3 questions, then I can do it

ICDI a

If you are female, and living in the twenty-first century, you can’t have avoided seeing this inspirational phrase. Indeed, you may have it in your planner, or on your wall, more than likely printed in a calligraphy-style font, quite possibly in minimal black on white, or in rose-gold with some marbling if you’ve gone for more bling. It is a quote which is designed to motivate us and to stop us cowering within our comfort zone and I can see the appeal. However for it to be truly relevant I believe that it needs to be preceded by three very important questions.

ICDI b

As a standalone phrase, “I can do it” is very nebulous, and in reality it may be preferable to interpret the words as meaning “I can do anything I put my mind to”. In order put our minds to anything, we first have to determine exactly what it is. If we fall into the trap of believing we can do anything at all, but don’t decide on specific things to actually do, then we will just sit on a sofa forever (which, if I am honest, is one of the few things about which I can honestly say “I can do it”).

ICDI c

It is entirely probable that each of us can achieve anything we truly set our minds to, but we won’t do things if we do not have sufficient desire to do them. If we are not entirely honest with ourselves we will be able to come up with endless perfectly believable reasons why things are not going to plan and we are not reaching our objectives, but we need to see past those and question whether we really want to do what we are working towards. I have found that self-knowledge is hugely important when it comes time to set goals. I have to understand myself and what I really want to achieve; what makes me happy, or sad, or angry; what I can live with and live without. With a good understanding of myself and my motivations, I can look at the ideas my mind spawns and judge them not simply as to whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but whether they are something I really want to do.

ICDI d

The “I can do it” quote is not all alone in the universe, many of us also know the one that goes along the lines of “Good enough is done” – it is often recommended as an antidote for perfectionism. This is sound advice if you struggle with completing things because you are judging the results by unfeasibly high standards. This one always rings a little hollow with me, perhaps because I belong to a generation raised with the idea of achieving the best we possibly can. I know that it is not good for my soul if I feel I am are consistently submitting work that falls short of my best. Hand-in-hand with this goes my attitude that there is no point expending my energy on things that I am not ever going to be particularly good at. Naturally, how well I need to do a thing depends on the level to which I want to pursue it; I am an average swimmer and that is fine, but my standards for the things I do professionally are much higher because I want to be proud of my achievements and not feel that I am simply coasting along doing a “good enough” job.

So, here’s my take on “I can do it”:

21-06-19 ICDI d

Imagining my brain is exactly the right size

“Come on, Frank, an officer files things in his head. He doesn’t remember them until they pop up, you know that: a face, a street, a name, a number, zabba-dabba-doo, like that…”

Lieutenant Theo Kojak/1976


Listen to – Gladys Knight and the Pips “So Sad The Song” (I know that we both talked it over, said it’s best to forget)
Read or watch – Ray Bradbury “Fahrenheit 451” (people memorising stories because the books are being burned)


My avid consumption of books and videos about various methods of time management/planning has led me to an interesting juncture; a conundrum which is summed up by two equal and opposing concepts:-

  • “Use it or lose it”
  • “Your brain is not for storage, it is for creativity”

Most planning systems are based on the second of these two ideas and posit that you cannot trust your brain to store and organise all of the information about your life. You therefore need a trusted system to capture all your memories, all your thoughts, all your ideas, everything you need to do and everywhere you need to be so that your brain can be clear.

There is a barely disguised suggestion in this that life is so complex and so fast that your brain is not big enough for it.

However, there is an increasing amount of media coverage about the first of the concepts, advising us on how we need to exercise our brains and do crosswords, or Sudoku puzzles, or memorise poetry if we are to avoid our brains atrophying.

Oh, you are not memorising poetry yet? I have several large passages committed to memory and am currently working on “Meeting Point” by Louis MacNeice: I know all the verses, but struggle to keep them in the right order.

The idea of being able to trust my brain appeals to me, perhaps because I have never really been a list-maker and regardless of how many hand-written or device-orientated “to do” lists I have, I tend to do what is uppermost in my mind. Conversely, I find the idea of not being able to trust my brain very upsetting because I want to be in control of my direction; I don’t want to cede that control to a leather-bound planner or a whizzy device, however much I enjoy owning and playing with such items.

My brain, when I choose to use it, is actually pretty good at recalling things, and at prioritising what needs to be done. When I begin to lose track it is usually because I have become over-burdened, either with tasks that need doing or with more insidious “input”. It is not that I have forgotten what is most important at the time, more that I have successfully over-written it with fluff. In fact, I feel that often failure to accomplish something because “I forgot” is inaccurate and I should instead say “I chose not to remember”.

Of course, I am not espousing the rejection of all written or recorded material in favour of brain-power alone, just a more organic and more thoughtful use of both. And now I have to refer back to Kojak to illustrate a way of working that could be relevant now, either between managers and their team members, or just within your own personal task-setting.

Here is the scene – Kojak is sitting in his office and he yells “Crocker!” Detective Crocker appears and Kojak barks one concise instruction at him. Crocker doesn’t need to write it down, he has a single, well-defined task to do and he shoots off and does it. If it involves finding some information, he comes back, maybe with a brief written note, and tells Kojak the answer and that progresses the investigation. (I accept that sometimes even Kojak is a little blurry – like the episode that contained the line “Crocker – do it all.” On the whole he’s pretty good with his instructions.)

You will note that they didn’t have to book a meeting room and work through a long list of items of varying importance which they could only recall because they’d written them on a @Kojak/@Crocker list. I think in the modern workplace we can get bogged down in detail and lose immediacy. If we were giving our brains the leading role in our work, we might focus more on the really important and the really urgent and leave behind some of the purely bureaucratic and petty tasks that we consider so important in our current endeavours.

It is useful to write down times and dates in a diary, to remind ourselves of things that we need to attend to at a given moment and sometimes it is necessary to write a list of everything you need to do because you lack focus on that day, or in that hour. I just don’t want to delegate everything to some other system when using my brain could be a better way all-round.

So, this week I am trying to think hard about what I need to do next to make progress on the important things in my life and I am treating pen and paper, and my electronic devices, as aides-memoire instead of using my brain to assist the all-important List. I hope I will feel more human this way, because no-one wants to be just an organic limb carrying out the demands of a non-sentient catalogue of tasks.

Yes, I have no doubt there will be a lot of things that I forget, but I think that is how we sieve out that good ideas from the not so good ones. I wonder if, somewhere along the line, I might find that my brain is exactly the right size for my life.

Word of the Week – Persevere

13-05-19 Persevere

Here in Norfolk, as in a lot of the United Kingdom, last week was chilly and wet and decidedly un-spring-like. In tandem with the blossom on the trees, and the seedlings in the ground, we humans had to practice perseverance to get us through to the brighter weather and slightly higher temperatures that we are now enjoying.

Life is like that, too. Sometimes it is dreary and grey and there is an unpleasant chill in our hearts. We are not sure where we want to be, or what we want to be doing; perhaps we are not even sure who we are. The central character in my nascent novel (nascent may have to be a Word of the Week one of these old days) is in just that state and it is my job to get her from there to a more pleasant position by the end of the book. Or not. Perhaps she is doomed never to find her place; perhaps some people never do. However, whether we find our place or not, we must persevere because where there is life, there is hope.

I like to see perseverance as more positive than doggedness or grim determination. Perseverance is getting the bit between your teeth, it has an edge of self-motivation in it. I like perseverance, and yet I am absolutely rubbish at it. Are you good at perseverance?


 

Word of the Week – Accommodate

06-05-19 WotW Accommodate
In a world obsessed with goals and achievements, we would be wise to learn to accommodate our limitations

There are a lot of things in the world that we can achieve if we put in the required amount and appropriate type of effort. Many of us can very probably accumulate money, live in relative luxury, find love, raise children to become valuable members of society, achieve power, pursue our dreams, travel, what have you.

Yet if we are to live happily, we must come to terms with the fact that we cannot achieve everything that we set our minds to, we cannot reach every goal that we set. Some things are beyond our abilities, some things are no more than fantasies and rightly so.

It would be wrong to see not achieving something as a failure if that thing cannot be achieved by our own actions, or if achieving it would require us to sacrifice something more dear to us. For example, I would love to stand on the moon or on Mars, but there is nothing I can do that will allow me to achieve that. Therefore, I acknowledge that it is a desire I harbour, but I accept it is not within my sphere of influence to bring it about.

My mum was a great one for comforting us when we failed to achieve something by saying “It just wasn’t meant to be.” Yes, we should try, and yes, when we fail we should often try, try again; but if it just isn’t meant to be we need to accommodate that fact and put our effort into something that we can influence and have better potential to achieve.

It is also worth noting that just because something is a fantasy, not achievable in this lifetime, it does not follow that the thing should be abandoned utterly. It makes me happy to dream of standing on the moon or Mars and always will, despite the fact I can’t do it anywhere but in my head. The pleasure of a thing is not necessarily confined to the achievement or ownership of it.


 

Word of the Week – Defragmentation

22-04-19 De-fragmentation

This isn’t the Word of the Week that I was going to publish today, however it is the Word of the Week that I need. For the past couple of weeks I feel like I have accomplished little and have been alternating between two states:-

Flapping around trying to do lots of different things in quick succession and not completing any of them

or

Staring into space unable to get engaged with any of the little tasks on my radar

I have also hit a patch where I am picking away at separate little scenes in my novel and feeling like I am not in any kind of writing flow. This issue with the writing in particular has nudged me to think about the way I am approaching things.

What I need to do is de-frag my brain – you know, like you used to have to do with Windows computers to get the hard drive into a less muddled position and free up some disk space. Who knows, perhaps you still have to do that with Windows computers. Anyway, that’s what my head needs: a bit of a reset to allow it to concentrate on what I need to do when I need to do it.

I think this fragmentation of our attention is what we mean when we complain about the consequences of over-using our mobile devices. We get caught up in little tiny bits of this and that, things entirely unlinked; dipping in and out of the lives of people unconnected with where we are here and now. We can only do so much of that then we need to reassemble ourselves, root ourselves back in the present time, get things into the proper order. In the online world (yep – that would be the one that is causing all the trouble in the first place!) they advise you do a digital detox. “Step away from the device!” I think I need something slightly different; more a realignment of my thought processes. I know – a bit like that moment when you are making pastry and it stops being little crumbs and starts being more of a cohesive block that you can roll out. That’s a brilliant analogy because at the end of the pastry-making process you have something scrumptious to gobble up!

This week I will be concentrating on de-fragmentation (or, if things don’t go so well, pastry). How about you?


Many thanks to NothingButKnit and her Crafty Q&A – Multitasking Edition which reminded me this morning that I always hit difficulties when I try to split my attention in too many directions.


 

Word of the Week – Renaissance

15-04-19 Renaissance

I think we all need a little renaissance every now and again; we could, in fact, think of each Monday morning as a time for rebirth, the Spring-time of the week. I know that in reality rebirth is far from all of our minds as the working week looms over us and all I am saying is that we could, perhaps, approach it differently.

I am personally in need of a little renaissance as I let things slip last week whilst I lost myself in tales of derring-do amongst prisoners of war and grieved equally for sides who won and sides who lost in the war that was being depicted.

This week, though, I need to have goals and achieve them; I need to be strict with myself about what I eat and how much I exercise; I need to get back on track. What better way to do that than to change up my planning system a bit? I have been happily using a very traditional paper diary for several months and until recently I found that writing down what I had to do each day was keeping me accountable – okay, only to myself, but accountable anyway. Recently I have noticed that this is no longer the case and I have been writing down what I need to do, but I haven’t done it. I am going to experiment with my computer-based calendar, although that is generally not my preference. I know from past experience that if it doesn’t succeed in motivating me to do the work I need to get done, it has always reminded me that a paper-based system is better and I can return to my paper diary with renewed vigour. Sometimes a change is just a way to clear your head and get it back on course.

I hope you have a productive week, or start off a renaissance of your own if that is what you need.

 

Word of the Week – Accomplish

01-04-19 Accomplish

Looking forwards as we start a new week and a new month, my chosen Word of the Week “Accomplish” is an exhortation to set goals and strive to achieve something. To set oneself a challenge, to determine a course. It is wise, in setting goals, to accept that we can still accomplish something even if we do not ultimately reach our target. Sometimes it is enough that we accomplish the understanding that a certain thing is not for us, we do not find it important enough within our life, we do not enjoy it as much as we thought we would, or even that this is simply not the time for us to get the best value from that particular activity.

As well as looking forward, we can apply this word to the month just past, using “accomplish” to celebrate what we have done.

I set myself the challenge for March 2019 to do some creative writing every single day and I am proud with myself for meeting this challenge. It took a slightly different direction from the one I originally envisaged, and in the final analysis I wrote for 25 days on the first draft of my novel, adding 16,730 words to it which averages out to 669 per day. That is amazing progress. Now, not all of those words were freshly-minted during the month because I took some pieces that I had written previously and imported them into my novel. That was part of the evolution of the novel which has become more solid and cohesive in my mind as I have been working on it daily. That being said, it is still a successful contribution given the original context of my challenge: “to work on the creative writing”, not to write a set number of new words in the time period.

I also worked on other pieces over 8 days, adding 16,870 words. Now this was definitely more a case of importing and typing up pieces written previously. However, it means that I now have most of my creative writing within the Scrivener software on my computer, making it much more accessible and seamless to work with.

The big thing to come out of this month for me is that I am loving writing, really engrossed with the story I am crafting, and I am going to make the effort to carry on writing every day even though March is now over.


Do you set yourself goals/challenges/targets? How do you feel if you achieve, or fail to achieve them?


 

In which progress is made

11-03-19 knit progress

We live in a universe in which stars are being born in clouds of gas whilst others cool and diminish; entire galaxies are spinning, colliding, grouping and re-forming. So it is with our everyday lives – there are things we have just started, others that we are making some kind of progress on or completed, and a few which we have abandoned.

I have made progress in my crafty life. The lace-pattern front of the sleeveless pullover is complete and I have made a start on the plain back. In tandem with this, in the past few days I have been playing with my French Knitting kit. I bought it years ago and I used a bit of the very basic nylon yarn included to construct a sample ‘tail’ of knitting then promptly put it in my knitting cabinet and ignored it. Now I am experimenting with a ball of Rowan SoftYak DK yarn which is 76% cotton, 15% Yak and 9% nylon. I’d love to know if anyone has used this for a garment and what they thought so I must check it out on Ravelry. My plan is to make something for myself and also as a prototype item I could put in my Etsy shop. I can’t explain what it is, because it’s not really something you can explain – you have to see it. It is inspired by a necklace I saw at the Norfolk Makers’ event cross-bred with an item that I have recently seen in pictures from a designer’s Autumn/Winter 2019 catwalk show.

I have also been working on some Mother’s Day cards to put in my Etsy shop and I’m pleased to say the two designs I’m doing this year are now for sale (clicking the picture captions will take you to my Etsy shop).

11-03-19 knit MD card
A Mother’s Joy
11-03-19 MD card 2
You’re a Gem

The cards feature simple, graphic designs infilled with images of swatches that I have knitted myself. I’m planning to expand what I offer in the way of printed knit-related products to include packs of inspiration cards on a knitting theme and I already have some birthday card designs in the pipeline. At present I’m offering two colourways, but I will increase this with more colours and some textures as time goes on. For my actual knitwear, I am looking at the relative merits of Etsy and Folksy. The latter being UK-based has appeal as I am keen to encourage more ‘local’ buying by not offering to send my hand-knits overseas. That’s not to say in any way that I want to exclude the non-UK residents, but to encourage them to support the skilled craftspeople in their own countries. This is the reason I buy yarns from indie-dyers who, like me, are based in the UK although I love to look at offerings by dyers working all over the world.

I am going great guns with my self-imposed month of creative writing challenge, although the format of the challenge has changed somewhat in the first week. I’ll do an update about this on Wednesday.

Well, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few days. I hope the weekend has been enjoyable and productive for all of you who so kindly read my blog. Feel free to let me know in the comments what crafty (or not-so-crafty) projects you are working on.


 

Need inspiration?

11-02-19 Inpiration
Do you have an inspiration board?

I’ve been working recently on re-composing my inspiration board. The board itself is marvellous with a lovely summery beaches-and-boats fabric. When I was a little girl I had a dress with a sailboat print, and I keep looking every summer to see if anyone manufactures anything similar to bedeck the more mature me. Until that day, the board is going some way towards meeting my need for yachts.

At the moment the board mainly represents my ideal office space, with one photo of a real office I worked in in the mid-1990s and the other my fantasy office at Manhattan South (courtesy of Kojak). Both of these images remind me of the kind of space that I am happiest in; there is technology, but there is paper too.

Today, though, I’m really taken with the quote “Smite the sounding furrows” on its happy yellow background. This is my ‘get up and go!’ quote and it chimes better with me than many of the popular so-called boss-girl quotes which abound on the internet. It is a line, from Ulysses by the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, about setting off on a voyage and not being sure of the destination, but with a determination that knows no bounds. I believe it holds us accountable to our own potential. This is no easy voyage, indeed “it may be that the gulfs will wash us down”; we need to work hard to get to our destination.

For those not too familiar with nautical terms, the phrase means to take a reading of the depth of water, particularly useful when navigating close to the shore, leaving or coming into harbour. In this case, the sailors will know they are on their way as the readings show the water deepening. There is a similar need with the things we choose to do when we are on land – we have to take regular readings to see how we are progressing.

With my inspiration board, I am currently under sail, but not nearing my destination. I think that next it needs something aspirational on the fibre/fashion side of things which I am looking forward to researching, and by research I mean pootling about looking at magazines, knitting books, and doubtless digging out my copy of Chic Simple Women’s Wardrobe which will remind me just how much I want some of the outfits in it.


 

Fitting in

23-01-19 non-camo
Fabrics for those “not blending in” moments

When I finished writing last Friday about Edward Scissorhands, a fairly definitive movie when it comes to not fitting in, I got to thinking about the choices we make during our lives in order to fit in with certain people or groups, the camouflage we choose (or are encouraged) to adopt, and how that can result in us feeling less like ourselves than we should. However long and however hard we try to fit in, the truth is that the only person you can ever truly rely on is yourself, as these two lines in a song from the musical “Chess” (by Tim Rice/Beny Andersson/Bjorn Ulvaeus) convey:-

No-one in your life is with you constantly,
No-one is completely on your side.

Although as I get older I am less inclined to make compromises in order to fit in, I think it’s pretty fair to say that there have been vast stretches of my life when I have curbed my own natural interests in order to fit better with the friends or colleagues that I have had at that time. For me, this has always started out as a creative endeavour, like trying on a different character for a while to see what it feels like, but I always end up feeling that my ‘real’ character has been submerged. This doesn’t only happen in the real world. For my generation, getting older has coincided with the rise of digital friendship and a whole new way of being influenced and of feeling a need to fit in. Quite simply, we are exposed to many more options right now than we have ever had in the past and that just increases the pressure to comply.

It seems a shame, but there are more interesting things in this world than any of us can experience in one lifetime and we have to make a choice about what we are going to pursue and what we are going to leave on the sidelines. For me, this has included accepting that I’m not going to sew garments for myself, even though I am confident that I could bring my skills up to speed and there’s a whole host of clothes I’d love to sew. It took me some years to understand that this is just not the road I’m going to walk. I would rather spend my time knitting, and there is enough of that to occupy me for at least one lifetime. I am aware, though, that every exposure to people who are happily sewing away and producing great-looking outfits, results in that twang of “I could do that” aspiration. And don’t even get me started on all the paper planners in the world at the moment! We must teach ourselves to deal with such influences, or we must act to avoid them entirely.

The big problem is that we can spend a lot of time and money on things that aren’t quite right for us, even though we know that isn’t the best use of our resources. When we invest in a particular interest and don’t pursue it, those items become part of the clutter in our lives that needs to be purged and, although it isn’t healthy, it is so much easier to simply accommodate the clutter than to actually sort it out. I think the modern trend for simplification and minimalism is not only about reducing physical things, but also a push to reduce the choices we have and the influences that we allow to work on us.

Fortunately, some things are relatively easy to ignore, the things you know you could never master if you practiced for a thousand years. For me, those are painting/drawing and driving; a number of people have this same reaction with swimming or cycling and I am sure there are countless others. Knitting, perhaps? In this case the knowledge is a combination of lack of interest in the activity, lack of desire and/or incentive to achieve the outcome, and lack of talent. Yes, sometimes people just don’t have the talent to pursue a particular skill, but you know what? They have loads and loads of other talents that make up for it.

So, what do we lose when we try to fit in and thereby sideline things that are important to ourselves in favour of things that are important to someone else? To understand that, we need to think about how we feel when we are doing the things that are important to us, that do interest us, that we are talented at. We feel our spirits lighten, we walk with a spring in our step, we think of the future – making plans, dreaming dreams – and we finish things because they engage our interest and make us happy. When we set aside the things we enjoy, life becomes a drudge, our brains may be engaged, but our hearts are locked away in a box, we envy others and, often, we delude ourselves.

It is, unfortunately, not simple to learn what interests you, which endeavours are worthwhile and which are simply interesting, even what the authentic you below all the camouflage really consists of. It takes time; I am sorry to say it probably takes a whole lifetime and maybe even more than that. Although none of us wants to face it when we are young, in this instance there really is no substitute for experience.


Related to this subject, here’s a couple of tunes which I never thought I would mention in the same breath!

“I know him so well” Elaine Page and Barbara Dickson
“Mis-Shapes” Pulp (interested in Pulp? This blog is doing a song-by-song analysis!)