Making a to do list, I am told, is how successful people accomplish things. (Am I a successful person?!) The logic is that you can organize and hold yourself accountable to complete a number of tasks or projects in a given period of time fueled by the satisfaction of eventually being able to cross those things off the original list, and as a side effect actually accomplishing the things.
But it never ends, does it? No one has ever made just one to-do list. There are items that linger on those lists. They stick around, waiting there, never getting done. Sometimes it's the really hard or complicated items on the list, others they're just so banal that there seems no point to doing them. Either way, I have never crossed all the items off of a list, because that would give me an opportunity to feel at ease, nay nay, I REWRITE the list with new thoughts and ideas that have arisen through the completion or pursuit of items on the original list. I look at my life and my thoughts and my lists spiraling out of control, and I seek the Somali pirate in my psyche to say, "Look at me. I'm the captain now." And then cross some shit off. It's either something that's unimportant, or I wanted to do it less than the other stuff I didn't really want to do, or there's a bunch of reasons. But there's another list. Sometimes I eschew lists altogether - Sometimes the very concept of organizing my thoughts into words on paper becomes more stressful than having them float in the metaphysical ether because then I have an actual snapshot of that which I have not wrought, and it fills me with wrath. I get depressed and lazy and I don't want to do anything. I am sapped of my strength and a cycle of avoidance and watching every video on youtube begins. It is daunting and unpleasant and so orderly. I am a person who thrives in chaos, and crisis, and having to fight to make stuff happen. It makes doing laundry a real fuckin' chore, you know? And if a project or idea is too easy, or doesn't feel complicated enough, or any number of other things, it's a weird feeling. But lists. I write them. They're long. They're impossible. And I rarely refer back to them when I make them, but I don't throw them away. I find them months or years later sucked into a vortex of some other stack of shit. Usually I've gotten the things on them done.
I DON'T KNOW MAN, LISTS ARE WEIRD AND SO AM I.
I haven't read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (can you tell?) but I have heard bits of it bandied about with great vigor. One of these bits is the idea that you are supposed schedule your priorities rather than prioritize your schedule. What this idea presupposes I think, is that you are a single executive with very few obligations, or that your obligations are so much a part of your identity that they supersede anything else. It presupposes that you are in charge of your own fate. It presupposes that you are the master of your own destiny, you are a jet-setting entrepreneur whose will is unflappable and you seek conquest. It says don't let other people run your life, your autonomy is undeniable and it is the greatest sense of privilege and pleasure to say no. Do you see where I am going with this? Let's set aside the fact that this is one of the dopier corporate black magic techniques of creating a we-think-its-very-clever-don't-you-agree nonsensical boardroom inside-out two word reversal techniques, (see inspect what you expect, ABC, and MBWA for more details,) it presumes a level of privilege and autonomy most people don't get. What are the things you do, outside of the steady paycheck thing that you do, and how much time to you get to devote to them? Is the job you have the one you want? Is it the reason we watch Netflix in the background of everything, or you know, whatever other thing you do while you're doing the thing that you otherwise don't want to do, but have to do? I think Steven Covey may have been only thinking of people working 80 hours a week, as executives, men-in-charge type of people, who don't necessarily work hard, but instead *dictate the lives of the proletariat in an effort to prevent them from profiting in a meaningful way from the surplus created by their labor.* Just a thought though. I also think that when Marx talked about people not being specialists, I think he meant multi-disciplinary contributors with broad experience to prevent myopia. But what the fuck do I know?
For those of us whose lives are divided up mostly by what we have to do, what we want to do, the dream we're pursuing, and what we can actually accomplish, the idea of scheduling your priorities gets messy fast. What goes in each of the categories I just named? Wait. Did I .. Did .... I just divided up a schedule by priority. Curse you Stephen Covey!
There's external stuff: Your spouse is a priority. They have to be for them to stay your spouse. All the little things that sustain your existence are priorities, food, sleep, sex, exercise, socialization, washing yourself and things, pets, a job or three, these things demand your time. The time it takes to get ready for things. The time it takes to get places. They demand time and can't always be put on auto pilot while you handle some of the internal stuff. And by that I mean things like enrichment, development, finding, witnessing and internalizing things or experiences that inspire you in some way to go on sustaining that existence, the stuff that feeds that dream. Then there's maintenance: Keeping up all the things you already know, the things that are a part of your being but are not Art, like reading complicated materials, learning new skills, writing, playing music, talking to people, telling jokes, telling stories, arguing, seducing, compelling. All of these appear in various forms, qualities, quantities, and yes, I have missed or glossed over a few things. All of this is stuff you do to keep what you've got. It's defense, so you can hold your position.
There's so much more to life than lists and schedules and priorities. And that's more or less the point of this entry.
Do people list this stuff? No they don't. I mean not really. They do. But they fucking hate doing it. Does this stuff make us feel accomplished? Not really, but it can sometimes offer relief, like everything will stop swirling for a minute if something is fucking spotless, or there is NOT A SINGLE CRUMB in the bottom of the toaster. It all goes on under the vague category of "stuff that doesn't count as stuff I have to do, because everyone has to do it."
[First: No they don't, and really it's a choice. Live in filth if you want or must. And second: That's a whole other discussion about capitalism, autonomy and slavery, which really I hope somewhere there is a sociology grad student writing about things like slavery, autonomy, artificial intelligence, the human diaspora, colonialism all of that stuff but in the Star Wars universe. There's so much to unpack. It's a questions and a weird one but I wasn't sure where I was going with this whole thing when I started so here we are. ]
Making art is a priority. Thinking about art is a priority. Both of these things are hard to do well or with any kind of verve if you are constantly in a tizzy from trying to cling to work, or life. It is hard to make cool stuff in a garage or studio or wherever if it's not the thing that pays the bills, if it's not the thing that gets a lot of time. It takes equal measures of fearlessness and privilege to get there. Or support, which is hard to find and difficult to ask for. Or having a high paying job that doesn't demand that much of you. There are many factors. This is a piece of writing that could potentially have benefited from being organized first as a list and then executed in an orderly manner. Not my style, I'm afraid.
Can I save this post from itself? WILL THIS ENDLESS RAMBLE NEVER CEASE?
Let's get back to lists and how and why I make them. Why they are both stupid and amazing. Whenever I have ever had to write a paper, there were never outlines. There were 50 pages of insanity, and notes and madness and dozens of drafts. I create a crisis from my excitement and then have to distill it down. Lists are organized. They lack the razzle dazzle of having to remember a ton of stuff. I mean, reducing complicated, strong things, to a list or a quiz or something for clicks or views or your data whatever is bullshit. Look out for my next post TOP TEN STUDIO TIPS ARRANGED FOR OPTIMAL HYPOCRISY. Lists are great for communicating an overview, if the list itself is a summary. Some lists become instructions, and themselves eat up so much time to make, that you might think the list is a by-product of a previous list where you made a list about lists.
AGAIN, I'm getting off topic. To do lists. I go a little bonkers trying to find a balance between making a list I will actually accomplish, making lists of things that I want to do to do other things, things I need to get to do things I need to do, and things I have to do, in the limited time I have to do them, or bypassing the list altogether and ACTUALLY DOING THE THINGS THAT ARE/WOULD BE ON THE LIST. These lists do not account for obstacles, failures or technical difficulties. So the things don't always get done when I need to do them. Strangely though often enough months later, I will find an old list, long discarded and forgotten, and I will have accomplished most of the things on that list. Mostly. But sometimes things just go completely astray. That song I wanted to write? The time I wanted to spend drawing? Or pulling books off my shelf just to flip through them? A space for my mind to relax and let thoughts flow? Nope. It's all about getting stuff done. It becomes about objectively completing tasks, and knocking them off the list. It doesn't become about exploration, or edification, it becomes more about getting from A to B. It's what Hal Reddicliffe once said to me when we were complaining about how late we students were up and how much we had to think about what we were doing: Sometimes you just have to shut up and work. All the time spent poring over lists, trying to rack up accomplishments, trying to work towards something, without really accomplishing it. Great you've written out all the things by which you are overwhelmed, and codified your anxiety to a list when once vanquished will only carry over into a new list with new accumulated tasks and anxieties which. .. you get it, the cycle starts again, and the satisfaction never arrives.
Our society is preoccupied with productivity. That's the point. That's the point of this whole thing here. We are too busy pulling on those mythical bootstraps to be well enough to proceed sometimes. It's preventing the flow of thoughts and ideas. It erodes willpower and confidence and doesn't help.
I don't know if this one is good. Or if it makes sense. But I had to get it out there. I've had the draft saved since November. Let me know your considered thoughts and criticisms in the comment section. Or e-mail me. Or facebook. Or instagram. Or I dunno, send a raven, or an owl or something.
There'll be another one along soon, I wasn't kidding about those studio tips. And maybe video? I don't know. Let's not get carried away.