Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chipping Away at the Pile

Chipping Away at the excess in my life. Yesterday I was thinking about how sometimes it doesn't feel like what I do is enough. Today I was noticing again how I sometimes have too much in my life.

This week, it's too much to do, almost too many social events (too many if we want to keep up with the little girl), too many emails. Oh My. The emails.

I belong to several listservs and reminder-and-notification services. This means it it not unusual for me to get dozens of emails a day if not hour. It's not the tens and hundreds that can pile up in my husband's inbox (everyone gets copied on email discussion whether they need to or not). But it's still substantial.

Last Summer, I decided this could not go on! Following an idea from Leo of Zen Habits and the unclutterer, I shrunk my inbox down to nothing by pasting everything that had piled up into another folder. Then every day, I'd delete the ones I didn't need. That left me accumulating only a few emails per day.

Last month I came back from my trip and realized that once again, I had over a thousand emails simply sitting in my inbox. Now some of them, yes, I need to save for some reason, like gig notes or family correspondence. But what about everything else?!

Frankly, since I had the baby, I simply cannot read everything. I took myself off a couple of lists, and started freely deleting the rest. I actually do read or at least skim the neighborhood listserv, and the notifications from FB help keep me up with my friends across the region and country. Then there are people asking for info or offering me gigs or my mother asking me if I'll make it to an event. Still. 1150+ emails? No. This can't go on. It was to over 2000 at one point, and I shrunk it back by half.

My best practice for shrinking the pile of emails is to purge daily and weekly, monthly, or whatever it takes.

I look at my inbox and ask myself, "Of those things labeled "Today," what do I really need to keep? Any? None? Delete, delete, file, delete!" Then I move onto to those email labeled "Yesterday" and so on.

It's not perfect, but it's the best I can do, and by that I mean it's really the only thing I can do, short of archiving piles of crap, I mean, emails permanently. And what on earth makes me think I will go back and look at them again? Hahaha, no.

An interesting corollary is that I attempt the same strategies with my paper piles.

First I try to get rid of as much incoming as possible. I take myself off of mailing lists and refuse to give info to people who just want to send me more mail. Then I keep trying to file or act on the items that need it, and throw away the rest. And just like as with email, I sometimes I get so annoyed with my lack of progress that I dump a whole pile of stuff into a new box just to get it out of my sight. And it's no surprise, unfortunately, that a new pile just grows in its place! Then, ultimately, I have to keep at it, purging on a daily basis.

I won't even get into news services. I just don't subscribe any more. I cannot keep up with every last thing happening in the world.

It must be a curse of the modern world, though, that we are so connected and so in touch and thusly so overwhelmed with items demanding our attention. All I can think of is to ignore most of it and purge the rest. Every damn day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gift Perfectionism? When is It Enough?

So yesterday's post got me thinking again about how I tend to approach gift giving.

I find it often very difficult to buy, or rather, choose, gifts. Whether it's for my husband or my sister or a friend, it's rarely easy.

Sometimes I am lucky and the perfect idea will come to me in time to find and acquire an item. More often, I am undecided about what I should choose. And here is where I run into problems around Christmas time. I want to find thoughtful gifts for people. And yet, I'm never sure if what I end up with is good, if it's ideal, if it's best, if it's right, if it's enough. Oh boy. Is it enough!?

I've concluded that I suffer from gift giving perfectionism, which as you could guess, is as debilitating as any other kind of perfectionism. I always worry that whatever I chose is not the best choice. Will they like it? Will they appreciate it? Will they think it's enough?

There we go with the enough stuff again.

Is it enough? Isn't it enough that I spent time thinking of what they'd like? But I always wonder. Is it enough that I found something to surprise them with? Is it enough that I spent time and money and energy on this project? Is it enough that I give them "only" this one special thing? Is it enough that I wrapped it up in anticipation of their unwrapping it? Because that is what I live for, after all; I love watching the unwrapping.

But too often, even after I decide on the one special thing, I'll worry or decide that it's not good enough, or not enough enough, and I'll buy an additional present. And at some point, I'll often find myself cruising through shops, snatching up more gifty items to "round out" my offerings. It's wearing. It's a wearisome panic.

The worst part is that worrying about my choices means that I sometimes put off those choices until it's very late in the game. Some birthday presents never get given because I panic over the right choice. I don't know why it's such an issue, especially since I've cultivated more of a go-ahead-and-make-a-choice attitude in other areas of my life.

Perhaps it's because there are so many choices. I usually rely on parameters to help me narrow down other decisions, but in the great wide open shopping days of November and December, there are few parameters to help me limit the options or ideals.

An artsy thing? Some wooden spoons? is that enough? Spoons AND a cool spatula. No. Not kitchen ware this year. How about a book? A shawl? Do they need a shawl? What about a pretty one? Maybe they'd rather a gift certificate? Oh hell, I'll get them some chocolate. Chocolate AND a gift certificate.

Oh, I enjoy creating a variety package, but this extra worry wears me out.

Maybe it's because there are a few people on my list who I worry will be critical of my choices. (Now, that's a big one. Are there a few people tainting the well of generosity?) Maybe it's because I can't come up with any good ideas. Or anything I can afford. Maybe it's because I'm placing too much on any one gift giving occasion. Maybe I'm worried it won't look good, whatever it is, as if I don't measure up to some ridiculous standard. Oo, I'm getting some ideas about where this is coming from now... Ooh, or do I feel cheated if they don't seem to like it enough for me? Now that's another angle to think about.

Maybe this year, I'll think about this and watch for clues and see where this worry is coming from.

Maybe I'll give myself a pass and say, Ya done good. You did enough. And I'll be happy, dammit. And they'll be happy too, dammit. And if they are not, it's too bad, dammit. :)

Time to wrap up this post; it's enough. ;)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shopping Conscience Says: Put That Back!

Oo, Sweet n Salty has another thoughtful quality-over-quantity The Good Grinch post up. Reminds me of when I recently escaped for a couple of hours of shopping at Micheal's, that craft store with more Than You Possibly Want.

I was looking for picture frames (on sale) for my in-law's recent family portrait. I was looking for attractive yet inexpensive cookie tins. I was looking for a stocking (also on sale) for the little girl because although I'd like to make one for her, It Ain't Gonna Happen This Year.

So then I got sucked into the shopping vortex and started finding stocking stuffers for various family members.

A bouncy ball that lights up and flashes when you squeeze it, good for my step-nephew. A crocodile that "grows" when you submerge it in water over night for somebody. Colorful, flower-shaped plastic bangles for my niece. A cheap wooden pattern tray my mom could use for playing with quilting patterns. Um, a Christmassy tin for somebody, and an extra frame for another family picture, and maybe frames for baby photos for the grandparents, and...

I was feeling some pressure because I hardly get any time to get anything done these days, and I have more plans than time. If I find something that works, I need to seize upon it. And the small cookie tins are my justification for sending cookies if indeed I am able to make cookies this year.

I flew past boxes of colorful ornaments, fake grapes, big box art kits, scrap booking supplies, paint-it-yourself molded plaster ornaments. But more stuff called to me. A scrapbook. Another stocking. A book of origami projects with included paper that my sister would just love, I'm sure of it!

Luckily, I ran across a couple of shoppers debating whether to get some tchotchke or other.

Oh, that's cuuute. one of them said.

Who are you getting it for? asked the other.

I don't know yet.

Well then why are getting it?! Why get it at all?

But look how cute it is.

Who are you getting it for? more insistently.

...And they repeated almost the exact same conversation a second time.

I giggled in recognition. It was like listening to a little devil and a little angel sitting on my shoulders while I was shopping. "Do you really need that?" "But it's cute!"

I also am tempted to buy things that would be perfect for "somebody" or "sometime." Sometimes it's hard to find exactly what I want. Sometimes it's hard to decide exactly what I want! Sometimes I grab at something as gift insurance in case I can't find anything better. Sometimes I get exasperated by my gift panic that induces impulse buys. I really appreciated reading Sweet n Salty's take on that.

I probably could use a "shopping conscience."
Who are you getting that for?
Do you really need that?
Put that back!

I convened by the stockings to reassess my basket. I kept the tins, the picture frames and my favorite stocking. I put back most of the rest, including the plastic, then went on my merry way to the cashiers. Quality over quantity. Oh, I wish it so.

Less plastic, more heart. I'm making mostly pizelles for Christmas this year. If the stars and schedules align.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kathryn Quotes

"Hell doesn't want you and heaven is full."

Who said that? It doesn't matter; it's an elegant expression, isn't it?

I used to work with someone named Kathryn. I still know her, and even run into her sometimes while out and about. She's an artist and a collector of quotes that she uses in her work. I'm always fascinated to search for the snippets of text that show up, and I often find myself writing down the quotes I see.

The quotes are often shards of poetry or song lyrics or artist philosophies. I see things from Mingus and Balthus.

Where are you now, Balthus, now that I need you?

let the music and the madness get to you/life ain't so bad at all (m jackson)

Very frequently, they are little notes to herself. I've seen her process, and the little notes wend their way in from the beginning. Even when she is brutally honest with herself, it all goes into the art.

I could have done a lot of things in my better days.

Do what's good for you or you're not good for anybody.

They are sometimes obscure, or vaguely profound, often both at once! I may not really understand them or agree with them, but I feel as though if I thought about it hard enough that I'd find some kernel of truth. And they are irresistible. They are neat little packages of phrase. I search them out like rare truffles at the base of trees. They are plaintive, defiant, joyous, thoughtful, encouraging, cadjoling, flavourful. Like poetry, they resonate just beyond the edge of meaning.

Once I started collecting quotes, I started finding others that fit into the same limbo. "Kathryn quotes" has become a shorthand for a certain kind of pithy, quirky quote.

There's no such thing as nothing, not at all. / It may be really very, very small / But it's still there. In fact I think I'd guess / That "no" does not exist. There's only "yes".

Do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do.
(This comes from Denzel Washington.)

Recently, I fund this one:
We are, all of us, storytellers. We choose what we hear, and see, and believe. In a void of answers we settle into a tale that best suits what we need. -Sweet&Salty

And what I need, apparently, is little dashes of poetic philosophy and humor to shake up my brain a little. What that says about me, I don't know.

What was it that Pierre Trudeau said? Oh yes: "I've been called worse things by better people." Surely that must make some sense.

life ain't so bad at all, at all

O man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you. - Saint Augustine