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Perfect: This is Impossible.

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How to Wait Like a Boss

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Where does Fallow Fit in Your Work Calendar?

You’ve pulled all your levers, called in your favors, phoned the usual suspects and still, nothing.

You’ve checked and rechecked your inbox.

Nothing.

This is the freelancer’s periodic plight: No matter how busy you were last year, last month, last week, today is a different day—subject to the vagaries of clients, markets, time and creative flow. And there’s nothing you can do about it except wait.

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Waiting is not the worker’s lot. Employees have no end to work and the seeming ability to remain busy. It’s only when the busy employee steps away from a job (voluntary, lay-off, fired) that she or he realizes that they might have benefited from stepping off the treadmill earlier. A bit of perspective may reveal their busy productivity didn’t really add up to much they can take with them.

Waiting is also the job-hunters dilemma. The job-hunter taps her toe waiting for the wheels to turn, for the right people to review the resumes and the interviews to be scheduled. Waiting for an offer. Waiting for a “thanks-but-no-thanks.”

No one likes waiting. You want productivity 24/7 and let’s start being productive this instant.

Waiting is a complete waste of time.

But is waiting a complete waste time?

In fact, waiting pulls back the curtain on our fallow ground.

Kathleen Norris, in her book The Quotidian Mysteries, wrote about the infinite prairies to which she returned to focus on writing. All that land—miles and miles—seemed so unproductive. And that unproductive land was also a reflection on her mood. It took time, but she eventually saw that there was actually pretty big stuff happening in those fallow fields—all largely unseen. Norris learned to sit with her own fallow, unproductive times knowing that hidden gears were turning and new avenues were opening:

No small part of the process of writing is the lifting up into consciousness of what has long remained in the basement, hidden, underground, as in a tomb.

Maybe you are crazy busy and fallow/unproductive/waiting time has no place in your schedule. Please reconsider. Take that vacation. Rethink your time between jobs. Look deep into the underground and pull out the life what was entombed years ago.

That’s how you wait like a boss.

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

On Kathleen Norris and White Space

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Rethinking your mundane

[No, this is not a racist rant about white anything.]

My client frequently talks about “white space.” What they mean is that extra computing capacity available with many of their industrial tools. The tools are designed to accomplish some process over and over again, but it turns out there is a mini-computer buried in each tool that can do other things as well. I’ve been writing about the other things those mini-computers can do—they bring a sort of intelligence to ordinary tasks.

The whole discussion has me thinking about Kathleen Norris and her defense of the time we spend doing dishes or laundry or brushing our teeth. She claims those are more like sacred moments than they are boring time wasters. That’s because in those moments where we go on auto-pilot as we do that same old thing yet again, our minds are actually free to play or to make connections between the bits of life we’ve been experiencing. To Ms. Norris’ way of thinking, that daily floss may well lead to epiphanies—even connecting with God—if approached with openness.

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As a writer, Ms. Norris depends on those automatic moments as well as the fallow moments:

“But I do detect in the quotidian…[meaning daily or ordinary], rhythms of writing, a stage that might be described as parturient, or in labor, about to produce or seems almost unbearable, stretching out  before me like a prison sentence, when I seem most dead inside, reduced to mindlessness, bitter tears or both, that what is inmost breaks forth.”

If there is a birthing process for thoughts (full disclosure: as a male my closest experience with birthing is watching our kids get born), I’m pretty sure it has something to do with staying open during our mundane boring moments. If we fill up our mundane moments with entertainment and Facebook and Twitter, we risk staying in that fallow place.

In the delightfully-readable book A Philosophy of Walking, (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2014) Frederic Gros writes short essays about writers and thinkers who wrote while walking. Like that great dark cloud Nietzsche, who scrambled up mountain trails and paused to scribble his gloomy reveries. Or Thoreau or Rimbaud or Kant—writers and thinkers accustomed to spooling out the thorny stuff while ambling about. These writers made a habit of using the mundane to tease out the thoughts they were working on. Because when you are walking, you really can’t do anything but put one foot in front of another foot. And your own personal white space (in your own personal brain pan) is free to think thoughts and connect dots.

As we move deeper into this constantly-connected age, I wonder if the wise among us will learn how to preserve their mundane tasks precisely because that’s where meaning keeps coming from.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Decentered. As in “not the crux of all things.”

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A place for everything and everything in its place

I’ve put a recurring early-morning block on my calendar titled “Decenter.” The block or early morning quiet and focus has actually been on my calendar for decades, but I’ve recently retitled it based on a cue from Merold Westphal, a philosopher who teaches at Fordham University.

Westphal, writing in The Phenomenology of Prayer (NY: Fordham University Press, 2005), introduces prayer as a “decentering” activity. As a conversation, prayer takes me out of the center of my universe. Like the prayers of the old poet-king or the prayers of the inveterate letter-writer, these are conversations that recognize some other as the center of everything. Those two saw God as the center—I’m with them on that.

There is mystery beyond our convenient placeholders.

There is mystery beyond our convenient placeholders.

Of course, “de-centering” is not the way we could describe many of the prayers we pray. We send up endless lists to some imagined order-taking god, with caveats about when (“Now works for me. How about now?”) and where and how. And especially how much. But listen to Westphal:

…prayer is a deep, quite possibly the deepest decentering of the self, deep enough to begin dismantling or, if you like, deconstructing that burning preoccupation with myself. (Prayer as the Posture of the Decentered Self, 18)

Again and again I find myself at the center of all existence. Maybe you do too. We’re sorta set up for that, given eyes and ears that operate from a central pivot, constantly swiveling about to take in all we possibly can.

It seems natural enough to think everything revolves around us.

The truth is we need help to back away from this “burning preoccupation.”

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

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