I keep a running “to do” list. Most everything on it gets crossed off in a (fairly) timely fashion. The ones that don’t tend to be those that (1) can’t be accomplished in one sitting, and/or (2) are, for one reason or another, scary.
A handful of projects (again, for one reason or another) keep slipping to the bottom of the list and not getting done.
Writing things down, like on a list, usually helps. When it doesn’t, the next step is to let someone else know about it. I’m figuring that putting it all out there on my blog qualifies as letting someone else know about it. This helps especially with the scary stuff. (Not all of this stuff is scary. Some of it is.)
So here’s the list, arranged in order of increasing level of complexity and/or scariness.
Switch Winter Clothes for Summer
The temperature just went almost overnight from mid-spring to early summer. Time to get the shorts and tank tops and long cool dresses out of their boxes, and put away most of the long pants, turtlenecks, flannel shirts, and sweaters. (Full disclosure: This does not belong on the list at all. It is the kind of tedious but essential activity I use to avoid doing the scary, long-term stuff.)
Finish Minutes for MV Democrats May Meeting
I’m the secretary of the Democratic Council of Martha’s Vineyard (MV Dems), so this is my job. It always gets done, usually at the last minute: just before the agenda for the next meeting goes out, with minutes attached. Our last two meetings have been via Zoom, so instead of taking minutes during the meeting I take them from the recording of the meeting. Everything I write tends to go long, including my minutes (“soon to be a major motion picture” I say, half apologetically), but this makes them longer. Instead of jotting down phrases from what’s being said, I can transcribe whole sentences. So I do.
Create Facebook Group for West Tisbury DTC
DTC = Democratic Town Committee. Each of the six island towns has one, and I just got chosen chair of West Tisbury’s. The MV Dems do the heavy Democratic lifting on the Vineyard, but the DTCs have the essential role of choosing delegates to the annual state Democratic convention (which was scheduled for tomorrow but won’t be held tomorrow because of, you guessed it, COVID-19). I’d like to make the Dems more visible in town and a Facebook group is an easy way to help with that, but I haven’t gotten around to it because (1) a week or so ago I emailed the previous chair for a copy of the bylaws but haven’t heard back, and (2) I’m not happy with my options for cover photo. Both of these “reasons” are bogus. I don’t need the bylaws to create a FB group, and whichever photo I choose can be replaced when a better one shows up. Just frigging do it, Susanna.
File Tax Returns
I used to do my own returns every year. I always left it to the last minute. Finally I hired someone to do it. Wow. I could actually enjoy February and March without obsessing about April 15. Then this person got a full-time job and cut way back on tax preparation. By then I was hooked on having someone else do it. I tried H&R Block for two years, wasn’t happy with either the results or the cost, and so had an appointment on March 30 to see someone a friend recommended. Which of course got cancelled. Filing deadlines, both state and federal, have been moved up to July 15, but somehow my goddamn taxes have got to get done. Ugh.
Turn “Mud of the Place” into an Ebook
This project has been hanging fire for three effing years. I was up to the brink, had cleaned corrected errors from the print version, secured an ISBN, and even written a short preface to the ebook edition — then was told that conversion would wipe out all the formatting done with Word’s Styles feature, which I’d used to format the ms. I could not face the idea of going through the whole thing again and coding all the italics and boldface so they could be restored after conversion. This was all happening in the spring of 2017; that is to say, in the wake of the 2016 election, when everything changed and I was getting more heavily involved in politics. But there was, and is, more to it than that, and deep down I still want to turn Mud into an ebook.
Start T-Shirt Blog
File this under “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” My T-shirt collection has been out of control for a very long time. I keep saying “No more!” but they keep coming. I haven’t tallied them lately, but there must be close to 200 of them in two big boxes in my closet. I am clearly powerless over T-shirts.
The upside is that my life since 1976 could be chronicled in T-shirts. 1976 is represented by a blue T from the 1976 Folklife Festival and three from the Campaign to Ratify the Massachusetts ERA, for which I volunteered. 2020 brought two from Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. In between we’ve got feminism, the women’s community, bookstores and bookselling, horses, dogs, theater, Wintertide Coffeehouse, the Martha’s Vineyard Times, assorted local issues, and lots of politics. My idea is to use selected T-shirts to trigger memories in a fairly light-hearted blog. Writing has not been fun lately, and I think this could be fun — fun enough to make me want to stick with it.
Learn How to Teach Writing
This is the scariest of all. It’s so scary I don’t even know what to call it. Here’s the situation: After decades of living in spaces that were temporary and/or just big enough for me and a dog, I may have access to a nice space that’s big enough to hold writing groups or workshops or small classes in. I’ve learned a lot about both writing and editing over the years. I draw on it when I edit, especially when I work one on one with writers, and in all the informal sharing I’ve been doing online for more than 20 years. I’ve been telling myself for years that I’d really like to get more systematic about it, run workshops or teach classes, but the lack of space nipped those fantasies in the bud.
So now a possible space has appeared, and what’s my reaction? Panic. I’ve never taken a writing class — how could I possibly teach one? If you think this is a ridiculous objection, you’re not alone: I do too. I could start with workshops, maybe around particular topics, and move toward an ongoing group . . . ? Yeah, I could. The operative word is “start,” as in start deciding what I want to do and how to go about it and remember to leave room for the wildcard.
OK, I feel better already. Maybe the most important advice anyone ever gave me about confronting big projects is to “chunk it down” — break it into steps and then take the first step. It usually works. Stuff gets done. We’ll see.
Yes, yes, yes! on the writing class… I think the best teachers don’t know “how” to teach…they know how to ask questions — specifically, “what questions did I have myself?” and are able to remain much more fluid as a result. Do it! I can’t think of a better, more qualified candidate!
Thank you! So far I am managing to take my own good advice: taking a step each day toward my biggest, scariest projects. Asking questions is key. If I have a theory about writing it’s that “your writing will teach you what you need to know,” and the (I hope) obvious corollary: “This means you have to keep writing.” I think that’s where I’ll start. 🙂