A kick in the pants

Wow, seeing this in my WordPress account sure made my day.

I started this blog back in October 2020 and have admittedly been jealous of people who have thousands of followers. (My other blog started in 2015 – The Caregiver’s Corner – has 18 followers with a total of 857 views. I should get a similar announcement on that site in….. about two years!)

Of course, I am not a very regular poster, and have not purposefully marketed myself; I have nothing to sell (yet), and I’m not trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking.

In truth, I only publish maybe one out of every ten WP posts that I start. I do write every day, and many times more often than that, but blogging has to bubble up and smack me in the face.

I begin almost every day with Morning Pages (MP), a process coined by Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way that helps me to clear out all the cobwebs of my mind and set down top issues that need addressing. I’ve done this now in one form or another (paper or electronic) for over 40 years.

Similarly, at the end of the day I do Evening Pages (EP). Recently I have used a 5×7 calendar for this purpose to bullet point everything I’ve done: phone calls, shopping, accomplishments and a ‘rating’ word. I also use it to schedule tasks in advance as I’ve given up on to-do lists, except what is revealed in my MPs.

In between, I read and write about everything. I have boxes and cabinets filled to the gills with my ‘stuff.’ All waiting to be finished.

Only one of many boxes and books

I admittedly have ADHD although I have never been diagnosed. (If I eat bread, it makes me want to sleep, and at those times I only have ADD.) Unfortunately, this ‘condition,’ which may only be the belief that I have a monkey-mind, makes me jump around from project to project, and it is only with intense self-discipline that I accomplish anything at all.

Timers and stopwatches have become my best friends. CDs of conferences or hour-long YouTube music videos and 19-minute TedX Talks also serve as a sort of ‘policeman’ as I tell myself I must stick with one task until the end of the lecture or until the bell rings.

When my sister and I were young, Mom called it ‘Beat the Clock’ and we’d run around trying to make our bed, get dressed and tidy our room before that all-too-familiar sound of the Lux Minute Minder would start. If you could get to the timer before that, you could turn the dial gently, cover it with your hand to smother the sound, and get it to stop before it broke your eardrums.

This past Christmas, my dear Uncle Julian sent me a Beethoven timer out of one of the dozens of catalogs that he loves for their unique gifts. It’s chime is Fur Elise, the piano piece that I learned to play umpty-ump years ago. After I memorized it and had my recital, I quit. I never wanted to play another musical instrument as long as I lived. And until I was about 40, I hated classical music!

My sister, on the other hand, took lessons for many years and eventually taught students. I don’t think she ever played Fur Elise though. (Our uncle sent her a Mozart timer that plays Rondo Alla Turca; she was much more advanced.) And for some reason, she is able to finish everything she starts!

So what I now try to do is get to Beethoven before he starts playing that tune over and over and over again. It’s like a broken record! I hear my mother in Heaven laughing. I can still feel as well as hear that metronome going ‘tick-tock-tick-tock’ as I practiced my scales, all the while crying to her that I didn’t want to play the piano! I see myself moving that demon Lux a minute here, a minute there until it finally signaled to my ‘jailer’ that my sentence was over.

“Did you move that clock?” She’d frown as she looked into my face, clearly trying to remember what time I had started practicing.

And I looked right back at her in complete innocence and lied through my teeth.

She’s not here now so I can’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. If I don’t do something, or quit in the middle, or jump to something else, there’s no one here to set me straight again.

Recently, I’ve bought myself an hourglass. It’s a gentler, kinder prod.

So far, it’s working.

My own 800 words

I’m about to start the second of my 30-day writing challenges: A personal blog.

There is a wonderful television series that takes place in New Zealand called, 800 Words. The principal character is a journalist under contract to produce a weekly article for an Aussie newspaper. George can string together the most poignant Life Lessons by examining his own behaviors and experiences. He does this in – you guessed it – eight hundred words.

What I have learned over the past month is that when I purposefully sit down to write I can produce between 600-1000 words in an hour. Experts say that the best length for a blog is about 1700 words, so a decent post would take me a good two hours. However, considering that the average speed of an adult reader is 200-250 words per minute, and most people’s attention drifts if they try to digest something longer than a four-minute read, I think I’ll stick with George’s limit.

My second 30-day writing challenge will be to publish 800 words, once a week, on a life lesson that I have recently learned, or one that has bubbled up through my subconscious. I wonder whether George (or the show’s producers) starts with a theme in mind, or if he/they just let it develop over the course of a few days. He always finishes the last bit of his story at the eleventh hour.

In my case, I get sudden bolt-out-of the blue ideas that many times go unnoticed because I am up to my neck in another project. Yet what I have also found is that a lot of my writing seems to occur when I am not even thinking about anything much at all. The hum of the vacuum or the sound of water as I do the washing up after dinner seems to be the time that these ideas come fast and furious. I’ve tried using a recorder or keeping note pads and pens handy throughout the house, but nothing seems to work as well as ‘Morning Pages.’

Now that I am in the company of a lot of serious writers from the Unchained Writers Group, I see that Morning Pages, walks in Nature, journaling, sketching, meditation or prayer is very important to them as a way of calming the inner demon that would wreak havoc on us all. Personally, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past fifty years without therapy, drugs or some form of distraction without seeing my thoughts on paper or on a computer screen.

I could always tell when I had neglected my Morning Pages, as Julia Cameron named them in her excellent book, The Artist’s Way. I would feel disorganized, confused, overwhelmed, or what my mother would call being ‘at sixes and sevens.’ After decades of filling dozens of notebooks and creating thousands of electronic documents, I realize that journaling is one of my most comforting and illuminating pastimes.

Comforting, because I use several techniques to express myself, and when the session is over, I might produce anything from a paragraph to dozens of pages. Sometimes I bullet my thoughts; other times I fictionalize a story with someone other than myself as the main character. I’ve recently started to include photos, sketches, or flow charts. I love the fact that there are no rules; you can’t do it wrong. And although I may have to ask my sister to burn my books like Virgil or Jane Austen, when I’m gone there will most likely be no one who would take the time to slog through all my to-do lists and pages of complaints.

But here’s the interesting part: those books sat untouched for decades in a box at the back of my closet. I would sometimes remember a difficult or exciting event in my life, and I’d go looking for a particular volume. I found comfort knowing that whenever I’d read a passage, I could recollect everything in minute detail. But I never took them all out to read – until this past month during my first 30-day challenge.

What I saw as I leafed through those journal pages made the hairs on my arm stand on end. Peppered through my entries were ‘wish lists’ of things I wanted to do, see and have. Many of them were so far flung I probably never thought they would happen. But every night, I would write down what I needed – whether it be someone to paint my house, or a couple of hundred to fix my car, or an answer to a problem. Every night I envisioned myself getting what I asked for. And I often did. It was almost uncanny.

My mother often quoted from the Bible. The one from Matthew 7:7 was perhaps the most important one: “Ask and it shall be given.”