What do Big Rocks Look Like?

There’s an old story in the productivity world, about a professor with a jar and rocks and gravel and sand, and the punch line is that if you don’t put the big rocks into the jar first, there won’t be room for them later, after you add the sand and gravel.

Easy to say; we’ve all heard it.

But what do the Big Rocks look like, especially when you don’t really know what they are? “Set your goals for the quarter,” they say. “Figure out what you want to have accomplished.” Sigh. I’ve been flailing around with this for most of my life. I get by, enough, and I get stuff done, enough, and I have a body of art work and a boatload of websites and two published books to my name.

And yet, the question of Big Rocks nags. And more, why is it so hard to put the Big Rocks in first? Right now, in my life, it’s because I don’t know what they look like. I’m not sure exactly what they are. I have clues:

  • Need income, and that income ideally takes the shape of selling art rather than providing in-person services to people
  • Tons of art ideas to make, few of which will sell at a profitable dollar-per-work-hour rate
  • Know how to create an e-store, and to make products to sell. I have not found products that will sell, yet.
  • Good enough at social media, writing, and photography.
  • Have a need drive faith calling to help people solve a certain set of problems and figure out how to get on their own useful path
  • Know a lot about the limits of helping other people
  • Want a business like some of the motivational product companies, only one that’s true to my insight. I don’t know where to start.
  • Know a lot about the processes of making art and creativity
  • Have a certain amount of faith that where ever I am at this moment is just fine, and I can’t be anywhere else. I actually believe that Hell is wanting to be some place else. Try that on.

Anne Lamott said, in one or another of her books, “the more amorphous tasks–the ones that are not so crucial right at this moment but will ultimately shape your life into something worth remembering–those are harder to face.” (I think this is AL; it sounds like her; let me know if it’s not.)

What do you do when you don’t know what it is you are supposed to be doing?

  • List books that try to help. (Would do this, but you have them, you’ve read them, and you can find them on abe.com yourself.  Or read some of my reviews.)
  • List of exercises that I could do, if I actually did exercises rather than read about them. You’ve read those same books yourself. If self help exercises worked, there would be no shelf of self-help in the library, or in the bookstores.

People who appear to be doing, or did, work that I think is similar to what I want to do:

  • Laurel Burch
  • Jessica Nagy
  • Brian Andreas
  • Thomas Kinkaid, till it went south
  • Hugh McLeod
  • Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Austen Kleon
  • Anne Lamott, except she writes >> paint

I know a creator needs six things in order to create:

  1. An idea
  2. Skill
  3. Systems
  4. Materials
  5. A place to work
  6. An understanding of what “work” means and looks like*

The work feeds itself.  Sometimes you start with the big idea, and sometimes you start at the bottom and the big idea grows out of that. *This last one is huge, and constitutes a lot of what I write about on this site.

My big rocks for 2017 are The Illustrated I Ching, and the Inspirations business that doesn’t have a name yet. As I type even that, I see part of the problem: it needs a name.

To Roget:


  • Genius 466.8
  • Bright idea 478.9
  • Creative thought 533.2
  • Motivation 646.9
  • Encouragement 891.9

Consider also Usefulness.  Nothing.

Roget’s a wash.

But then I … look at a card taped above my desk, “I was hoping you would answer,” that was a comment received on a Quora answer last summer. Someone needed what I have to say. Boom. Done. Bought the URL. And from that, I know what to do next. I need 20 hours a week on these two projects, combined, and everything else will take care of itself. I’ve done this before; I know it works for me. Find a time tracker. Go.

(Honestly, this part of my business planning took shape just as fast as I could write this post.  However, I have been working in this arena since the beginning of the year, pretty much, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the year.  Inspirations happen, and seeds grow better in prepared fields.  This field had been prepared.)

Levels of planning 

I wrote the post about big rocks and 30,000 foot views yesterday. This morning, I started thinking about what specifically happens at each of these levels. I thought there was a blog post in it, so I made a sketch of the collage of pictures that were attached to the post, and let myself think. What happens in each of these levels?

what type of thinking happens at different levels of planning

Thinking about what happens at the different levels of planning from yesterday’s blog post

At the very highest level, Blue Sky Thinking, is the name of the business, the understanding that if I simply put in 20 hours a week it will all work out. This may not work for some people, but I do know through past experience it works for me. My brain will figure it out.

There’s not much difference between the top image and the one below with more fluffy clouds; just a little bit more detail. This is where looking at what other people do helps me figure out what I need to be doing. How do they work?

When you get low enough to realize there’s a river coming up, it’s time to think about the specifics: what are the tangible, real-world challenges I’m going to have to solve sometime between now and having an income producing company. I already understand intellectual property and copyrights, for the most part. I’ll need a website. Already bought the URLs. What do I need to solve for?

Deep in the clouds, I need to trust my instruments. I need to have a pretty good idea of what I need to know, what I need to do, so that when I can’t see what’s ahead, I can be making progress.

When I first posted the picture of the plane sitting at the gate, I thought it was similar to flying on instruments, but this morning I realize that it’s actually more about going over checklists. Everybody connected with that flight professionally is reviewing checklists to make sure everything is okay. The pilots, the ground crew, the flight attendants: they’re all doing prep work, getting ready, getting things in place.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing.  Inaccessible.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing. Inaccessible.

For me, the equivalent is creating space for my look for my art, creating systems, documenting systems as best as possible, and thinking about how to create when I need to create reliably, and repeatedly. I need to set up better access to raw materials. I already know to work in series. With series, come checklists. I have most mine in my head, and they need to be documented.

I need to write a post about Doctorow’s statement that you can get to California from New York City with no more vision than you can see in the distance illuminated by your headlights. I have to straighten that stash out. It always looks different in the dark, but if you kind of know where you’re going. It doesn’t matter,. You can still make progress.

Finally, on the ground, in the fog, it can be pretty hard to know what to do when everything’s confusing and nothing makes sense. At this stage, doing nothing might be doing something. Meditation is usually good for me. I can also fall back on simple tasks like the Fly Lady’s 27 fling Boogie, when I clean something up. Vacuum, rake, mow the grass, do something. With a pretty good understanding of where I’m going, there’s usually something to be done in my life.

On a Clear Day

I live between two rivers, not far from two substantial lakes, one of which cools a nuclear power plant. As a result, we get fog. Not fog like San Francisco, but reliable fog in the morning when the seasons are changing and air, land, and water may have substantially different temperatures.

Today was a foggy morning. For a while, I couldn’t see the church steeple at all.

There's blue sky in the upper left, but I can't see the steeple.

There’s blue sky in the upper left, but I can’t see the steeple.

I know there’s blue sky above me. As the morning shifted, I could even see patches of blue above the church. But I still couldn’t see the steeple.

There are times, especially in the evening, when this familiar landscape looks completely different.

Time of day matters. Fog at night can distort a vision.

Time of day matters. Fog at night can distort a vision.

Given I am writing a series of posts about planning, the metaphor hit me like the bricks we make in this town.

What is my planning elevation? What is my planning point of view?

David Allen talks about the 10, 20, 30, and 50,000′ points of view; of taking a look at your life from different perspectives to see where you are going. It can be hard to know which one you’re at.

This morning, on the ground, I could barely see 100 yards ahead. I could, possibly, get up to 100′ and have a better idea of what was going on, but I still wouldn’t know anything about what’s happening at ground level because we are socked in. It’s hard to “do the next right thing,” and it can even be difficult to “do the next thing,” so I can only “do something.”

There are days when it’s perfectly clear on the ground, and I can’t see 300′ above. These are “do the next thing” days.

Clear vision on the ground, and socked in above.

Clear vision on the ground, and socked in above.

There are days when getting up to 10,000 feet only helps a little, because the path is completely obscured at that level, only for different reasons. Back to “do something,” or “do the next thing,” if I can manage that much clarity.

10,000 feet and visibility is even more limited, sometimes.

10,000 feet and visibility is even more limited, sometimes.

Sometimes, I can be at cruising altitude and know pretty much what track I’m on, but actual activity happens on the ground, and knowing the route at 30,000 feet tells me absolutely nothing at all about what to do next, today. 30,000′ views help me to distinguish between important and urgent and offer some general idea about what direction the “next right-ish thing” might want to take.

Cruising altitude, clear skies, and no information about ground level activity.

Cruising altitude, clear skies, and no information about ground level activity.

Sometimes, the 30,000′ view gives me some idea of what major challenges might be coming my way.

From here, you can see there is a river to cross.

I’m going to tie this to a separate post about calendar formats, and how I need to work with different views of the future to have a better idea of how to use the time and energy I have today.

Next right answer: if the view is obscured at my current level and I don’t know what to do, move up or down one and see what I can see from there.


For Pinterest:

Planning points of view.

Planning points of view.


Organizing my websites

I run four websites for my own business activities:

  • Red Tuxedo, where I talk about productivity and being useful in social media
  • Rugs from Rags, where I write about making textile art
  • Karen Tiede Studio, where I sell my Textile Art
  • Karen Tiede.com, where I write about all the other artsy things I do for love and fun including hula hooping

It’s a handful.

January turned out to be a month of clearing and decluttering and getting rid of stuff and putting stuff in places I could find it in a pinch. This mostly happened in my real life. I’m not done, but I have hauled a lot of stuff to the swap shed and the recycle bins.

February is turning out to be a time of cleaning out my electronic life. My digital records. I started my going through my pictures folder, where I have over 14 gig of images, many of which are duplicates or junk or not needed. I know digital storage is cheap, but my backup system only takes 125 gigs and I have exceeded it a couple of times already. It’s worth a little bit of TV time to cull pictures and reduce that total size if I can.

I found myself creating two and three blog post day the sites I routinely manage. I’ve learned how to dictate blog post from my phone, and upload pictures directly from my phone, and it’s all very fun and easy.

What it’s not, however, is “clear.” I don’t know where stuff goes. I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know where to put it. And I do believe that “if you can’t find it, you don’t own it,” and if I can’t find an article on a website, neither can you. All this content is not driving any business my way if nobody can find it.  Even worse, none of this content can drive traffic until it is published, and I had nearly 100 posts sitting in draft status at the beginning of last week, over 8 years of managing websites.

It became obvious it was time to align my websites, so that I could tell reliably where stuff went, so I knew how to categorize blog posts and where to put them, and so I knew what I had.

Three years ago, I moved my websites from one host to another, and it was a royal muck-up. Pretty much all the content got duplicated against three different sites. I  wrestled the bigger pieces apart, but the older blog posts wound up everywhere.

The first step in organizing was to cross-check each of the sites against the other, and make sure blog posts lived on the site where they belong, and not on any others. This was fairly simple. I displayed both two sites’ post listings side-by-side, checking titles and deleting duplicate posts from the site where they did not belong. This resulted in the loss of roughly 50 posts on each site. Progress.

Then it was time to make sure each of the posts was listed in the correct categories. This turned out to be much more challenging.

I have, from time to time, turn to the Dewey Decimal System as an organizing principle. It’s academic, I agree, I understand, and that’s me. Deal with it. It is also widely understood and followed, and reliable.

I have a paper (book) guide to the Dewey Decimal System, which goes to the two-digit decimals. It is about an inch and a half thick. A guide that goes to three decimal places is approximately 6 feet long. Google will not give me helpful results in asking about what category a particular idea belongs in. Google just sends me to Dewey Decimal references. I think there ought to be a better way, but I can’t find it. Therefore I have to trust my book and its index. This may be a bit of a force fit; yet I’m able to be consistent.

Revising blog category listings to be consistent.

Revising blog category listings to be consistent.

I had to start with the major categories. Mostly, I write about technology, and Fine Arts, although there is a little bit about ideas, so I cover the 000, the 600s, and the 700s. I use those as my major headings and then used second headings for the subcategories.

On KarenTiede.com I write about home ec. I used to write about sewing on that website before I moved Textile Art to Rugs From Rags, so I left those posts there. That they have huge numbers of links. (Today, I would put those posts on rugs from Rags, but I don’t want to move them.)

On Rugs From Rags, pretty much all the post fall under Fine Arts, specifically 746 textiles. There’s a little bit of marketing.

Red Tuxedo turns out to more challenging, because it’s mostly about business and social media. My edition of the Dewey Decimal guidelines doesn’t even have Facebook in the index. It was written long before the internet. I may have to go to the library and walk around the nonfiction section slowly, looking for Dewey Decimal numbers to know where to put stuff.

I am an amateur taxonomist. I enjoy walking around a large store, imagining the taxonomy behind product display.  Taxonomy is why you can walk into the grocery store and pretty much figure out where things are going to be. Websites ought to be the same way. I think it would be helpful if websites could send you clearly to articles you might be interested in.

For today, applying the Dewey Decimal System to my own content is going to have to do. It forces me to think about what do I write about, and where does it go, and how is any one of these posts related to any other.

I want all the days 

My new year-view planner arrived yesterday and spent the day rolled out on the floor being flattened. Before I went outside to exercise this morning, I pinned it to the door across from my desk, so it would be there when I came back into write.

Now, I’m sitting at my desk, with the calendar in front of me when I look up, and I’m feeling a discomforting yearning.
I want all the days.

Year View planner from Best Self.

Year View planner from Best Self.

I want all the days to be wide-open, unstructured, with the freedom to make art, or write, as much as I want, and I want it to be like this all year. Most of the time, I don’t experience this feeling as acutely as I am experiencing it right now. Most of the time, I don’t look at an entire year at one glance.

Perhaps this is why I have not done a lot of full-year planning before.

A friend of mine says, “you can’t drive all the cars on the highway,” when he talks about road rage. I can’t have “all the days,” not all at once, not all rolled into one.

All I have is today. Even less than that, all I have is this exact moment, 8 a.m., dim light, probably going to be a sunny day but not sure about that yet. That’s why I didn’t edit the photo to make it look any brighter. This is exactly what it looks like right now, at this moment, from my desk.

I think I need to look ahead more than I have been doing. I certainly can’t defend my previous planning exercises based on the results. I believe I am more useful to myself and to my art if I have some moderately clear idea of what I would like to have accomplished within a certain period of time. Certainly, it would be useful to look ahead, and know where my big obligations are coming, so that I can be more ready ahead.

And at the same time, I am not thrilled with this discomforting feeling of wanting to know how the whole year is going to be. Perhaps better planning, which in my case is any planning at all, might make it possible to have more days be the way I love them being: no makeup, no driving, no appointments, lots of art. Still, planning doesn’t solve for one day at a time, and living in the moment, and “hell is wanting to be somewhere else.”  I’m going to cut that header off the calendar.  There is no winning and losing; there is only today, right now.

Incidentally, I do not like the weekends being marked in bright yellow.  They could have been marked in a shade with much much less contrast.  Similarly, the black “day” boxes are illegible, and useless from here.  I can tell Monday; it’s the day after yellow.  Sigh.

I find myself wondering if this is more a planner or a tracker; time will tell how it turns out.



What now, part 2

What do I know today? Thoughts on the Women’s March

It was much bigger than I expected. Perhaps it was much bigger than anyone expected. Oceans of pink hats around the world, in cities everywhere. Why were Australian women marching to protest Trump? We are upset.

There is a lot of discontent, fear, anger, emotional energy everywhere. We are not happy.

The Trump inauguration did not appear to be a particularly happy event, although I leave that interpretation to other people. If people who support Trump are truly happy about the next four years, it will be interesting to see how their happiness translates into action.

The question for me, and for all of us in the pink hats, is, “how can I be effective now? What do I do next, what do I do now, how do I take this energy and do something in my real life, in the real world, to engage that energy to harness that energy and put it to work?”

I put up a post in Facebook about knitting hats for people. I was surprised about how many women took me up on it. I can be useful. People don’t have someone to knit a hat for them. I can do that.

First pussyhat in progress.

First pussyhat in progress.

On a larger level, I know that I know more about learning, and taking action over time, and making sustained change at a personal level, then many people do. I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time.

I dipped my toe in political action = campaign support this past the election, and my candidates lost their elections. That’s not my arena. I’ll continue to pull signs the day after the elections.  That’s where I can be useful. My friend suggest I take training for Emily’s List. I may, but traditional political action is not my thing. I’m not good at it, I don’t enjoy it, and there are other people who do it better than I do.

I believe we all need to stick to our long suits. I know how to learn, & I know how to stay in the game, and continue in the face of crushing lack of results. I know how minuscule incremental change can appear on a day to day level and how enormously powerful small changes can be when you turn around and look back and see how far you’ve come.

I need to be encouraging women to make these kinds of changes in their own life, and to learn how to find a way to integrate and implement incremental change day after day after day for the next 1460 days.

There’s a nasty, mean joke going around about the Women’s March: Trump got more fat women out walking then Michelle ever did. It’s painful, and its true, and what are we going to do about it? Why will we walk for anger more than health? How can I harness that energy and stay in action day after day after day?



Oh no, It’s one of THOSE things!

Wire file folder desktop rack.

Wire file folder desktop rack.

I’m cleaning off one of my desks. At the back of the desk, I found two wire racks.

“What is it?” I wondered. And then it hit me: this is one of those racks that supposed to hold file folders upright, at the back of your desk, so you can see them all.

Death on a stick. Look carefully: there’s another one of these racks, in smoke plastic, right behind the wire rack.

I bring these home, from the swap shed, from the thrift shop, & I think somehow, if I can see all the files I’m working on, I’ll be more on top of things.

Instead, what happens is that the racks get pushed to the back of the desk, or they get full of file folders that I never look at, and maybe they get dumped. They don’t serve their intended purpose, certainly, not in my house; not on my desk.

“Hi Ho, Hi Ho, to the metal bin we shall go,” just as soon as my local dump opens again after the ice storm shut down. That’s why I’m cleaning out today anyway–the ice storm. Can’t go anywhere else; might as well create some more space for myself.

One day, I will come to terms with my organizing style, and quit bringing these things home. That may or may not be now. Don’t make promises about what’s going to happen tomorrow, when I find the perfect matching set of desk accessories. For today this will go.



Process Mapping Software

I’ve been testing process mapping software this week.  Will write a larger post about the process and my decisions along the way later.  I like Creately; even the free version has everything I can think of wanting.  Final test:  how does the link translate in a blog post?

These links shared from a free account; expect I have to upgrade (which I will do) to remove the watermark.

Sharing link (renders the map in Facebook):
Creately map of posting flow

Embed code (fixed image size, here 600 x 400 px):

Will share this version to Twitter and Linkedin to see how the embed code appears on those platforms.

More tweaks: need to upload logos for the social platforms.

Twitter doesn’t display an image.

Screen shot of tweet with an embedded map from Creately.

Screen shot of tweet with an embedded map from Creately.

Less on the new Linkedin.

Testing auto-share of an embedded process map from Creately.  This, from Linkedin.

Testing auto-share of an embedded process map from Creately. This, from Linkedin.

So, if I want the image to share to the social platforms from WordPress, I need to upload a real image, not an embed code.


Year view planner

I’ve been cleaning out my studio; I found a 2004 calendar that I had saved for the pictures. At the back were two pages designed to show the full year, day by day.

2004 Year-view planner

I use a lot of outdated calendars as record books. They show up in the thrift shop stream. If all I need is the shape of the week, or the month, or the dates, I relabel the date-day information, and use the spaces for my purposes.

I tried marking the 2017 weekends in yellow highlighter, but the grey weekend markings of 2004 still showed up. I’m not completely sure I need to know when the weekends are for the purposes of this exercise.

I started making notes. My business would be different if I sent out a newsletter twice a month, so I marked that on the calendar.

The notes on the large yellow sticky, lower left, are about posting from my phone directly into WP, and from there onto social sites using the Jetpack Publicize tool. I have only recently started creating website content live, using pictures uploaded from my phone and dictating directly into WordPress. It’s easy for WordPress sites, but I don’t think I can do it for my Shopify store, yet. I need to look into that.

At this point, it was obvious I had a rough draft, rather than a finished plan, so I started making notes directly on the calendar as well as on stickies.

I don’t need to track individual posts on a year view planner, although I might track marketing activity, so that I meet my goal of running a paid ad every day.

I thought about creating 365 posts, distributed across the various websites I manage. I can do that in my sleep. I’m good at posts.

As I worked with the calendar, and thought about my business, and thought about what needs to happen, I had a nagging feeling that all I was doing was the planning equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Not to be too severe about it, but I do this already. I have great documentation of what I have done. Looking at my posts over a full year on one page, isn’t really any different than logging them on monthly calendars the way I have been doing for 3 years. Deep in my heart, I knew nothing would change. Deep in my wallet, I know a lot needs to change, quickly.

I also know that there is an entirely new product line waiting to be developed, and it has been waiting for either 20 years, or 6 months, or both, depending on how you look at it. I call it my greeting card line, although it is bigger than that. It’s about incorporating my answers on Quora, with my life philosophy, and perhaps a new body of work I am calling the Illustrated I Ching, and a lot of other new art. It needs to be created, developed, and marketed. It’s not getting done under the current system.

That thought first showed up on the purple sticky, and then I realized how important it was. I moved it to the page in blue Sharpie.

That seemed like a breakthrough, but after a moment’s reflection, I realized I still hadn’t figured out how I was going to get the new work done. Except I do know how to do that. I’ve done it before.

Three years ago, I faced a serious cardiac problem, one that didn’t have a great medical solution. Rather than going home to sit around and get sicker so that I qualified for a pacemaker, I changed my life, one day at a time. In the real world, that looked like showing up to daily exercise (one day off a month), changing my diet, giving up diet drinks, taking new supplements, and incorporating everything that showed up to have a healthier life (not repairing the riding lawn mower when it broke, for example, and instead, moving 1.5 acres with a push mower).

Art is no different. I am an Anne Lamont fan: her readers will recognize both “start with one bird,” (Pirsig fans will remember the same thought as “one brick”), and “write really shitty first drafts.”

In other words, Show. Up. To. The. Work.

I was done for the moment; I turned to email. I had to laugh. I had an offer from the good people at AppSumo, for a $15 large format full year planner for 2017 (special offer good through Jan 17), in exactly the same format. The calendar from Best Self (same calendar, purchased directly) uses a top and bottom layout to fit everything on the page. On one hand it shouldn’t matter, and on the other hand, it always does. I bought the planner and will cut it and glue it together so that I see the whole year at one level. The weekends will be correct for 2017.

Until it arrives, I will keep working on this draft version. I need to put time in my life for new work. It’s harder to schedule; it’s not clearly defined the way client work and teaching prep are. That’s the problem, and that’s why it needs to be planned into the year. If I don’t make the opportunity happen, it won’t, and it will be November and I’ll still be thinking about creating a greeting card line.

Stay tuned.

Vertical version of the image to use for Pinterest.

2004 Year View Planner.

2004 Year View Planner, rotated to make a better Pin.

Now What?

5 days into the new world order, and I am beginning to discern a path that might just lead me through this very dark and scary forest. It is possible that we may even be nearing the “end of the beginning,” although that is probably grossly optimistic. There are more shocks to come.

The idiots and mean people have revealed themselves, on both sides; the people screaming about blame, and pretty much anybody who thinks “they” are somehow different from “us,” and because “they did this,” “we” are justified in doing “that,” no matter who you think “they” and “us” are, and whatever “this” and “that” are.

The Buddhists from Lion’s Roar have shared their wisdom, and reminded me to return to the cushion, and pay attention to where my feet are. It feels like exercise isn’t working, and it feels like meditation isn’t working, but that’s a bit like saying sobriety isn’t working, just because I still feel crazy. Meditation is working. The noise between my ears could be worse.

I have found new Facebook groups of like-minded strangers to join. I have joined the corps of women wearing safety pins. I considered whether I could wear a safety pin every day for the next 4 years, and decided I could. And then some people tell me that wearing a safety pin isn’t good enough, and I should be doing something more, and I marvel at our need to tell other people how to live. Democrat firing squads stand in a circle.

I realized I needed to learn a little bit more about civil confrontation, and within 3 hours, Facebook came through with posts from Brexit about how to help people who are being harassed because of their minority status. It was exactly what I needed. I don’t like that I needed it, and yet I give a nod to the God of grace who sent that information to me.

My world is beginning to gel. We are crawling out of our bomb shelters, and sweeping off the stairs, and brushing the dust off each other’s shoulders. Look around, and see who is most vulnerable and most at risk in my circle. Look around, and set into motion decisions to cut ties with some other people. I don’t have the energy to be nice; I can only absorb so much meanness.

Last week, I was saying I just wanted this to be over. I was wrong. “Over” is worse, and it’s far from over. It’s going to get very very much worse before were done. I’m hoping that what we’re experiencing is an extinction burst – that flare-up of bad behavior that happens just as you are about to learn something new. However, an extinction burst for behavior that’s been going on for thousands of years isn’t going to end by January.

A couple weeks before election night, I found out some unsettling details about people I knew in real life. I know a lot of people who have challenging histories, and I like to think of myself as someone who can handle anything, and yet I’m having trouble understanding this particular story. I want to cut these people out of my life. I can’t find a path to understand or forgive the behavior, even though I know it is the consequence of drug addiction, and what they did is what drug addicts do.

Similarly, I don’t know how to understand the people in my world who created the situation through their votes, or through their nonvoting, or through their write-ins. I’ve known some of them for years, and I cannot believe that I completely missed the misogyny and racism and hatred that I logically believe they must harbor if they voted the way they did.*

Are they really happy the Klan is marching in Raleigh tonight?

As far as I can tell, they treat me like an equal to my face, but is the only reason they’re not groping me because I’m so big?

I don’t know about this stuff. Really don’t. I don’t know how to move forward knowing that some of the people I know want to build a wall, or think condoms don’t work, or think being gay can be educated away. I don’t know how I’m going to find a way to talk simply to someone who could not be bothered to vote. I don’t know how to think about it.

I don’t have to solve that one today. For the time being, I can fall back on manners and good behavior, and trust that I will find an answer.

I look around. One friend is planning a new project to teach kids in elementary school about the United Nations. My knitting groups are knitting for peace. I’m sure I’ll hear more in the days ahead.

A few weeks after 9/11, I talked to a journalist from the Wall Street Journal who was writing about how lives have changed as a result of the attack. At that time I knew I had to leave the corporate world and make more art. I did that. And now I know I need to take that art in a new direction.

I can support my friends in their projects. I can be helpful. I can talk about my experience this past week and create space for other people to acknowledge their experience, when their immediate circles are telling them to get over it, and to move on. No one can tell you to move on, although plenty of people do not know this.

What I cannot do is spend four years mired in anger and agitation, getting upset about each new outrage. There will be outrages every day. It’s this administration’s stock in trade. Keep us distracted from our work. Keep us too upset to do our real work.

I have been working in the shorter term over recent years. It has been a long time since I was engaged in something that had a multi-year project plan and a remote deadline. However, I have made long-term changes in my life more than once. I moved from tech to art. I changed my health in 1986 and again in 2014. I know how to do this. I know how to take one step, and another, and another, and simply keep trudging, even if I don’t see tangible progress from one day to the next. Over time, the needle moves.

I know what I know. The world needs my art. Continue with the work I know I need to do. Nothing has changed, except that now it’s even more important.

We have come to treat “Keep calm, and carry on” as a throw-away slogan, almost as a joke. It wasn’t a joke when it saved a country. It was guidance to a nation suffering under daily bombing raids. The Germans counted on the bombs destroying British morale, and were wrong. Instead, the people kept calm, and carried on, and did what they would have done, had that crisis not happened, again and again and again.

That’s what I need to be doing—my work. Keeping calm is not diminishing the shock and horror; it is simply not allowing myself to lose energy uselessly, and instead, channeling my efforts into something tangible, something that might actually make a difference.

Someone said, “turn to books written before Gutenberg,” and there are no end to the references I can find for support in those works:

The I Ching (various translations including Wilhelm and Wing) tells me that the times are shocking (#51):

During sudden changes, adjust your tempo and move ahead, remembering that while conditions may alter, the goal remains the same. The Superior Man double-checks his premises, confronts his weak spots and adheres to the rules and ideals of the Work.

Surviving this terrifying force will give you confidence in your ability to deal with all that follows…. If these times inspire you to make any major changes in your life and your relationships and in yourself you will meet with vitality and success.


Proverbs 3: 25-26

Have no fear of sudden terror or of assault from wicked men, since Yahweh will be your guarantor, He will keep your steps from the snare.

We are called to return to the work, whatever that is. Donald says he wants to drain the swamp; that won’t help people clean off the mud and learn to live in a dry house. I have spent the past 30 years helping people move away from the edge of the swamp.

That’s my garden and I need to cultivate it.

*And so I ask N=1, and he explains how he perceived the events, promises, and rhetoric of the two campaigns, and what he thinks will happen next, and I can at least see the logic. Must. Keep. Talking.