduced percentage off. Simultaneously pulled toward the deal and suspicious that it is less of a deal than offered yesterday. Consider going through "Trash" folder, then realize I emptied it last night in obsessive-compulsion-fueled panic attack." This series of thoughts apparently creates just enough distance to remind me that I passed on deal yesterday because I'd realized I had zero immediate/projected use for the product. Determine that these needs have likely not changed overnight. Delete email.

8. Open last new email, which contains references to a "branding expert." Briefly wonder why sender of email does not consider me a "branding expert." Tar-pit balloon of mixed gases (anxiety, hurt, anger) bubbles to surface. As it swells, I consider clicking on outbound link to view further information on "branding expert." Miraculously, it pops, covering me with filthy shame, but allowing the clearheaded realization that I have no extra time, ever, to view videos of any "branding expert." Wipe shame from battered psyche. Delete email.

9. Close email client. Win!

10. Find myself staring at browser window previously hidden by document and mail client windows. It contains Amazon affiliate income information. Wonder why Amazon affiliate income is so low. Wonder where I have failed to provide sufficient value for hot clickthru action. Wonder whether, if I do empty my affiliate income stash to buy that Kindle 3G I've been wanting, I will ever earn enough affiliate income to fill Kindle 3G with books. Wonder where my privileged life has gone off the rails that I am spending perfectly good (re)writing time wondering about jerkoff assclown B.S. like Amazon affiliate income and overpriced digital reading devices. Remember that I am supposed to be (re)writing right now.

11. Minimize browser window and maximize document window. Stare at rewrite. Realize I have forgotten to retrieve my writing buddy's notes.

12. Decide to transcribe rabbit-hole behavior, because unpacking things and examining them is only way I have ever learned how to change patterns. Recall Beverly Sills quote I am forever spouting off to others. Sigh inwardly.

13. Decide to post rabbit-hole experience to the blog, after rewriting it.

14. Finish rewriting original rewriting chore, sans writing-buddy notes. Note that the Earth appears to be turning on axis.

15. Post to blog. Wonder if post should have been rewritten further.


Image by Smath. via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

What's making the most difference now?

a teeny star on a finger

Sometimes I stumble on something that works so well at what it's supposed to do, it affects me in an entirely different way than I thought it would.

My mandoline, for example.

I had heard about these magical tools that produced razor-thin slices of food for years before finally deciding, on a whim, to buy one. I can't remember where I came across it, trolling an aisle at Marshall's, most likely, an activity that occasionally turns up amazing, life-changing things for under $100 like a copper-sandwiched All-Clad or a bra that fits. The mandoline was well under $100, under 1/10th of that, as I recall, and an alluring, ruby-red color to boot. I bought it immediately and, after getting it home, just as immediately stuck it in a drawer where for the next 8, 10, 15 months or so, its chief purpose was to annoy me whenever I went in search of a knife or a corkscrew and instead, the stupid thing turned itself sideways and jammed the damned drawer shut.

Stubbornness, hope and two cucumbers saved it from the Goodwill pile. I am trying to stay SCD-legal, and for me, that means finding ways to make ordinary, good-for-me stuff seem more delicious and alluring than, well, the usual delicious and alluring stuff that is poison for me. I looked at the cukes, thought of the mandoline, and somehow, the right synapse fired. Five minutes and several janky moves later, I finally had the rhythm down, and a neat stack of paper-thin cucumber that seemed, well, delicious and alluring.

It can be a mandoline, then, that helps me move forward: a way of slicing the same thing just a little bit more finely. Or it can be writing down my annual goals every morning, every goddamn morning, so that they are there in front of me, quietly reminding me of what it is I really want.

It can be making the bed in the morning while the kettle is on, and reading 40 pages of a book with a cup of tea before I wake up my computer from its night's sleep. It can be creating little check-boxes next to each to-do item of the day; it can be recasting that to-do list as a "will-do" list, and whittling the number of items down each day until it really is.

It can be just deciding to notice, and foregoing, for now, the judging that generally follows.

It can be so many things, big or small. Mostly, for me, though, it is so many things, all small. A thousand-hundred tiny things, one after the other, one by one. Small. Smaller. Smaller still. When your default settings are "full-bore" and "off," it is hard to see what you need to and, much, much more importantly, to feel what is happening to you. With these million-thousand tiny things come the same number of opportunities, and even a white tornado like me can grab one out of a million-thousand.

Besides, this is how change works: a little bit at a time, then all at once.

Not all of the things work. As many, more, even, far more I abandon as quickly as I pick them up. That's okay. There is always another small thing to try: keeping a sink clean, spending just 10 minutes at something, adding a habit, removing a piece of clutter.

What makes the most difference to me now is not one particular thing, but the transforming power of any one thing...


Image by jared via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Make the bed, clean the sink

bloggy_detente_tina-lawson_456841128_f2d3f10a39_b.jpg My father did not start out a tidy type, and I am my father's daughter: most of my life has been a battle between me and stuff, me and dirt, me and disorder.

Oh, I could (and did) endlessly re-label and sort the files in the canary-yellow file cabinet I requested and received for my 13th birthday. That's not real order, I now realize: that's low-level OCD masquerading as order. A disorder, manifesting as order. Because while I worked and re-worked taxonomies in my head, on paper, then on the file tabs themselves (this long, long before I knew what "taxonomy" was), I was not preparing myself for work or for thought or for anything; I was soothing myself as best I could in a time (pre-teen) and space (my maternal grandparents', a.k.a. "Gloomy Manor", a.k.a. House-o'-Alcoholics and the Enablers Who Keep Them Going) that were very anxiety-provoking for me. (My sister and I also indulged in the sitcom-perfect passive-aggression of singing rousing choruses from "If Mama Was Married" while we did the dishes together, but that's another nugget of tragicomedy gold for another day.)

These days, I have all but abandoned my poor, poor file folders. Oh, they're there, and they're (reasonably) neatly labeled, but there are so few, it doesn't take long to find what I'm looking for even with only medium-good filing habits. I spend more time keeping the IKEA desktop they support clean and cleared of clutter, because that does seem to help me get my work done. The fewer things I have lying around me in stacks and piles and other smoldering and/or moldering piles, the easier it is to write, to think, and most importantly, to keep my spirits up. I am of little use to myself or anyone else when they are otherwise.

This is why I have added "clean dishes" as my last household task before heading for bed, the bed that is always made 10 or 12 or 16 hours before: it lifts my spirits at the beginning of the day to see a clean, fresh sink just as much as it soothes me at the end of one to slip into a made bed. I feel cared for, I feel safe, I feel hopeful. My friend Gretchen Rubin says this is the #1 change her readers tell her they've made which has had a significant impact on their happiness, and I can see why. It's do-ably small, but has a magically high ROI. Maybe it's because, as she implies, it instantly creates a look of order. A bed is a rather large thing, after all. But I also think there is something about starting out the day with a small bit of control that is a big part of the benefit. And so, to cap it, for the past several weeks, I've been playing around with finishing off the day as Dan Owen does, by making sure the kitchen is ready to go first thing in the morning.

The result? I feel so much better on days that begin with a clean sink that it's now a regular part of my routine. No matter how tired I am, I clean the dishes. And because I've had to do it a few times when I'm very, very tired, I've also gotten a bit better about clean-as-you-go maintenance.

I am very aware that without awareness, this lovely, Fly-Lady habit could morph into another manifestation of OCD. My sister and I also joke about how, in the last decade or so of our father's life, you could not leave your iced tea on the end table while you went to the other room for a magazine, for fear it would be "cleaned up" while you walked there and back. If it's possible, he decluttered too much; in the end, he had no tolerance for any personal artifacts, save a photo or two that, if I'm honest, were probably mostly there for showin', not blowin', as the saying goes.

On the other hand, I have no doubt he held us in his heart, which is where these things really matter. And that is what I try to remember matters to me: what and whom I hold in my heart, and which habits and actions go the furthest towards keeping them secure there.

Making the bed and cleaning the sink are my signals to myself that I am still fortunate enough to be able to exercise some control over my destiny. They are actions that show respect for the space I'm lucky enough to inhabit and the time I have been given to work on what I want. They mark the beginning and end of a day lived the way I want to live: deliberately, thoughtfully, with enough order and support that creativity can flourish. I do not make the bed to bounce quarters off of nor shine the sink to see my face reflected within: I attend to structure, to the vessels, and trust that whatever it is that keeps floating ideas my way will keep up its own good work. We each of us have our part to play.

I am grateful I can make the bed; I am happy I can wash the dishes.

God, or whomever, or whatever, can take care of the drying...



Image by DDFic via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.