A familiar dance – processing time is not always procrastination

My desk is tidy. Well, when I say ‘tidy’ I mean the half of the L-shape that is devoted to ‘technology’ is organised. I’ve washed and dried my hair. I’ve made my fingernails look a little less ragged. I’m about to finish my third mug of tea for the morning.

This is a dance I do. It would be quicker if, like the dog, I could just turn three circles, sit myself down and settle into the business of the day. For the dog that business is dozing. For me it is a to-do list.

This weekend’s general list includes emails, start week one of a mooc – before week two arrives, read articles for a research project, draft some notes for a talk I said I would give, complete essential chores, ignore non-essential chores, spend some time with family and friends, go for a walk  – preferably by the river where I’m confident there will be pelicans and I’m hopeful there will be dolphins.

Striking through

I do like crossing off items as they are done. It works for chores, projects, ideas that are acted on. I’ve been able to pull a couple of cards from my projects list in the past few weeks. They were among the smaller projects but it still feels good to have moved them to the ‘done pile’.

I also like to cross through titles in lists, verses in stanzas and paragraphs in prose. I can end up making a fair mess of any given page. For the most part, I’m comfortable with some untidiness on the page. There comes a point, though when too much mess becomes too fraught.

Making space

My mini-project of revising old notebooks – the scrawl I mentioned a couple of weeks ago – is in full swing. Putting sentiment to one side, some of the scrawl must give way. Space is at a premium.

The focus of today’s attention was made of recycled paper bound with string in a corrugated card cover. I liked the book when it came to me, but it has its quirks. The threading on the spine makes it hard to keep open. The texture of the leaves entices. It promises more than struck-through notes and drafts. I’ve always been aware that I didn’t choose as wisely as I may have liked when I started out with it as a place for early workings.

One draft is dated ’98, so this book has been hanging about for a while. All but one of the notes in this particular notebook have been acted on. Most of the worked on pages have been folded to show they are finished. On balance, I have to admit not that many pages have been used. I’d like to start over with it. I think the remaining leaves can be repurposed.

Old notebook made of recycled paper with corrugated cover
Step 1: Initiate
struck through pages
Step 2: Check
ready for reuse
Step 3: Repurpose

Repurposing and renewing

My habit of making lists and roughing out brainstorms of ideas is a useful strategy. It makes for wonderfully productive days. This was especially the case when I worked as a teacher. I had a holiday routine that involved reviewing the lists and notes I’d made during term. If pieces of writing weren’t finished I’d work on drafts and commit to finishing things off. Not all holidays allowed for the routine to be evenly productive but there was certainly a rhythm to the process that helped it along.

I’ve had to modify the way I approach lists. Sometimes there is too much time between the note of the idea and the point of writing. Well, too much time in being up to pick up with the reason for making the note. Sometimes they just have to be repurposed. At at other times, the note is as vivid as when first written.

Looking through a poetry file today, I saw a poem I finished in 2001. It’s ok but not for sharing here. The point about the poem (‘Faithless’) is I first noted the opening line in my first year teaching. That was 1992. In the years between the note and the poem there was little shift in the intent of the idea I hoped to explore.

Other ideas and images need to sit for a while – steeping like tea – before they are ready for use. There’s nothing worse than tea left for so long it becomes bitter and unpalatable. That said, even stewed tea is good for the roses.*

A rueful acknowledgement

I can be quite precious about notebooks. I let them kick around for decades, long enough to end up looking tatty and disreputable. I don’t often attack them with scissors. This poor stablemate was doomed from day one. Happily, I think it has a promising future now it is free of its binding.

I’m sure the next notebook taken from the scrawl for review will fare better. In fact, I doubt many of the notebooks in the scrawl would do as well if I attempted to repurpose them.

*Ooh. There’s a poem there. What luck!

The flutter-by effect – reflecting on my writing process

Years ago, I called one of my sisters ‘grasshopper’ in response to a question. In turn she called me ‘butterfly’ and then at some point – I’d obviously been a little scattered and not as focussed as (she thought) I could have been – I became ‘flutter-by’. I like to think it is a term of endearment rather than frustration. Sometimes it is, often … I just know that it isn’t.

The thing is, I know that there is an element (a whole table of elements probably) of truth my being called ‘flutter-by’ by my nearest and dearest.

malachite butterfly
Beautifully ragged … I hope it can fly

Is there a (fun) collective term for notebooks?

I quite like collective nouns. I love that you could have a rabble or a kaleidoscope or rainbow of butterflies. I’ve lived in a town where there was more or less a plague of butterflies for the first few weeks I was there. They were certainly a rabble.

(I won’t go into the plague of cockroaches that followed a few months latter. It is the stuff of nightmares. By the by, the collective noun for roaches is intrusion. That’s just about as perfect as you can get.)

When I tidied my desk last weekend I was struck by the sheer number of notebooks that had accumulated. There were stacks. It’s the right collective noun, but it just isn’t fun.

Perhaps I could suggest a drafting of notebooks or even a scrawl of notebooks? I’m actually prepared to just go it alone and start referring to having a scrawl of notebooks. – I’m sure collective nouns are still collective nouns if there’s just the one person who uses a particular term as the collective?

Flicking through some of the scrawl, I realised that I’m certainly prepared for any paper shortage that might hit suburban Perth. I also realised I have a plenty of work that I need to review, edit and commit to settling on as being finished. To be honest, I knew this already. Having the work in and out of my hands just made it real.

The work I need to complete ranges from poems and short stories to a couple of articles and reviews that I meant to finish months ago. I have – in short – been as blithe as my ‘flutter-by’ moniker would suggest. In fact, the  fifth sense of the OED (online) entry on blithe cuts a shade deep. (I suppose that’s the risk you run when you decide to do a quick check of the appropriateness of a word before you commit to it. I was more on the money than I first thought.)

New deadlines come in all the time …

In the end, I had to corral the notebooks into boxes. My plan is to work through each box systematically to review and sort the contents. My hope is that by ‘dealing with’ grouped units of books – one book at a time – I will be more effective than trying to sort the whole lot at once. It will also ensure I don’t fritter too much time away at the expense of work that I know I need to be doing now.

The danger – of course – is that it will now be the boxes that multiply exponentially.

Escaping the pinboard

In the end, what I know I need – as an inveterate flutter-by – is, I hesitate to say, pin myself down. But that seems a shade too violent, and not a lot of fun. So, I’m hoping that my approach to my writing/editing to-do list will help.

In no particular order ... but that red card looks urgent
In no particular order … but that red card looks urgent

Image of butterfly from mcamcamca