Writer’s Deadlines Part IV: Lists Not Only Allow Us to Foretell the Future But Track Our Progress From Past to Present

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By Your Salonniere

Lists, we can drown ourselves with well-intentioned lists. Some of us may get carried away enough to make lists out of lists, where each item slowly becomes a link to a never ending chain that may shackle us.  Lists can stifle spontaneity and keep us from living in the present.

The benefit of lists though is that they make the process as transparent as possible, and transparency often serves like the spool of thread Ariadne urged Theseus to take with him as he wound his way through the labyrinth. Lists allow us not only to foretell the future but track our progress from past to present. For many of us, lists are the rungs on a ladder that help us pull ourselves out of the swamps of daydreams or mental malaise.

In a New York Times article, “A New Gauge to See What’s Beyond Happiness” John Tierney covers the work of Martin Seligman, who writes on the malaise that all of us find ourselves mucking through regularly:

To avoid that sort of malaise, Dr. Seligman recommends looking at the basic elements of well-being, identifying which ones matter most to you, setting goals and monitoring progress. Simply keeping track of how much time you spend time each daily pursuing each goal can make a difference, he says, because it’s easy to see discrepancies between your goals and what you do.

You might also start to question some of your goals and activities, the way that Dr. Seligman occasionally wonders why he spends so much time playing bridge. It’s brought him some clear achievements — including a second-place finish in the North American pairs championship — but he doesn’t pretend that bridge provides any meaning in life. He says he plays for another element of well-being, the feeling of engagement. “I go into flow playing bridge,” he writes, “but after a long tournament, when I look in the mirror, I worry that I am merely fidgeting until I die.”

The most empowering element of lists is they show us we always have choices. Lists demonstrate that we can prioritize how we want to live our life and how we want to spend most of our time. In the Career Advice Column from Inside Higher Education Chronicle, June 28, 2010, Kerry Ann Rockquemore advises support for summer writers who finally have some open space and time to finish their literary pursuits:

Error 5: The tasks you have set out are too complex. Take a piece of paper and pencil and map out whatever it is you need to do. When I feel overwhelmed by a big task, I write the big-overwhelming-thing on the right side of the paper and a stick figure (me) on the left side. Then I work my way backwards from the overwhelming thing to myself by asking: What are the steps that need to be accomplished to complete this? I keep breaking it down into smaller and smaller steps until I’ve reached the tasks I can do today. It will also help you to uncover if there are aspects of a project that you don’t know how to do, so you can pinpoint areas where you will need to seek assistance.

Error 6: You can’t remember what you have to do. Make a list. Get all of the things you need to do out of your head and onto a piece of paper in one place. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, electronic, or synced with some gadget or gizmo. A note card, post-it note, or your paper planner will do fine to capture all of your to-do tasks. Start the week with a 30 minute planning meeting where you determine what needs to be done for the week and place each of those items in a specific time block in your calendar. If they don’t all fit (and they won’t), then figure it out how to delegate, delete, or renegotiate the deadlines on the least important items.

The bottom line is do it now, or it will never get done, and the best way to tackle our projects is to break them up into bite-sized tasks, which is exactly what lists do for us. They show us the itty-bitty, step-by-step climb that we assign ourselves. That climb is steep, but its not as if it hasn’t been trekked before, and those who achieve simply put one foot in front of the other, moving inch by inch. Lists shouldn’t be reserved just for New Year’s Eve Resolutions, but we should revisit where we are, reflect on where we’ve been, and revel in where we want to go next with each turn of the season and every milestone met.

Do you have any surefire strategies of using lists to get your writerly tasks accomplished? Let us know what ways and means work best for you.

New Additions to the Literary Lexicon

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Automatism B by Robert Motherwell from Yale Digital Commons

automatic writing- the act of writing through trance when the writer serves as medium for otherworldly spirits. William Butler Yeats’ wife, George Hyde Lees claimed to be possessed by automatic writing. Also defined in The Guardian’s “John Gray on humanity’s quest for immortality” published January 8, 2011, where Gray defines automatic writing as “texts produced without conscious awareness in which another mind seems to be guiding the pen, which became a vehicle for unresolved personal loss and secret love.”

bricoleur and bricolage – from French meaning fiddler or tinkler, often referring to visual arts; to construct from various items and resources available at hand. Claude Leví-Strauss made this idea popular in cultural criticism and Miguel Syjuco described his writing process for Ilustrado as a bricolage, which would make him a bricoleur, meaning one who practices the art of bricolage.

concord fictions - a term coined by critic Frank Kermode, in his The Sense of an Ending, 1967, and explained by Wolfgang Iser in his “The Significance of Fictionalizing” in Anthropoetics III no. 2 (Fall 1997/Winter 1998) published by UC Irvine: “This is the point at which literary fictions diverge from the fictions of our ordinary world. The latter are assumptions, hypotheses, presuppositions and, more often than not, the basis of world views, and may be said to complement reality. Frank Kermode calls them “concord fictions”(13) because they close off something which by its very nature is open.”

docu-fiction – the filmic relative to literary journalism, this is a neologism referring to the cinematographic mix of documentary and fiction.

negative education- from Virginia Woolf’s essay “Two Women” in Moments of Being and Other Essays: “that which decrees not what you may do but what you may not do, that cramped and stifled.” In reference to Miss Emily Davies and Lady Stephens, Woolf writes of them, ‘Do they go to school? No. Do they have governesses at home? No. They have lessons and get on as they can.’ But if their positive education had stopped at a little Latin, a little history, a little housework, it would not so much have mattered”

Embrace the Robot: Making the Technology Work for You

Prometheus brought us fire and paid for it. Arguably, he was one of the first techno geeks, and, like him we all pay a price for progress, but I’m pretty sure if Prometheus had to choose between his innards plucked out of him for eternity or staying at home twiddling his thumbs in the dark, my guess would be he’d do it all over again.

So we steal fire everyday, whether we text our family, switch on our Kindle, or sit down for another round of Dr. Who on the telly. Sure, we’ll hem and haw about how these gadgets corrode our culture–whatever that is–or stunt intellectual growth, but technology is here to stay, so we might as well embrace the robot and use these tools to our advantage.

Aside from the traditional modes of technology, such as Twitter and Facebook, here are some of the latest advancements writers would be wise to nab for their own work and pleasure:

For Tooting Your Horn

  • Foursquare- a collaborative website that lets users check into places and explore their cities. Excellent for drumming up publicity on special events or drawing attention to literary venues such as independent bookstores and libraries, assuming they’re still open.
  • Instagram-touch up photos and share them instantly. Great for event sharing or banging the drum for visual publicity.
  • WordPress and Blogger- Miraculously easy to use blogs. They work like a dream with some sophisticated templates that are easy on the eye and pocket. Most are free, but you can always upgrade–its a god-given right.

For Reading

  • Bibliotastic- self-described on their website, “free e-books, free to publish, free to download.”
  • Readability – readers can strip bare web articles and free digital text from photos and ads. Power to the readers! *Though there is a small fee for use of this.
  • Web Scribbler- Remember how your composition teacher tasked you to highlight and annotate your textbooks? This little number allows users to literally write on their chosen websites. More power to readers!
  • InstaPaper- Like Google Reader, this site allows you to bookmark other sites and articles you want to read for later.
  • The New York Times recently covered some of these reader apps in their article “Apps Alter Reading on the Web” by Jenna Wortham published on January 31, 2011: “A wave of applications, including Pulse, Flipboard and My Taptu, are responding to changes in how people prefer to read on the Web, putting articles and blog posts into cleaner or more attractive visual displays. “
  • Push Pop Press- Coming out with sizzling hot new interactive text from Al Gore, Our Choice, this new publishing press is smoking.

For Writing

  • Scrivener- Onto the good stuff now, and we mean really, good. Scrivener is a writer’s dream, organizing everything and almost anything you can think of into a comprehensive binder for any project. You pay a one-time well worth it fee of $45, and you will be converted to a new found and empowering digital faith.
  • Leechblock- When will power isn’t enough, you can turn to Leechblock, an add-on from Firefox, which cuts off your access to any given website for certain periods at a time, so you don’t feel compelled to shop online or check your frenemies’ status updates on Facebook when you really should be revising your third draft.
  • Freedom – For the shamelessly weak, this one prohibits any and all use of the Internet. No Pandora, no using the excuse of researching Wikipedia for that tidbit of info. Purely distraction free to really and truly finish revising that third draft, so get to work!

For becoming a social entrepreneur

  • Kickstarter- “a funding platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors, explorers…”
  • RocketHub- Like Kickstarter, this site serves as your “creative launchpad.” They’re motto: “Welcome to the crowdfunding revolution.”

These are just a few of the latest ways to write, read, and connect virtually. We’ve just pushed off into the digital frontier, and our exploring has only begun. Share some of your own tech savvy ways. What are you favorite apps, sites, and software to rev your literary and artistic engines? We’d love to hear from you.

Music Review: Kate Bush’s “Director’s Cut”

Kate Bush, looking positively mad, reworks her classic songs for "Director's Cut."

by Rio Liang

I will resort to desperate means to get an early hold of anything by Kate Bush. Thankfully, NPR has precluded any brash relocations to the UK or any (god forbid) illegal downloading on my part by posting online the entirety of “Director’s Cut” (which is set to be released on American shores on May 23, a full week after its UK release). After listening numerous times already to the album’s eleven reworked tracks from “The Sensual World” and “The Red Shoes,” half of me is awash in elation over hearing Kate’s beautifully mad voice for the first time since her glistening two-disc masterpiece from 2005, “Aerial” (her 2008 theme song for “The Golden Compass” soundtrack, “Lyra,” just doesn’t count for me), while the other half is left wondering what the hell she’s done to most of the songs. Initial bafflements however are part-and-parcel with Kate Bush–she is an artist who fares supremely well on repeated listenings. (Case in point:  It took me several playthroughs to “get” “The Dreaming” and “Hounds of Love,” both now required listening in my household).

“Director’s Cut” supplies certain felicities, including that of the title track from “The Sensual World,” now retitled “Flower of the Mountain.” It’s a curious marvel, listening to the song as Bush had originally intended it, with snippets of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s “Ulysses” now in place of Bush’s (in hindsight still brilliant) alternate lyrics. But as successful and welcome as some of the album’s reconstructions are, some songs have come out of the reworking process as if they’ve undergone rather extreme cosmetic surgery with only jarringly passing resemblances to their former selves. “Rubberband Girl” in particular now sounds like it’s been sung underwater. “Deeper Understanding” has been “updated” with a distractingly autotuned chorus sung by Bush’s twelve-year-old, now lacking the relative cleanness of message and glorious warbling of the Trio Bulgarka of the original.

Kate Bush

The almost-screaming intensity of many of her tracks, especially from “The Red Shoes,” come across here as diluted. Bush’s voice has of course aged and grown deeper–not something to be faulted per se; in fact, the new depths of her voice had added a certain poignancy to her last album, “Aerial.” But “Aerial” was new material at the time with no particular calls for comparison to her older works. The last time she had re-recorded one of her classics, “Wuthering Heights” (for her greatest hits album, “The Whole Story”) it had unfortunately thrown a spotlight on the smoking-induced degradation of her voice. With her current album, which by its nature begs comparison with the originals, there’s very evidently no more coming in hurricanes, as it were, from Kate. “Director’s Cut” skirts the highs of songs like “Song of Solomon,” their absence glaring. But one thing you learn through hearing this album is that Bush has accepted her voice, bafflingly but rather admirably throwing her cares about her voice to the air. (That’s not to say Bush doesn’t at times soar, as she still does in, for example, “Top of the City,” one of the particularly higher-pitched tracks I had raised an eyebrow to upon learning of its inclusion in this album).

On the other hand, some songs have benefited from some toning down. For example, the original “Moments of Pleasure” now seems in hindsight too much with its former string arrangement. I do love the height she gains in the original when she comes across the line “Just being alive / It can really hurt.” But in the “Director’s Cut” version, which is stripped bare to just piano and voice, that once loud chorus is now replaced by the plaintive hum of a choir, providing something more subtly beautiful. What was once a big, big moment is now a small and somewhat ruminative moment of pause. The same applies to “This Woman’s Work,” which now is imbued with so much more haunting grace. There’s a better fitting sadness to it now more akin to “A Coral Room” from “Aerial.”

Fish people and Kate in knight's armor...what's unusual about that?

Jokes about piracy aside, Kate Bush’s “Director’s Cut” is a must-have for die-hard fans, and I intend to buy it, and not digitally either. There’s something about the presentation of the physical album that I’m sure will supplement and enhance the listening experience, just as it had for the sonically novelistic “A Sky of Honey” side of “Aerial,” whose liner notes provided some context to the narrative progression of the songs as a whole. But ultimately as much as I admire anything Kate Bush creates, I prefer her artistry when it’s forward-moving, devoted to newer works than returning to older ones. (If left to keep revising her older works, who knows what she’ll redo next; a reworking of “The Line, The Cross, and The Curve?”). In the meantime, “Director’s Cut” serves as a nice stopgap (for which I am still humbly grateful) till her next album of new songs. Kate, please keep it coming.

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