Anna Laug


She whispers promises of simplicity, of times spent together so slowly that I begin to hear my muse’s breath. And though she may be fickle at times, I can’t deny her sincerity nor her passion for the tactile pleasures of the old ways. Yes, this new mistress is tempting me with her alluring ways, and I’m going willingly down the old, familiar path.

This courting by an old friend is coming at a propitious time for me. As I’m delving deeper into pursuits of thought versus physical action, I’m noticing that I’m reversing my digitalness in favor of returning to the old, analog ways of doing things. And I’m not alone. There’s a buzz afoot for favoring analog approaches (loosely defined as doing something anti-digital, or at least, purposefully choosing a non-digital tool for a task or process) over submitting to the flood of digital devices spawned by manufacturers under the guise of “consumers need these things.” I seriously doubt that we actually need many of these devices, but admit to there being an allure to some of them, at least from the geek-toy angle.

In my case this transformation is showing up in some interesting ways. Yes, I’ve dropped my PDA in favor of a Day-Timer, something I haven’t used in at least five years. I’m back to reading newspapers versus catching the news online, and I’m noticing that I print out a lot of what I find to read on the ‘net instead of digesting whatever tips and news the piece offers by reading it onscreen. I’m returning to the much-beloved, but long-missed technique of highlighting significant passages and making penciled marginalia as I read. Digesting a bit of info for awareness works find onscreen, but reading something to learn (at least for me) requires holding it in my hand and making an orange-and-lead-grey work-of-art out of the page.

Now I’m no different than the pseudo-geek next door when it comes to gadgets, but I’ve become painfully aware that said gadgets are mostly entertainment: they don’t help me remember things any better than the old pen/pencil and paper methods, and quite frankly, I trust saving my valued notes invisibly in a PDA about as much as I trust politicians to fix the coming fiscal tsunami. Yes, I can lose a piece of paper, but I can’t remember the last time a paper note refused to yield its saved treasure because of a fatal exception. In all fairness, I still use my PDA to hold addresses and a password-protected list of the multitude of usernames and passwords that have become de riguer of digital life these days (but I do have a paper back up in case the PDA again becomes excepted, fatally). And sure, I can’t play Enya MP3s too well with a yellow pad, so there the PDA shines. But I don’t keep todos, memos, appointments, or even read ebooks on the PDA anymore. For all of those, I’ve climbed back into bed with my old friend, Anna Laug.

It’s easy to talk about going PDA-to-Day-Timer as a clear example of choosing analog, but it’s more than that. It’s about going for walks instead of watching TV, about doing things for the enjoyment of the process without emphasizing the tool used. And it’s totally about slowing down and becoming more present minded, more singularly focused. Multi-tasking is digital, doing things bird-by-bird1 is analog. Spending time wisely instead of foolishly is usually better served going analog. The obvious pattern here is that of returning to simpler ways, to a time when the value in a task was more the pleasure gained by the process (the journey) with less emphasis on completion (the destination). Sooner or later, if we listen, we all understand that’s how humans work best.

Faster is not necessarily better, anymore than a digital solution is automatically better than the traditional, or analog, way of doing things. I can spit our words furiously on my laptop, but those drafts tend to be mechanical. The tool takes over and my imagination tends to become secondary. Put a yellow pad and favorite pen in my hands and suddenly those sentences that were bursting to channel through my fingers and onto the screen have to pass a far more rigorous test before I commit the muscles and motions of deft fingers to give them breath and life between those thin rules on the crisp, canary-yellow canvas underneath. And nothing proves this analog way of writing is better than when I read the results of thoughts exposed on paper versus onscreen. The difference, like Anna Laug, is sheer beauty.

1Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, in which she tells of a time when her father helped her brother through a panicked moment over a school project on birds by imparting the wisdom of letting go of the pressure of the deadline and focusing on going “bird by bird” until complete.

Smelling the Roses


“I feel a little alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. I would fain forget all my morning’s occupation, my obligations to society. But sometimes it happens that I cannot easily shake off the village; the thought of some work, some surveying, will run in my head, and I am not where my body is, I am out of my senses like a bird or beast. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” – Thoreau’s Journal: 25-Nov-1850

What business indeed do any of us have juggling multiple activities at once? We drive with the radio on and cellphone firmly attached to ear. Where is our focus? Our concentration? While we’re piloting a 4,000-pound potential killing machine, one would hope it was solely on driving safely. You don’t have to look far to read about cellphone-related traffic accidents to understand that as a society we’re not particularly on task most of the time.

Being present minded is often brushed off as no less than eastern mystic mumbo-jumbo when it’s really the only way to fully enjoy anything we might do. I bet many of you practiced a little present mindedness when you sat down to enjoy the Thanksgiving repast last Thursday. What’s that? You say you ate your meal while watching the football game? My point exactly.

stop-yield.jpgIt’s not like the world gives us encouragement when it comes to focusing on only one thing at a time, at least for those of us living in western society. We live in a blur of do this now while you’re doing that and as you finish that other thing…and oh yes, don’t forget _this_. We’re rewarded for doing more in less time, and for cramming more of life into a less-than-lived existence.

For some time now I’ve tried to implement a present-minded approach to being, but it’s difficult to break old familiar ways. One positive thing coming out of the NaNoWriMo effort has been an increased ability to concentrate. It’s not that the concentration is yielding incredible prose (hah…), more that I’m finding a renewed ability to do _one thing_ only and enjoy the process. I sat at Borders Friday afternoon and wrote three hours worth of word count and it felt like I was sitting there 30 minutes. Other than a couple of quick breaks, I’m not sure I remember much about anything else around me during that writing session. I’m hoping to find this writing frenzy will lead to a quiet refusal to multi-task whenever possible. I’m also hoping that some intangibles like that will come out of the 30-day experiment, since wonderful prose won’t be rising out of the effort!

Patience My Posterior

“Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.” – George Carlin

Long lines, commuting to work, waiting for a table in a favorite restaurant, waiting on our families, waiting for inspiration: these are just a few things most of us deal with daily, sometimes impatiently more often than happily. Some people, content to stand in line and wait, practice some sort of standing meditation to survive the experience or feign idle chit-chat with the persons standing next to them. And waiting can even be a Zen-like moment if one is able to rise above the irritation. I, however, am not a fan of waiting, to put it mildly. It’s not that I go ballistic if I have to wait, causing a riot or making a scene. I simply choose, usually, not to spend time foolishly that way.

Now if I’m standing in line for something very special that is not regularly available (the Treasures of Tutankhamen art tour back in the late 70s comes to mind…and no I didn’t wait in line, but only because the show wasn’t close to me). Airports? I get there early to avoid lines, prefer to carry on to avoid baggage lines at both ends, and ticket via the Internet. Restaurants? Tell me it’s “about a 45-minute wait” and I’ll respond “It’s about 5 minutes to another restaurant where we won’t have to wait.” Voting? I’m a fan of absentee balloting or early voting, although the 2004 election caused me a bit of angst and took over an hour to get through the early voting process. In my mind, however, it was important and worth the wait.

vultures.gifWhat it really comes down to is tolerance. I have a high level of patience and tolerance when the wait is justified and I’m aware of and elect to accept the wait. While that may seem like I’m a control freak, it’s more about the wait having value than a personal desire to control things. But what gets my gall is the unknown wait or worse, the lie-to-me wait, the one where they tell you “10 minutes” and slowly, progressively, this falsity morphs into an hour (or more!). It isn’t that I’m a prima don and think I’m above waiting on anything more that I’m acutely aware of how I spend time and frankly, in my mind waiting is not time spent wisely in most cases.

So when do I wait? Here’s a list of situations I’ve had the patience to endure and instances where I’d rather not and avoid like the plague whenever possible:

* Wise: Waiting at the airport for a loved one to walk through the terminal portal (waiting for a hug is never time spent foolishly!)

* Wise: Waiting in line for over an hour at the first showing of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and yes, I waited in line that long for the other two parts, and will wait even longer for “The Hobbit” film rumored to appear in the next few years).

* Wise: Taking my son early to his band concert resulting in an extra hour wait before the kids play, making us all proud parents (waiting in any form for your kids is always exempt from “should I or shouldn’t I” consideration).

* Wise: Waiting for Godot: a most excellent play and doesn’t belong in the list, technically, but I couldn’t resist the play on words! 😉

* Foolish: Waiting in line at a restaurant that isn’t special or incredible…as in one chosen for no reason other than convenience or laziness.

* Foolish: TRAFFIC! Just about any wait in traffic is a bummer, but often necessary. That’s why God gave us talk-radio idiots …so we could transfer our traffic-intolerance indignation to those bozos spouting extreme-right- or extreme-left-wing tripe.

* Foolish: Standing in line for movie tickets (exception noted above, but made unnecessary in today’s Internet-everything world since one can buy tickets online, walk to the kiosk, punch a few numbers, and strut proudly (while feeling special) to the ticket puncher well ahead of those non-pro-active cretins back in snaking lines waiting to buy tickets the boring way).

* Foolish: Watching a TV show, becoming completely engrossed in the story and suddenly, startlingly seeing those unexpected yet dreadful words: “To Be Continued.” A slow, painful, death is too good for such TV producers. There ought to be a law!

* Foolish: Busting your ass to make a doctor’s appointment only to be rewarded with waiting well past your appointment time. Too bad we can’t bill them for our time spent foolishly waiting from their inefficiencies.

waiting.jpgUltimately, there’s no such thing as a life spend without waiting on something sometime. The trick is, I think, to make good judgments on when it makes sense to wait, when doing so is important enough to you to tolerate the inconvenience, and avoiding instances when it’s really time spent foolishly to wait. As a writer, of course, I can make the most out of any waiting by loosening the elastic band on my ever-present pocket moleskine, going to the next blank page, and putting motion to my hand. These little opportunities to capture thoughts can be golden moments, assuming one remembers to carry the dang journal at all times! For those times I can make do with waiting-room magazine inserts, napkins, or whatever’s handy to capture an unexpected epiphany. I may have to wait in line or in a chair occasionally, but I can’t afford to wait for those delicious epiphanies to reappear when it’s more convenient: doing so most likely means opportunity knocked and I couldn’t answer the door.

> PATIENCE, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue. – Ambrose Bierce (1842 – 1914), The Devil’s Dictionary

> “How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience would have achieved success?” – Elbert Hubbard (1856 – 1915)

Goldfish Don’t Like Jell-O


Sometimes life confronts us in ways we don’t think we need, but with a little persistence and faith we can usually turn them into positives. I’m pretty certain that a goldfish would not enjoy swimming in a sea of wild-berry Jell-O, (mandarin orange, maybe, if the goldfish was perverse…). Colorful, yes, conducive to survival, no.

The saying “sometimes chickens, sometimes feathers” means the odds are against us winning all the time. Part of life’s irony is that our expectations are frequently challenged in ways that can potentially provide unexpected outcomes. If the universe didn’t work this way, then everyone would live like royalty without strife or suffering. But resiliency is part of our human abilities and thus we usually have the fortitude to bounce back from adversity or accept (and learn from) our failings and move on.

Change is something we have to deal with that can be difficult. Some of us deal with change well, so long as change is personally controlled or instigated. Others seem more flexible and able to deal well with change no matter the challenge. I’ll confess I fall into the first category: smooth acceptance when in control, but otherwise a challenge adjusting to outside change. Growing up in a military family and moving every few years probably conditioned me for change more than most people, but also instilled in me a certain nomadic tendency (which I have to guard against lest I get itchy to change just for change’s sake).

Unlike the poor goldfish which had no options, accepting change requires a lot of trust and faith, both in yourself and in those causing the change. We’ve all have events through the years when we’re asked to change from a comfortable environment, perform tasks in a different way, or alter our personas because someone else thought we should. There’s an old axiom in marriage that men want their wives to stay the way they were when first married, while women look to change men over time. While I won’t defend either approach, it’s more evidence that change in our lives is sometimes as ubiquitous as the very air we breath. You could even postulate that our lives are a moving, constant sea of change.

Managing change well depends on each person’s personality. But we are creatures of free will, so in a ultimate sense we all have final say whether any change is acceptable or not. If you live in a democratic part of the world, you do have final say whether to accept imposed change. Granted the outcome, if you don’t accept, may not be pleasant but you still have the fundamental choice.

If you’re confronted with serious change, you can turn to your journal for reflective writing to work through to change acceptance. Writing down a list of the pros then the cons of the change can help flush out hidden issues. Getting thoughts out in the open can bring clarity to issues while removing the emotional, first-reaction syndrome that may be clouding the decision-making part of your thinking. Sometimes using a decision matrix can also help, particularly if the change imposed has options to consider. A decision matrix is a grid that lists points or important aspects down the left side, and rates each one using columns along the right labeled from 1 to 5 (or whatever scale you want to use). At the end of the exercise you’ll have a score that may help you decide which way to go. While decision matrixes are great for choice issues, such as buying a house or accepting an assignment (as opposed to being told to move), they are useful for change issues as well.

I know people who relish change, who love nothing more than to have their lives a constantly moving experience. These types don’t exist well unless their lives are constantly turning over, as though the kinetic sensations feed their souls. Other people I know are so rigid that if the newsboy tosses the paper on the lawn one morning instead of the driveway, it sends them into a blue funk dealing with the ripple in their routine. Whichever type you are, take a deep breath when confronted with uncomfortable change then get your thoughts out there past your emotions. Who knows, you might even enjoy the change and prosper from the opportunity. And if you’re cooperative, you may even get to choose your Jell-O flavor. Make mine purple passion, please.

Finding Time


How does one find time…it is lost? In a manner of speaking, yes…but more accurately, time is spent like any other commodity. Question is, what value do you get for your expenditure? The adage about “saving time” is a misnomer. We cannot save time, but only spend it, and our only choice is whether to spend time wisely or foolishly. And unlike a lot of things in life, there is no second chance. Time is a one-pitch turn at the plate.

The art of spending time wisely is a concept that’s either mellowing to a fine taste in my mind’s parking lot, or molding like too-old leftovers long forgotten in the fridge…I cannot always tell which one it is. Mellowing occurs when I occasionally turn the thought over, so the seasoning is evenly applied. Molding, unfortunately, is the more typical chemicalization that happens, largely because…well, I run out of time to pay attention to that particular thought! Time appears to be linear in nature, but requires more of a circular approach to management. The roundness happens because we have to add the additional resources of other thoughts, time-management tools, or other people hijacked to help our pursuit to invest time wisely. Regardless of how well you plan, you can still end up with empty pockets habited by that imp called “foolish” who somehow managed to sneak in and change things.

There is no answer in these words I write, in case you were pacifying me by reading along in hopes of gaining some insight into time’s dilemma. I can only add that for me, planning helps push me closer to the wise side of time, but that’s no guarantee of the outcome. I need a lot of mid-course corrections to have any hope of a positive outcome. I have been thinking about the time I spend answering inquiries on the Movable Type forum (a lot of time), and now realize this effort drifts me irrevocably to the foolish side of time. I feel good helping others, but it’s been for the detriment of other pursuits. While I’ll still poke my virtual head in there now and then, I think it’s time to limit my participation there and refocus on other demands.

> “This time like all times is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

> “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg

Making the List


Some people make New Year’s Resolutions while others tend their goal-gardens year-round in hopes of keeping the weeds out and encouraging the flowers of progress. Whatever your method, instilling a passion to improve makes a difference in whether you’ll be successful wholly or partly in your personal improvement endeavors. And what better way to crack the steel doors of success than by setting passion-inspired goals.

Another way to approach the goals, resolutions, and to dos of our lives is to create a lifetime achievement list. I did one of these about ten years ago, and have to admit that I haven’t been as proactive in maintaining it as I should have, so after I finish writing this I need to go check my list to see whether weeds or flowers have sprouted there since last I looked.

The Houston Chronicle this morning carried William Hageman’s article from the Chicago Tribune “A List for a Lifetime – Catalog what you want to do in life — then do it” chronicling the lists of three people who’ve embraced this approach to goal setting with great success. A lifetime list is one where you list all the things you’d like to do during your life, so long as they are realistic (defined as obtainable, feasible…”I want to fly to the moon” is not realistic, but “get my pilot’s license” certainly is). When I created my list long ago, I structured it as the “100 things I want to do in life.” I’ll admit that I didn’t unwrap 100 things from my psyche, but I now realize that setting a finite number makes no sense. The point is the process, not the count.

So brew up a fresh cup of coffee, let the cat outside, put the phone in the freezer, and spend some quality time with yourself and a yellow pad and pen. Find a comfy chair and let your mind wander, writing down anything that surfaces that reflects your passions, lost opportunities, or just cool things you think would be sweet to do. Then keep this list handy through the years and add new things as they unfold and revise to suit your evolving life. It’s okay to laugh or cry at the absurdity of your choices, so long as you keep moving forward. When success strikes, pause and let its sweet taste inspire you for even greater things as you make your lifetime achievement list that much shorter.