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.

What I imagine when I’m knitting

05-06-19 knitprog 1

Haruki Murakami wrote an entire book entitled “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”; I have never read it because, well, running? However, the title of this blog post is a nod to that book.

At its best, knitting, for those of you who don’t do it yourselves, is a soothing, mechanical hobby, which can lull your mind into imaginary worlds full of ponderings and vague, nebulous plans. One of the things I imagine whilst I am knitting is what life will be like when I have finished the project I am working on. I imagine wearing the finished object, what I will wear it with, where I will be when I wear it, how it will make me feel, how it will fit. Sometimes I imagine clothes I might buy to wear with it. Sometimes I imagine an entirely fictional self in a different world, wearing that actual item.

At other times, of course, knitting is a test of skill, dexterity, and calculation which leaves your mind no room for anything but solid facts. You need to keep hawk-like eyes on the pattern to make sure you commit no errors or omissions, you have to count your stitches repeatedly to reassure yourself that none have gone AWOL.

I have two projects on the go at the moment. The sea-blue cardigan is creeping along and I have not worked on it as much as I could have, or should have, this week. Instead, I have started knitting a cosy winter cowl for myself using the set of ten mini skeins of wool from Noodle Soup Yarns that I received at Christmas. I am calling this the Mama, Weer All Crazee Cowl, partly because the range of ten colours is not quite as harmonious as these first two suggest, and partly because working 300 stitches per row of knit one, purl one rib for somewhere around a length of 20 inches is an undertaking that only a crazee mama would consider.

Here is a close-up of the lovely sparkly wool from Charley of Noodle Soup:-

05-06-19 knitprog 2

I have one minor misgiving about this project: I fear I may get to the end and find that I’ve knitted a crazy, sparkly, multi-coloured boob tube!


A big shout-out to Slade’s song “Mama, Weer All Crazee Now” for the name of this project.


Hence These Tears…

The second stripe is the one I was working on when the news came through that one of my favourite actors had died: Paul Darrow, the man behind the wonderful character of Avon in Blake’s 7. Some of the sparkle has left this world, but it lingers on in memory and in this project.

“I am not expendable, I am not stupid, and I am not going.”
Avon, Blake’s 7,

If you’re not familiar with Avon, follow the link for a dollop of his sardonic wit – just try to ignore the lamentable quality of the video capture.

 

Sunday update

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You will notice that my blog looks different from today – I hope you will like the very clean and simple layout and the fun summer colours to brighten it up. Let me know in the comments.

There is another change coming this month as I will be moving back to having the blog hosted under the .wordpress umbrella. That means that if you currently have a bookmark to my blog as pamalisonknits.com you will need to re-bookmark as pamalisonknits.wordpress.com

Other than that, you shouldn’t see any difference in the content I post.

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?


 

Exhilarate

18-03-19 Exhilarate

As of this week, I’m changing things up a bit on the blog, partly because it’s getting towards Spring, and I reckon we all need a bit of a change. Mainly, though, it’s just that I fancy doing a ‘word of the week’ instead of the ‘quote of the week’ that I was doing last year, and having had that thought I decided it would be good to start the week with a word.

So, here is the first Word of the Week –  exhilarate – because don’t we all need a bit of exhilaration on a Monday morning?

With Mondays allocated to a Word of the Week, I think Wednesdays will be my main knitting catch-up day and Fridays my general meanderings. If you’ve read my blog before you will probably know that I am very fluid with my intentions and I’d rather write a good post about something off-topic than a plodding post about something that fits the day’s specific category. I like to think that makes reading my blog a bit of an adventure.

I will commit to saying that this Wednesday’s post will be about knitting and will feature a finished object. Woo-hoo!


 

A trip to the tuck shop

04-03-19 Sweet peanuts
Sweet Peanuts – a schoolgirl favourite

This afternoon I was in Norwich city centre running some errands and I popped into the old-style sweet shop to re-stock with Sweet Peanuts. This reminded me of many a diversion to the school tuck shop to buy these, not to mention Toffee Cushions and Sherbet Lemons.

Indeed, I was fortunate enough to go to a school from the ages of 11 to 16 which had a tuck shop! Our tuck shop was in an old corrugated iron Nissen Hut, but then so were many of our classrooms, our lovely school being housed on a site previously occupied by a USAAF hospital.

For those who can’t imagine what I’m talking about, this is how my school looked:-

04-03-19 Nissen Huts
Wymondham College Nissen Huts

I understand things have changed in the lifetime since I finished my education.

There are things you are exposed to at school which remain with you for your entire life. For me, these include a love of semolina pudding, the afore-mentioned Sweet Peanuts, and a devilish need for clear grammar and punctuation. I know that language should be a living thing and that it should evolve with each new generation, but I also know that punctuation is there to make written work easier to read (and, most especially, to read out loud) and I am in favour of clarity in written work.

Since I am reminiscing about school, this would be the ideal point at which to revisit my English report from the fifth form, November 1975.

04-03-19 Ambiguous, imprecise
Ambiguous and imprecise? Hell, yeah!

I am sure Mr Graham would not be the least bit surprised to learn I have not really taken the advice about avoiding vagueness. Forty-four years later I retain my highly imaginative response to literature (and to life in general) and welcome glorious ambiguity and imprecision with open arms, so long as I can suck a Sweet Peanut or two along the way.


Do you have any fond memories of your schooldays, or favourite childhood sweets?