Wednesday, September 30, 2015

365 True Things: 185/River Time

I'm tired of thinking about how I might "improve" myself, so today I'm going to simply share some photos I took in 2008 while spending three glorious weeks on the St. Croix River in eastern Minnesota as an artist-in-residence of the St. Croix Watershed Research Station, affiliated with the Science Museum of Minnesota. My abode was Pine Needles Cabin, right on the river; no neighbors, just me and the trees and a vast array of birds, not to mention a thieving raccoon. And the flowing water. I had a table to write at, a path to walk along, a canoe at my disposal. It was heaven.

I wrote a piece about my experience and the research being done for the station's newsletter. It's called "River Time." Please take a look if you're interested (pp. 4–7).

Just looking at these pictures makes me feel happy and very, very fortunate.

Pine Needles Cabin

My writing perch

My hosts told me there were some old names carved into the
sandstone beneath the cabin, so I had to check it out.
These are the rickety steps, and that's the cabin perched above.
And yep, some signatures from the 1870s. The Dunns
(not the Judds) are the original owners of the site;
the cabin was built in the 1910s by one of them.

I don't know what kind of turtle this is, but I also saw a snapping turtle
and a painted turtle during my stay at Pine Needles.

Oriole and cowbird singing a duet

My thieving friend

Out in my canoe

River views from my bluff

Restoring prairie in southern Minnesota

Taking water samples in a St. Croix tributary

Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea


Golden alexander and squirrelgrass

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

365 True Things: 184/Productivity

I had breakfast this morning with my wonderful friend Annie, and one thing we (or I) talked about was how to be more productive, or at least organized, or at least focused—in the sense of a toolbox of tools to turn to. Like, two that came to me immediately were (1) set aside 15 minutes for whatever needs doing or/and (2) set an alarm. Like if I keep saying I want to meditate but never do it: set an alarm for 11 a.m., and just do it. No excuses. Or if I'm not "feeling like" writing this blog—which so far has happened only a couple of times, amazingly enough—allow myself to write just one sentence, post a picture, and done! That's the equivalent of 15 minutes. As in, I don't have to write an essay/clean the entire garage/do an hourlong walking meditation: I can just do a little bit, and it will be good, or at least it will be something—which in itself is better than nothing, ergo: good.

I know: this is very easy for many if not most people. But not for me.

So I've just googled "tricks for getting more productive," and I will here list some of the ones that resonate/seem useful.
The first hit, a short video titled "Here's the Trick to Being More Productive"—which certainly sounds like the very key to it all—suggests that all you have to do is accept your negative feelings. Uh huh. I guess that's useful, but I wouldn't call it the trick.

Here are some more:

From Lifehack's "Fifty Tricks to Get Things Done Faster, Better, and More Easily":
  1. Most Important Tasks (MITs): At the start of each day (or the night before) highlight the three or four most important things you have to do in the coming day.  Do them first.  If you get nothing else accomplished aside from your MITs, you’ve still had a pretty productive day.
  2. Big Rocks: The big projects you’re working on at any given moment. Set aside time every day or week to move your big rocks forward.
  3. Inbox Zero: Decide what to do with every email you get, the moment you read it.  If there’s something you need to do, either do it or add it to your to-do list and delete or file the email.  If it’s something you need for reference, file it.  Empty your email inbox every day.
  1. One In, One Out: Avoid clutter by adopting a replacement- only standard.  Every time you buy something new, you throw out or donate something old.  For example, you buy a new shirt, you get rid of an old one. (Variation: One in, Two Out — useful when you begin to feel overwhelmed by your possessions.)
  2. Brainstorming: The act of generating dozens of ideas without editing or censoring yourself.  Lots of people use mindmaps for this: stick the thing you want to think about in the middle (a problem you need to solve, a theme you want to write about, etc.) and start writing whatever you think of.  Build off of each of the sub-topics, and each of their sub-topics.  Don’t worry about whether the ideas are any good or not — you don’t have to follow through on them, just get them out of your head.  After a while, you’ll start surprising yourself with some really creative concepts.
  1. SMART goals: A rubric for creating and pursuing your goals, helping to avoid setting goals that are simply unattainable. Stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. 
  1. Eat the Frog: Do your most unpleasant task first. Based on the saying that if the first thing you do in the morning is eat a frog, the day can only get better from then on.
  2. 80/20 Rule/Pareto Principle: Generally speaking, the 80/20 Principle says that most of our results come from a small portion of our actual work, and conversely, that we spend most of our energy doing things that aren’t ultimately all that important.  Figure out which part of your work has the greatest results and focus as much of your energy as you can on that part.
  3. What’s the Next Action?: Don’t plan out everything you need to do to finish a project, just focus on the very next thing you need to do to move it forward. Usually doing the next, little thing will lead to another, and another, until we’re either done or we run into a block: we need more information, we need someone else to catch up, etc. Be as concrete and discrete as possible: you can’t “install cable”, all you can do is “call the cable company to request cable installation”.
  4. The Secret: There is no secret.

The suggestions continue to be very good: slow down; time boxing; batch process; Covey quadrants; handle everything once; don't break the chain; review; roles; flow; do it now; time log; say no; structured procrastination (which "requires a masterful skill at self-deception, which fortunately bigtime procrastinators excel at"—mm hmm); personal mission statement; backwards planning; timer; etc., etc. This is a list I could benefit from looking at often.

(An abbreviated list, in a different order and without quite so many project management techniques, can be found at "27 Ways to Get More Sh!t Done.") Curiously, neither of these suggest that if you're feeling negative—i.e., resistant—you should just accept the bad feelings and keep moving forward. But that's actually pretty good advice.

My thought this morning, in talking this over with Annie, was to choose just one such tool every day and test it out. See what works, what doesn't. That way I could whittle my strategies down to just a few.

Of course (says the gremlin on my shoulder), it'll all depend on just what I need to get accomplished, right? Well, maybe. But still: I suspect that some of these strategies are more in line with how I operate anyway.

Like, just for starters, I need to remind myself of what I need/want to do. So #1 is important. But then as the day goes along, I need to remind myself again of items on the list. So: alarms (a combo of #s47 and 49 on the list). For some of my projects, like my Amber Moon writing project, #s 5, 13, and 14 might be the best approach, for where I am now. Covey quadrants might help me come up with a reasonable to-do list. Et cetera.

But mostly, I need to keep things simple and remember: there is no secret.

Monday, September 28, 2015

365 True Things: 183/Procrastination

Before I get going, I'd like to point out three things:
  1. It is only 4 o'clock. I am not waiting until the evening to do this. I am doing it in a timely fashion.
  2. Yesterday I completely forgot about doing my blog until I was getting in bed. It's not that I was procrastinating. It just slipped my mind.
  3. Today marks the halfway point of this wretched experiment in self-discipline.
Okay. That said, by doing this now, I am putting off getting back to the deadly editing project. But all in good time. I'll knock out at least a few pages of that before I call it quits for the workday.

So where does my subject come from? Well, I spent the rest of the day finally getting around to writing two articles, which were assigned, oh . . . over a month ago. And this weekend, I finally got around to transcribing four of the interviews I taped for one of the articles, oh, a week and two ago.

I honestly thought these pieces were due last week—but this morning the editor reassured me that today is the deadline! You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got that good news.

So anyway, I've been doing a little bit of reading about procrastination and why some of us are so guilty of it, and I thought I'd share my findings. It's not pretty.

Here's a summary of points from a Psychology Today article:
  1. Twenty percent of people are procrastinators. It's a lifestyle, albeit a maladaptive one, and cuts across all domains of their life. [I may be in the 30th percentile, in that case: I don't procrastinate on everything.]
  2. It represents a profound problem of self-regulation, and it's exacerbated in American society by people's tolerance of excuses.
  3. It is not a problem of time management or planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time, though they may be more optimistic than others.
  4. Procrastinators are made, not born. It is one response to an authoritarian parenting style. "Having a harsh, controlling father keeps children from developing the ability to regulate themselves, from internalizing their own intentions and then learning to act on them. Procrastination can even be a form of rebellion, one of the few forms available under such circumstances."
  5. Procrastination is a predictor of higher levels of consumption of alcohol.
  6. Procrastinators tell lies to themselves (like, "I work best under pressure") and squander their resources.
  1. Procrastinators are aces at distraction, especially ones that don't take a lot of commitment (like checking email).
  2. People procrastinate for different reasons. There are (a) arousal procrastinators or thrill-seekers, who are looking for a euphoric rush; (b) avoiders—whether avoiding success or failure—who are concerned with what others think of them; (c) decisional procrastinators, who can't make a decision.
  3. The costs of procrastination are large, e.g. health; and it shifts responsibility to others, creating resentment.
  4. Procrastinators can change their behavior, especially through cognitive behavioral therapy.
Another article says that procrastination is about staying in too narrow a comfort zone. Instead, we should "live in forward motion," which means confronting pain and discomfort (whether real or imagined).

Forbes outlines seven strategies to fight procrastination (to which the gremlin on my shoulder says, "Quack, quack, quack," but they're really pretty good strategies):
  1. Write down your goal and give yourself a deadline.
  2. Break the goal into small pieces.
  3. Visualize the future you want—how you will feel having accomplished your goal.
  4. Build accountability.
  5. Reward progress.
  6. Act bravely, every day. Step out of your comfort zone; make a habit of it. 

Okay. There's plenty more online, but this gives me, for one, some food for thought. And now: back to editing. . . .

Sunday, September 27, 2015

365 True Things: 182/Movies

I'm not a big fan of classic movies for the most part. There are exceptions, of course. African Queen and Casablanca; Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard; Citizen Kane and Vertigo. And pretty much anything with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and a few others. Off the top of my head.

This evening, we scrolled through our Netflix on-demand queue, and there was Charade. I've seen it many times, and I remembered most of the twists and turns. But it was still a pleasure to watch. Audrey Hepburn was so darn lovely. (She was 33 when she made Charade; he was 58. That was the only thing that bugged me: he seemed a little too old for the part.)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

365 True Things: 181/Friends

I don't like having parties at my house, but I'm not at all opposed to corralling a friend who's housesitting an empty mansion in Pebble Beach and asking him to throw a party—and I'll invite the partiers, by the way.

Of course, the partiers in question are mutual friends. I guess you could say we're the "old crowd" from the Search & Rescue team: Grant (the housesitter) and Brad have retired from the team; Steve, Bob, and I are still active (well, Steve and Bob are, but I'm on the board, so that's a certain sort of active). We're all in our sixties, which also makes us old (or rather, as a recent page-out for a 62-year-old lost hiker in the Sierra put it, "elderly"—and yes, I did have words with the thirty-five-year-old deputy who so phrased it. . . not that he paid me any mind).

Steve, Brad, Grant, Bob

I joined the SAR team nine years ago, and met some of my now best friends there. I love these four guys to pieces. I climb more or less regularly with a young woman on the team, Serena. I meet up with Miranda—and get wicked smiles and licks from her awesome search dog Marcy—as often as possible (we used to go hiking, but Miranda broke her foot, so no more of that for now). I consider Nadene (also on the board) a good friend, although we don't socialize all that much—the occasional hike. Another Steve is one of my fellow wilderness rangers.

me, Serena, Nadene
"The other Steve," training in swiftwater
Marcy the wonderdog

I don't socialize with the deputies on the team except on our missions and trainings, but just that has allowed plenty of opportunity to get to know several of them fairly well. The team leaders Jesse, Ken, and Ivan sort of feel like friends.

Jesse, Miranda
Ken, at a weeklong winter search management training
(yes, we had to build a snow cave—
in one foot of snow—and then sleep in it
. . . but it worked, beautifully)

But back to the party that I alluded to at the start: it took place this evening, and it was so nice spending time with my peeps, some of whom I hadn't seen for months. We talked about everything from baked bean recipes to proper disposal of a meth lab to the painting of high-end cars. Several of us found all eight bathrooms in the mansion. We enjoyed sitting out on the patio in the sunshine. Grilled chicken and sausage, German potato salad, Greek salad, Grant's special beans, olives. Lots of beer. And great conversation.

I love these people. I am so glad I found the Monterey County Search & Rescue team.

Friday, September 25, 2015

365 True Things: 180/Frivolity

"Frivolity" in my blog stands for geocaching, it seems.

(I should, maybe, branch out.)

Mimring at Walk the Plank
But yeah: today's frivolity was a quasi–death march through Nisene Marks State Park, in Soquel.

"Death march" as in three of us, hiking high and low over open country (no trails except what animals left) seeking out six caches. The "(not) Naked and Afraid Challenge Series," courtesy of mayela mingi (Dan).

When I say high and low, I mean it. Steep terrain, lots of slippery dry leaves, navigational challenges galore—and then at the caches themselves, retrieval challenges.

FifiBonacci with cache #6 and TOTT
The caches tended to be hung 20 feet up redwood trees. Which required a TOTT ("tool of the trade")—which we usually found underneath the cache: a long thin branch, on occasion with a manufactured notch. Though a couple of times we had to manufacture the appropriating device ourselves.

FifiBonacci at #3: climbing tree
There was much looking at smartphones. There was picking and choosing of directions to follow. There was falling onto one's backside. There was an excellent tree to climb. There was a grand picnic spot in a redwood grove. At the very end of the series, there was a precipice: which Mimring (Alastair) took on with some trepidation—safely, as it turned out, thankfully—whereas FifiBonacci (David) and I (annevoi) circumvented with a somewhat easier descent.

It was a glorious way to spend time together. Having a common goal. Enjoying the scents and sounds. Sweating. Talking. Each of us has now logged our experience on the website, and together, they add up to a rich communal experience. Starting, of course, with the cache owner's placing of the hides, on one day in April 2014. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

365 True Things: 179/Busy

I am jamming to get a set of notes edited before I go to bed, because tomorrow I have a full day (of frivolity) planned and I'd like to get this chapter off to the author so I can play with an unguilty conscience. It is already just short of 9, however, and I'm beginning to doubt I'll get it done. But . . . I'm going to press on. So: today will be my shortest blog post ever. A screen shot: to prove that I'm working hard!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Time being

The other day on FB I commented that I need  (a) to start reading again and (b) an overhaul. A FB friend recommended the book A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, saying, "It will overhaul you nicely. I am serious."

So this evening I started. The book includes footnotes (and as an editor of scholarly texts, I love footnotes—as long as they're relevant and useful), and the end of the first chapter goes, "Hey, I know! Let's count the moments together!" with a footnote: "9. For more thoughts on Zen moments, see Appendix A."

And so here for your enjoyment, and my archiving, is Appendix A, "Zen Moments":
The Zen nun Jiko Yasutani once told me in a dream that you can't understand what it means to be alive on this earth until you understand the time being, and in order to understand the time being, she said, you have to understand what a moment is.

In my dream, I asked her, What on earth is a moment?

A moment is a very small particle of time. It is so small that one day is made of 6,400,099,980 moments.

When I looked it up afterward, I discovered that this was the exact number cited by Zen Master Dōgen in his masterwork, the Shōbōgenzō (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye).

Numerals resist the eye, so let me spell it out in words: six billion, four hundred million, ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty. That's how many moments Zen Master Dōgen posited are in one day, and after she rattled off the number, old Jiko snapped her fingers. Her fingers are crazily bent and twisted with arthritis, so she wasn't very good at snapping, but somehow she got her point across.

Please try it, she said. Did you snap? Because if you did, that snap equals sixty-five moments.

The granularity of the Zen view of time becomes clear if you do the math, or if you just take Jiko's word for it. She leaned forward, adjusting her black-framed glasses on her nose and peering through the thick, murky lenses, and then she spoke once more.

If you start snapping your fingers now and continue snapping 98,463,077 times without stopping, the sun will rise and the sun will set, and the sky will grow dark and the night will deepen, and everyone will sleep while you are still snapping, until finally, sometime after daybreak, when you finish up your 98,463,077th snap, you will experience the truly intimate awareness of knowing exactly how you spent every single moment of a single day of your life.

She sat back on her heels and nodded. The thought experiment she proposed was certainly odd, but her point was simple. Everything in the universe is constantly changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.

That's what it means to be a time being, old Jiko told me, and then she snapped her crooked fingers again.

And just like that, you die.

365 True Things: 178/Ch-ch-changes

I'm not very good at hearing the lyrics to songs. Like, today: David Bowie's "Changes" popped into my head, and I realized I had no idea what the words are, short of that stuttering ch-ch-changes and the rubato time may change me / but I can't trace time (though until just now, looking at the lyrics, I didn't know that word was "trace").

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange. Ch-ch-changes.

The song entered my thoughts because I'm thinking of making some changes. I want to make some changes. I have a tendency to scatter myself too thin, and I'd like to cultivate more depth.

After my post the other day about work, a friend emailed me—he actually took me up on my question at the end!—with some suggestions. Here's what he wrote:
anything is possible i suppose, but i believe that to do your work you need to allow hours in a row, not breaks between editing bouts. you need to have 1/2 the day for your work, 1/2 for the other work. there goes games and tv all to hell  where they belong.

your work needs the time to become. it needs meditation, active writing meditation. no nothing around you but your ideas and filling paper or screens with whatever until some of it warrants keeping. it takes staring at something until you know what it needs. that can take a long time. 4 hours of your stuff with no interruptions except the breathers you take during which the meditation doesnt stop, just the fingers do. then a walk and errands. then 4 hours of their stuff which will seem lighter because you already did your work and theirs is no longer in the way of yours.
I so appreciate both his thoughts and his taking the time to send them to me.

But of course, I responded flip:
  1. I’m glad to know someone is reading my daily meanderings.
  2. There are various personality types, as you may well know (see, e.g.,
  3. I simply can’t work four hours straight and stay sane. And/or productive, more to the point.
  4. The older I get, the more tunnel-visioned I get as well. Which means, if I have editing work in, I work on editing.
  5. The main problem is, when I DON’T have editing work in, I am all over the place. Not working on much of anything.
  6. E is what I need to be focusing on. Get the work-work done, and then free up some me time. And then do something good with that me time.
  7. Lists. Lists are what I need. Maybe.
  8. Yeah, I also need to toss the iPad out the window. You probably don’t want it, do you?

And my final missive:
  1. Time is all we have.
This morning in my email, I found a new message: "from A to J is a lot. you may have completed your day's blog."

Maybe not quite. Maybe I need to keep giving some serious thought to making a few ch-ch-changes, to allow better use of my time—which really is all I have.

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
So the days float through my eyes

I don't know quite what that means, but I do know that I want to stay awake. I don't want the days just to float through my eyes. As they do when I don't guard my precious time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

365 True Things: 177/Asilomar

This afternoon Milo, David, and I went to one of my favorite places for a walk: the Asilomar State Beach boardwalk.

Over the years, I have walked there frequently with my good friend Annie, as part of a nice loop along the shore then through the piney woods. Those days, however, seem to be over: she has bad arthritis in her ankle and must be very careful about how she uses up each day's steps, as she puts it. That makes me sad, partly because we always had such good talks while we walked. We've proposed getting together for coffee and Danishes instead, and learning how to talk while sitting down, but we haven't done it yet. I hope we will, and that it becomes a new pleasure to look forward to.

In any case, today was a lovely day at Asilomar: cool, overcast, not very crowded. Sunny days are lovely there too. So are light-rainy ones. Foggy ones. You pretty much can't not feel refreshed from a visit to Asilomar, no matter what the weather. But I confess, I do enjoy days like today, when you can walk in solitude and contemplation, slow down and breathe a little more deeply. Always a good thing to remember to do.

Here are some photos of Asilomar from various past visits.

Barry Marshall, artist

Storm damage, 2008

Acceptable graffiti