Modus Operandi

work mess

Yes, it’s true. The workspace is a mess. I can always tell when I’m actively working on something because, well…the mess. I have two modes of wandering through life and work: the “ugh! I need to do that; ugh! I’ve got to do that; ugh!..” as I spot each half-worked project or as-of-yet-unworked idea (these tend to be things in both categories: creative works as well as administrative annoyances like changing my name on official documents – I won’t mention which one still has my old married name, which I only held for one month as a last-ditch effort at unity at the end of a twelve-year marriage that ended seven years ago…  ANYHOO….). Eventually there comes a pretty significant clean-up stage, which coincides with large trash pick-up, donations to local thrift shops, and copious use of non-toxic household chemicals.

The second mode is the “I’ll work on that as soon as I’ve finished with this.” You know, the old “I need to make room for the new thing by finishing the old thing.” Tucking up loose ends feels really good to me – but not until I’m ready for it. Or if it’s a bigger thing I can’t knock off in a few hours, I can pack it up and stuff it in a bag in the corner of the room. I have several of these bags going on in various corners of the house. They shift into the “ugh! I need to do that” category pretty quickly if they’re in a frequently occupied room; less so if they go to the art studio, where they just blend in. I avoid the corners of that room like the plague.

If you pay attention to people who are supposed to be inspiring, they talk about doing things a little at a time – and it’s true, 10 minutes a day for a year can bring amazing progress on deep learning on skills such as languages, musical instruments, body fitness, and reading materials. It’s also true for projects that require a lot of time but not a lot of brain power or intense concentration and can cramp up the hands if they are done for too long at one sitting, such as knitting and other needlework. The time will pass anyway; may as well make good use of it.

I had a moment driving home the other day, during which I was thinking about dying. Not actively planning anything, just thinking about how some people live longer than others and we never know when our time is up. As a forty-something, I have hit the mid-life crisis point and have felt the turn from thinking my whole life is ahead of me to the more poignant wondering about how I spent my time and whether I am fulfilling what I feel I need to do in my life. So in my wondering, I was thinking about what, of the gallimaufry of things I have half-finished or in the idea-germ stage, what would be left undone if I snuffed it tomorrow, and which of those things would I feel the worst about never having come to fruition? What would I be sorry I never left behind as my legacy?

That kind of thinking seems to be very helpful in prioritizing my time and discerning which projects to pursue and which to drop. So today as I flit from one project to another without feeling committed to any of them, I decided to sit here and write. But I couldn’t really do that – as you might have noted from the photo above – until something else gave way to make space. When I started to clear out the magazines I’d been clipping yesterday (for a collage workshop I’ll be leading with 100 people – do you know how many pictures I’ll need to cut for 100 people to do collage? It will take me the 20 minutes a day from now until Easter to get that done), I happened to notice the scraps in this synchronous arrangement:


The cut-out from the one page happened to sit on the other page so that the front of the car is peeking out. AND the cut-out just happens to be the exact right shape for it. I didn’t do any of that on purpose. But it made me think about the way the different projects of my life fit together: learn one skill for this thing and surprise! it helps me on this other project. Go to this event expecting a particular kind of experience and while there make a new connection with a person for whom we can now collaborate on something. Bob Ross calls his mistakes happy accidents. I think there are a lot of happy accidents. Some people call them miracles, or fate, or Muses. Whichever way, there is an energy in the universe that makes things come together. It’s phenomenal. We never know how all the pieces will interconnect.

Sometimes following the intuition unicorn feels like a distraction from that whole legacy thing. Yet, somehow, sometimes, following it is how I find the next step in getting there. Life is complicated. There are so many decisions to be made and rhythms to cycle through. I can’t possibly keep things cleaned up. I have a feeling clean, single project living would be really boring for me – only one thing at a time? no way. Even the pile of messiness isn’t the same debris, as it will shift through a cleaning cycle and be replaced by the new set of projects. No matter what interests me, I can never quite imagine myself doing only that all the time. I have the luxury and privilege of living this way, and I am eternally thankful for it!

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