Hey, Mom! The Explanation.

Here's the permanent dedicated link to my first Hey, Mom! post and the explanation of the feature it contains.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #245 - The mire of options

There is a Zen saying: “In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.” 

Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #245 - The mire of options

Hi Mom,

I felt we had gone too long on this blog without a picture of you or of the puppy, so we will have both today.

This is one of Dad's reversed pictures because looking over the counter from this side, the refrigerator should be on our right (your left) and the throughway to the breakfast room should be on the left (your right), and yet both of these things are reversed.

This is such a classic picture of you as you prepare a meal.


I was bowled over by missing you earlier today, Mom. I was grading and watching Y&R, our soap. I am all caught up for once, having watched today's episode, also. I could actually be decadent and watch tomorrow's when it airs live, though I probably won't.

Things are looking bad for your boy Victor Newman, He did some heinous and criminal things, and he is not going to be able to buy his way out of the thorny thicket this time. I was thinking to myself how much you would love to see this. Or how much fun I would have talking to you about it. And I missed you so much all of a sudden it almost brought me to my knees and to tears. This seems like a silly thing, so trivial, and yet sharing with you about this soap, it meant so much to us both, means so much. I wanted to call you or visit right away to talk about it. I wanted to watch it with you and laugh and laugh At least, I laugh at it. You never liked when I laughed at Victor Newman getting his comeuppance. And I know that I am watching it with you. I feel you, Mom. But it's not the same.

I wish you were here, Mom.

And in a sense, this feeling of missing you plays into my subject for today, which is a Buddhist idea that I did not know was a Buddhist idea: THE MIRE OF OPTIONS.

see? no words...
So, you know, Mom, that I have been reading the January 2016 issue of Mojo Magazine and articles about David Bowie at the end of the 35th anniversary of the release of what is arguably his best album or often as argued his last best (emphasis on "arguably") Scary Monsters and Super Creeps as well as articles about his new album Blackstar (the real title for which is just the black star symbol and not the words Blackstar).

In the article about Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, there was a great deal of recounting of the working experience on the album. The producer Tony Visconti remarked that he either learned from David Bowie or learned from Zen Buddhism "the need to free yourself from the 'mire of options' -- to make a quick decision and free yourself" (Mojo, Jan. 2016).

"With Visconti," said synth player Simon Clark to Mojo writer Paul Trynka, "you'd have tracks with backing vocals and he'd bounce them down straight away, when another producer would copy it onto another tape to make a decision later. With him it was, 'Done.' And the work would keep flowing."

This story really struck me. I had to stop reading and let what I just read sink in fully. I had an EPIPHANY. I experienced a profound EUREKA moment. I felt suddenly free and very nearly started to cry with relief and gratitude.

I have a problem with TOO MANY OPTIONS. I am sure other people experience this problem. But I have a particularly bad case of it. I always think I can do TOO MUCH in any given day, in any given week. I have been working on this problem for many years.

In my work life, I have made good progress with pulling myself out of the mire of options and focusing. This week marks my special to do list #200. I feel that's quite an accomplishment as I number these lists each week, so 200 weeks ago, I adopted a new form of to do list. It came from an idea shared by my friend HELENE DUNBAR. I was not unaccustomed to making to do lists, but when she described her creation of a daily to do list for her work, something clicked. I gave it a try. I wrote out a to do list. And the next day, I made another one. Quickly, I discovered that I was wasting time writing the same things every day, and also that there many things I did not get to each day in my list. And so, I created an excel file that I re-use and edit each week. There's a grid for daily things at the top left. Main weekly work is along the right from top to bottom. Then all the stuff that I will do if I have time takes on the lower left side. And yes, it's an 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece of paper. Go big or go home.

So, this kind of organization has really helped me to FOCUS on what I need to do and try not to let my anxiety overwhelm me so that I spend too much extra time THINKING ABOUT (IE. obsessing about) my work. See HEY MOM #198 and HEY MOM #208 for more on my battle with obsessing.

But I still have that problem with thinking I can do more than I can do and with properly assessing how long it will take me to do something that I have to do. So, for instance, in the morning, I will promise my wife I will go grocery shopping (the big trip - Meijer) today because in the morning with the whole day in front of me, it seems like I can find a couple of hours to get that job done. But then by 1 p.m. I can see that I am not going to have time to do that job, and so I put it off. Thankfully, my wife is very understanding about such things, so I rarely get criticized for this issue.

And yet, I would like to be able to plan my day and do what I say I am going to do in that day. It's the MIRE OF OPTIONS. There are SO MANY THINGS TO DO that I have to be selective. But once I select, I should be able to follow through with my selections, or rather, I should not select more than I can reasonably accomplish.

But this is how I am with EVERYTHING. For instance, eating. I always order too much food, and sometimes, I cannot finish it all. (Though my stomach for sushi is nearly bottom less. I have only found the bottom once.) I am applying myself to moderation in food as well, trying to order less and stop eating before I over stuff myself.

I am doing all right with the options issue with the blog. I currently have 63 draft posts in my blog queue. Now that may seem like I am stuck in the mire with too many options, but actually, so many options is very freeing. I have many posts waiting to be finished, so if I do not get inspired on a given day, I can pull out one I already started and finish it. I am trying to work ahead and plan days in advance. Back on Sunday, I mapped out Monday-Thursday, and I have those posts numbered and waiting with both HEY MOM and THE DAILY BOWIE. And yet, I give myself permission to change my mind. Most of the first 200 (at least) days of HEY MOM were chosen and created on the day that they are posted. I wait for inspiration, create, and post. That's mostly what I have done. But since on some days, I struggle to have time to devote thought to the blog, it's better to plan ahead. There's less chance of me falling behind again, as I have, if I plan ahead.
NOTE: about 13 of those 63 drafts are Monthly Comic List posts, which are about to get all condensed into one post.

But the aspect of THE MIRE OF OPTIONS that really struck me as how it affects my art, my writing of fiction.

I am back to work, albeit very sporadically, on a novel project I started in 1995. Truly, this project has suffered from the Mire of Options. I have written at least ten different versions of chapter one. With one rabbit hole that sucked me down, I scrapped the main thrust of the story line for a prequel and worked on that for seven or eight chapters (about 200 pages). In another escapade of chasing the shark, I decided to go even farther back of the other prelude/prequel stuff and write a prequel that would be more of a stand alone fantasy/horror/speculative fiction thing.

After all of these directions and investigations, I am back at work on the core idea that I started with in 1995 once again, though albeit with yet another new chapter one.

It's not simply issue of plot and characters with which I am grappling. I am building a world, and so I am often mired in questions of the world's history, setting, language, culture, as well as how specific technologies or practices function.

And so this quote really struck home: There is a Zen saying: “In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.” 

I like reading a wide variety of things. And I like reading about how other art works sometimes more than I like reading about how WRITING works, should work, or can work. I am really inspired by what I read of how Bowie and Visconti worked (as sadly that must now be only expressed in the past tense).  I am inspired to start fresh and make decisions. This does not mean that I will not consider options for a short time, but I am now on guard to not allow these considerations to paralyze me.

This book may indeed be my life's work, but it can be work that progresses and which I feel reaches a final form. I have always believed that I did not know enough, that I needed to learn more, do more research, feel more confident in the ground work I lay as the basis for the work, and to some extent this is true, I do need to know more, I do need a good foundation, but after investing some time in that foundation, then I have to trust my instincts, free myself from drowning in options, make decisions, and move on to the next thing.

Sorry to add a hypnotic gif, but then again, maybe not. It seems fitting. But it should have a pause button.

In doing a bit of research for this blog entry, I came across this book THE PARADOX OF CHOICE by Barry Schwartz. This book is deep in my wish list, sorted out into books about culture, and I am glad it has come to my consciousness again as it may be worth a look.

Mom, as always, thanks for listening.

Reader, if you made it here, I am so appreciative to share my thoughts with you. I hope you found something of value, and...

... OH, what's that?

What's my book about, you ask?

That, my dear reader, is a story for another time.

Reflect and connect.

Have someone give you a kiss, and tell you that I love you.

Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.


- Days ago = 247 days ago

- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1603.08 - 10:10

NOTE on time: When I post late, I had been posting at 7:10 a.m. because Google is on Pacific Time, and so this is really 10:10 EDT. However, it still shows up on the blog in Pacific time. So, I am going to start posting at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time, intending this to be 10:10 Eastern time. I know this only matters to me, and to you, Mom. But I am not going back and changing all the 7:10 a.m. times. But I will run this note for a while. Mom, you know that I am posting at 10:10 a.m. often because this is the time of your death.
Satchel snuggling with her Dad
Sunday - 1603.06
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