This is a book about how to bring ideas into reality. Those of us who are great at coming up with inspired new ideas aren’t always quite so great at doing anything with them. We’re hooked on the fun part. Everything after ideation feels like work! Then we look up and find that we’re surrounded by unfinished projects, maybe with piles of notecards or materials or art supplies, and little else to show for the incredible gift of creativity. We need to ask ourselves, Good Idea. Now What?
Charles T. Lee is an entrepreneur, so this comes across as a business book. This might be off-putting to some artistic types, until we realize that once we start finishing larger-scale projects, they do start to intersect with the world of business. How do you show or publish your work? How do you get your projects into the hands of their natural audience? I happen to think that it is the duty of any artist to channel the work in a form that reaches people. It is selfish and unfair to hog our talents to ourselves. We don’t have to do it for money (although why is that wrong?), but what good is the work if it remains hidden and locked away?
Good Idea. Now What? covers everything. It covers everything from how to collaborate and handle criticism to how to structure your schedule and make time for your family. The book includes examples of people who have built businesses and philanthropic organizations; it could easily have included musicians, sculptors, writers, actors, cartoonists, and all the rest of us. Even poets. I’d love to see what happens when more artists and creatives start reading it and putting its ideas into practice.
Destiny is found in the collective result of the small, intentional decisions you make in life.
Too much is at stake to exert energy toward criticism.
If you’re going to fail, fail forward!
Don’t just settle for being a lover of inspirational ideas.
Our world needs you and will be a better place when your ideas come to life!
I do not deserve to be on this flight. The fact that I am sitting in my seat at all is a sort of perverse incentive for my worst habits. I’ve already burst out laughing twice, when reality has popped up and confronted me with its realness yet again.
The thing about dumb mistakes is that they tend to cascade into more mistakes. I’ve started with a doozy.
I booked my ticket, I put the flight in my calendar, I told everyone I was coming, I checked into my flight a day ahead, I checked the weather forecast, I packed my single suitcase carefully.
Then I kinda sorta roughly memorized what time I needed to be at the airport and estimated from there.
I’ve started to learn how my inherent way of doing things (travel among several others) differs profoundly from that of a more punctual person. Let me compare my husband’s train of thought to mine.
“What time is your flight, 10:50?” he asked me. “Uh, yeah,” I responded, not checking, continuing a perfect track record since the moment I booked the ticket two weeks earlier. Immediately he started working backward. I’d need an hour to get through security and find my gate, and it would take at least 45 minutes to get to the airport, but we’d better add a buffer because this would be the roughest travel day of the year. It would be hard to make it through traffic to the airport itself. So I’d need to leave at 8:50.
Shrug, went my brain. Yah yah, sounds good.
He was right about the traffic, and he was right that it would take longer than usual to get through security, partly because the pre-check line was closed.
In my mind, I think I thought “10:50” meant boarding at 10:50, which meant I should probably leave the house around 9:30 PM. We had this discussion just before 8:00.
Well, hang on, let me hang onto the punchline for a while more. Imagine, if you will, a pure mind unclouded by troubled thoughts, filled with contentment and blind optimism. La la, la la, la la...
My hubby walked me out to the street, the only place near our apartment complex where we can get enough cell service to order a Lyft. The last time we took a ride share together, it took almost 15 minutes to arrive, and I know he was mentally pacing in worry.
OHO! My Lyft was due to arrive in ONE MINUTE, because... the driver was already in our driveway, dropping off another passenger. All he had to do was to turn around. He helped me with my suitcase.
It took us about twice as long to get to the airport as it does on an ordinary day. Forty minutes just to go the last mile and a half. I had to pay an extra $15 because of how long the trip took. Shrug.
I whimsically told the driver, who was getting concerned about the timeline, that I didn’t even care if I had to sprint for my flight, because it isn’t worth it to me to be the kind of person who throws fits or gets worked up over inconsequential things like that. I shared a story about a woman at Starbucks who demanded that her four drinks be remade because the whipped cream wasn’t squirted through the entire length of each straw. “I don’t ever want that to be me,” I said.
We finally made it through traffic to the drop-off point, having passed at least a dozen people dragging their suitcases along the road. Apparently a lot of people were worried about missing their flights! Wow, huh, what must that be like?
My driver helped me with my suitcase and we wished each other a happy Thanksgiving. I tried to go through a door that had been locked closed, shrugged again, and turned back to find a proper entrance. I went into a restroom, ready to get my head together and find my gate.
As I was washing up, I pulled up my boarding pass on my phone.
My flight leaves at 10:10! But it’s... 10:00 right now!
They’ve been boarding since 9:40!
I still have to go through security!
Uh oh, I think to myself, this isn’t good. I hustle down the hallway and start pulling my bag through what I think is the Pre-Check line. Nope, the ladies say, it’s closed, unless you want to sign up for Clear? “My flight leaves in ten minutes,” I say, heading toward the regular line. Oh dear. They tell me I can keep my boots on but that I’ll have to remove my electronics.
This is where I compensate in my utter failure to cope with the Time Dimension through my other organizing skills. I’ve been through airport security, I dunno, surely more than a hundred times. I always put the same objects in the same pockets. I think well in categories. As soon as I hear the word “electronics,” my 3D mental map of all my gear starts swirling around and highlights: my AirPods, my watch, my tablet, and my phone. I grab a bin and separate those things out, meanwhile feeling a very heavy, sinking feeling in my heart that there are two dozen slow people in front of me.
We experience a logjam on the conveyor belt, as the herd of young adults in front of me seem confounded by the process of finding and removing their things. All of them without fail leave the tubs on the belt, causing them to start colliding into each other and popping out of position. It’s a mess, a mess that is blocking my own stuff inside the metal detector.
Meanwhile THE CLOCK IS TICKING and my flight is about to take off without me. I try to reassure myself that even this disaster of a line will still take maybe three or four minutes, and that even if I have to get a patdown, I might still have a chance.
I start grabbing bins and stacking them on top of the metal detector, and amazingly, my stuff rolls out just as I finish. I make an effort to clean up after myself and stack my own tubs.
THEN, THE SPRINT.
I grab my bag and run up a flight of stairs, realizing it will be slower to wait for the escalator. This is another of my many organizational skills, the many times I’ve slapped the handle down into my bag and grabbed the straps and darted up the steps.
I sprint along the concourse, relieved that my gate is in fact the first one around the corner. I still have four minutes to spare!
I run up, laughing at myself, because it looks like the plane has not yet taxied off. There are three agents standing in conversation. I ask them about my flight, and they say it’s been moved... six gates away.
I sprint off again, planning my path between slow-moving bodies at least twenty feet ahead, another necessary skill of the time-incompetent.
I roll up to my gate THREE MINUTES BEFORE WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DEPART. Twenty-seven minutes after boarding time.
Everyone is still there. Something has happened, probably to do with moving gates, and nobody has boarded yet. Not only do I have time to catch this flight, this flight that I don’t deserve to be on, but I have to hang around and wait for it.
In the greatest comedy moment of all, this flight that I vaguely, obliviously thought of as leaving at “10:50” - actually DOES leave at 10:50. Either I have major psychic powers or I’m a daffy space cadet.
This is the main difference between a punctual lark like my husband and a wandering flower such as myself. He is pessimistic about everything that could go wrong; he’s an engineer and he’s literally paid to think that way. Therefore, he correctly anticipates problems. I had to tell him that he was right about every single concern he had: the traffic, the delays at security, his estimate of transit time, all of it.
On the other hand, I am optimistic, partly because I’m reinforced in my sloppy behavior by unbelievable serendipity over and over again. What shouldn’t have worked often does. Minimalism, experience, physical fitness, kindness, flexibility, keeping my wits about me when the situation warrants a crying jag. Drop any of these and the picture changes.
The Lyft driver who was already in our driveway when I called? He got a new pickup just as he was dropping me off, pointing to a strange efficiency in this holiday travel method. My joke about not caring if I sprinted to my gate? True, and I could make that joke because I’ve been in that gate so many times that I know exactly where everything is. I’ve been flying for 35 years, and I have a pretty good mental database of airport reality vs. ticket reality. When I realized my flight was supposedly already boarding, and I had yet to get through security on the busiest travel night of the year, I felt 10% UHOH and 90% okey-dokey. As an expert one-bag traveler, I can get away with things that should not be considered within the realm of possibility.
This is what possibility thinking is all about. What are all the many manifold options from this point in time and space? How many ways are there to solve my problem?
Being better prepared prevents most of those problems, and I’ll go back to the drawing board on that process. In the meantime, I’ll continue blithely expecting most things to work out in my favor, fool that I am.
Tiredness is one of the top reasons people give for not exercising. This is sad, because paradoxically, exercising is one of the four ways to quit being tired.* When lack of physical energy is the problem, lack of movement only contributes to it. What I’m learning in Krav Maga is that being tired is an explicit training goal. Train to be tired because fighting will make you tired. Tired is a training goal because you need to be able to focus and keep going in that state. It’s how you find the strength to do what you need to do, at the moment it really matters.
Modern life is exhausting. Our culture valorizes busy-ness and lack of sleep. Our automatic response when someone asks, “How are you?” is “Busy!” As though being busy is the only way to be relevant. It’s quite common for us to start the day with caffeine, eat lunch over our desks and dinner in our cars, and stay up an hour or two later than we’d planned due to social media and Netflix. With all that going on, who has time for sleep, much less exercise and healthy meals?
I can speak to this, because I have a parasomnia disorder (actually several) and I’ve struggled with sleep all my life. I started having insomnia problems at age seven. Being tired is miserable. In our culture, it also doesn’t get much sympathy. Oh, you’re tired? You and everyone else! Sure, but being able to sleep when you’re tired is a feature of an ordinary person. Not being able to sleep no matter how tired you are, that’s like finding out the brakes in your car have failed. It’s a problem.
As a chronic insomniac, you have to figure out how to go to work and earn a living, even if you’ve been awake for 27 hours. You have to figure out how to keep going, even though you get sick more often. You have to figure out how to concentrate even when your vision is blurring. You have to figure out how to care for children early in the morning, even when you’re so exhausted you’re literally stumbling and walking into walls. The worst part is that you have to figure out how to drive in traffic, even if your chin suddenly hits your chest.
There have been days when a high-functioning alcoholic probably functioned better than I did at work.
It takes grit. Being an adult in this world takes grim determination, focus, and perseverance. All of these qualities are very useful in physical culture. If you can get through a rough work week on little sleep or fighting a headache, if you can get through a week when your tiny kids are sick and keeping you up at night, if you can handle the stress of long hours and money problems, then you have everything you need to be a serious athlete. Everything but the block in your schedule.
Everything changed for me when I started learning how to be fit. The first thing I noticed was that I slept more. I could fall asleep much faster and sleep longer. If better sleep was the only thing I got from working out, that would absolutely be enough to keep me going!
The second thing I noticed was that I quit getting migraines. Instead of three or four days a week lost to blinding migraines, now I get... none. I haven’t had a migraine in about four years.
Then I realized I had quit getting night terrors.
I always felt like I was too tired to exercise. Most people would probably accept that as a reasonable reaction to having a sleep disorder. Instead, exercising helped fix the exact same physical problems that made me so tired. What I thought was impossible was the one thing with the power to solve my worst problems. I ruled out what I needed the most.
Strenuous exercise is not the same as walking more, or going to yoga a couple times a month. I never knew anyone who worked out at that level until I started running, going to various gyms, and meeting athletic people. Examples: training so hard you can’t tie your shoes afterward. Training so hard your fork is trembling in your hand when you eat dinner that night. Training so hard you can’t get your foot over the two-inch lip of the shower stall and you have to grab your thigh and haul your leg up. I don’t often push myself that hard, to muscle failure, but I do it often enough now that I have a really good sense of my true physical limits. The next obvious goal is to push those limits farther out.
Tired is a training goal because working until you’re tired is the only way to increase your physical strength and power. The more you work until you’re tired, the less tired you will be. You quickly reach a point where the demands of daily modern life don’t feel like a big deal. When you’ve lifted your end of a 200-pound heavy bag over your head in class, carrying groceries and laundry baskets stops feeling like work. When you’ve done enough burpees and tuck jumps, climbing a few flights of stairs barely slows you down. When you’ve done two hundred pushups and a hundred squats, and that’s just the first 15 minutes, getting through the workday feels like a rest day. Suddenly you realize that all those times you were pushing until your arms shook, your whole body was busy transforming. Who is this muscular person with great posture staring at me out of the mirror?
We never know the shocks and surprises of accident and fate until they happen. We never know when we might be called upon to drag someone out of a crushed automobile or help up an aging relative who has fallen. We never know whether we’ll find ourselves in situations when our personal strength and stamina could make a literal life-or-death difference to another person. A spouse, a child, a parent? At some point, it isn’t wrong to ask ourselves, Where do I quit? What’s the top level of physical strength I’ll ever want for myself? What is enough for me? It’s not always a personal choice how tired we’ll be, when the random events of life come to roll us over. Tired is a training goal because it’s how we build up reserves of strength before we need them.
* The four best ways to quit being tired are: consuming food with adequate micronutrients; getting enough sleep; improving physical fitness; and drinking enough plain water.
Shh, shh, it’s okay. I won’t tell anyone. Look, this is a nearly universal problem. Papers everywhere. Even people who don’t have any other clutter problems have a problem with paper. It’s a sign of our times, that paper is so cheap and plentiful, people will not only send it to us for free, we can’t even get them to stop. They’ll send so much we can’t even read it all, much less figure out how to sort through it. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault; it’s a cultural issue. Twenty years from now it won’t be a problem anymore. For now, here we all are, buried in junk mail and coupons and flyers and menus we never asked for. Makes it awfully hard to find the important stuff, and that’s why it all gets jumbled together.
Does this sound familiar?
Unopened mail by the front door
Unopened mail on the coffee table
Unopened mail on the kitchen counter
Unopened mail on the dresser
Unopened mail on the bookshelves
Unopened mail on the desk
Plastic grocery bags filled with mail, some junk, some important
Boxes and bags filled with those mail-stuffed plastic bags
A filing cabinet with an empty drawer
A filing cabinet vertically stacked with unsorted papers
An outer envelope stuffed with various papers from different accounts
Mail and papers mixed with 3D objects, anything from a flashlight to a package of gum
Papers tucked away somewhere “obvious” where they will never see the light of day
Important papers mixed with expired coupons, menus to restaurants that closed, and invitations to events that have already passed by
Stacks of papers all pointing in different directions, so that it’s more like “52 Pickup” than a “stack” per se
Papers on the floor of the passenger side in the car
Papers under the passenger seat
Plastic bags with mail and papers in the trunk of the car
And, of course, the backpack or purse stuffed with mixed mail and papers
All of these are common signs. About one in five people are chronically disorganized, which simply means that they don’t have a system. Papers everywhere? That’s the default, natural state of the systemless. Papers in the wild!
People tend to feel guilty or ashamed when these papers start taking over. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s your own home, after all. Your own home, your own vehicle, your own desk, your own bag. Shouldn’t you be more... irritated that outside agents keep pelting you with unwanted junk? Shouldn’t you feel... annoyed that every time you turn around, someone else is trying to get you to take more papers home?
When I think about junk mail, I just feel angry. In other countries, it isn’t like this. It’s an American problem. In New Zealand, for instance, you have to sign up to opt in for what we call junk mail. Some people do, because they can get free shampoo samples or whatever. Everyone else is free, free from invasions to their privacy, personal space, and mental bandwidth.
Alas, this is the world we live in. Papers, papers, trying to get in every door and window, just like an invasion of ants or fruit flies.
I don’t blame people for creating little nests of papers. It makes sense in a way. “These are important, I don’t want to lose them in the tide, I’d better put them... [looks around]... HERE so I don’t lose track of them.” Except that there are always like 18 “here’s” with VIPs (Very Important Papers) stuffed in them.
The only people who can actually manage to Get Organized and stay that way are those who understand how much time it takes to process this stuff on a routine basis. The only ones who are Organized are those who understand how to set up and maintain a filing system. The only Organized People who have it easy are those of us who have joined the ranks of the Paperless. Just stop it before it starts.
If you want to start reclaiming your space and your mental energy from scattered paper, this is what I would do.
The most important part of filing is to GET RID OF the 80-90% of junk papers that are irrelevant to your life. All they do is create a fire hazard, draw mold and dust and insects, and, worst of all, obscure your important stuff.
What do you do with your action items? We handle ours as we get them, because my husband and I both despise paper clutter, but other methods work for other people. Clipboards are good, or a file folder that stands out in a vivid color, like red or neon orange. Some people tape them to the front door where they won’t lose them. When I was single, I would use the big counter at the post office to handle stuff when I collected my mail, so it was done before I even left the premises. If it wasn’t mail, I’d usually put it in my purse and handle it during my lunch break at work. As often as possible, try to keep papers from getting into your home, and if you have to bring them in, try to process and get them back out again in as few hours as possible.
If you do have unsorted bags, boxes, and stacks of papers, breathe easy. Start with five minutes a day, processing just the day’s new mail. Set a timer. If you have a little time left over, grab from the nearest stack and do a little out of that. All of those stacks and bags and boxes are good, because they are natural sorting units. You can just do one at a time until it’s emptied out. Each box and bag and stack represents another cubic foot of relaxation that you’ve just bought yourself.
Every now and then it pays to pull back and take a look at how things are working. Sometimes, circumstances do that for you. A problem crops up and demands your attention, providing the opportunity to ask, “Is this even worth my time?” Such a problem has cropped up with my Amazon Prime membership.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My problem was “resolved.” I wrote to customer service and, as promised, I had a response within twelve hours. That’s terrific. I also got a full refund, which, great. There are two problems here, though:
What this means is that I’m left with a net negative.
When I explain the problem, it should also be apparent why I’m also left with concerns about Amazon as a service provider.
I didn’t receive a package. It was one of four items that I ordered on the same day. Back in the good ol’ days, you’d get a box with all your stuff in it, making a bulk order feel like a birthday surprise. It was worth waiting an extra few days just for the fun factor. Now they all show up separately, in crazy-absurd amounts of packaging, often through different delivery services. Even the tiniest, most trivial items have to be tracked separately, which is complicated by the fact that one might show up the next day while its companion shows up ten days later. I once waited three months for a $3 item before giving up and asking for a refund. I’d go out and buy these small incidentals from local businesses if I had any idea where to find them.
Not receiving a package? No big deal. Not really. The problem was that when I checked my order status, the item showed it had been delivered. Uh oh. Doorstep package theft is a chronic problem in my neighborhood, with Nextdoor posts about this trend every single day. Many of my neighbors even post photos or video from their security systems, or news clippings when thieves are apprehended. Did someone take my little $8 item?
Nope. Along with the order status showing that my package was delivered, there was a photo. A blurry photo of a package in front of a door. “Proof” that someone put my package in a spot where, if I opened my front door, I’d be sure to stumble on it. Proof!
The trouble was, it wasn’t my door!
I’m an historian, not a private investigator, journalist, nor photographer for that matter. Still, we agree on certain standards of documentation. Let’s discuss.
A picture of my own actual door indicates a few discrepancies.
The problem here is a perverse incentive. A harried driver who is tired of searching for an address can simply toss down the package in front of any old random door, snap a blurry picture of the doormat, and leave. Customer service instructions tell the customer to wait 36 hours, search the bushes, and ask neighbors if maybe they got the package by mistake. They don’t say what to do if the driver is falsifying documentation.
We’ve had issues with package delivery before. In one case, the driver wanted a two-minute discussion with me about how hard my address was to find and whether he actually had the right place. I pointed at the street number on our door twice, while trying not to cough on him, since I was home with a bad cold. Look, I’m sorry about your trouble, yet it seems that we get packages and mail here all the time. Why can some drivers find our place while others can’t?
This isn’t a flippant question. How do package delivery services resolve the frustrating, complicated problem of irregular street addresses, apartment complexes, office parks, and other densely packed delivery units? Clearly there must be a more efficient way to do this.
That’s a job for commerce to solve, not me. My job is to fund it through my purchases, not to do that labor on my own time.
I’ve already constricted the types of things I will buy through Amazon. I don’t buy clothes through them any more, after several experiences of the color or fabric looking nothing like the photo. It’s also hard to guess at fit, and not worth my time to carry returns to UPS. I don’t buy shoes, either, after a brand-new pair of sandals exploded two blocks from my house. I don’t buy hard copies of books, after several occasions when poorly packaged books showed up with minor tears or dents. I also don’t buy ebooks, since I read them on my iPhone but can’t buy them directly through the Kindle app. We don’t buy fragile items after the day we got some smashed crockery, packed loose in the box with no padding. We don’t buy anything liquid, after two occasions when shampoo or body wash showed up sticky, leaking fluid, and missing 20% of the contents. In one case, it completely soaked through the box and the box itself basically melted. We still buy pet food, even after the time when another item in the padding-free box tore open a bag of parrot kibble.
Basically it’s started to be a crapshoot. We order something for which we have a fairly urgent need, and when it shows up, sometimes it’s ruined. We get our money back - and of course we shouldn’t expect anything less than that - but we don’t get the thing we needed. We realize we would have been better off shopping for it locally, where we could inspect it and carry it ourselves.
My “job” description as shadow labor for Amazon includes:
Breaking down boxes and hauling packing material to another building and down two flights of stairs, where our trash goes
For all of this, I’m now paying an additional twenty percent for my annual membership.
I don’t mind paying more for value. I’ll pay enough that packers can take their time and choose appropriate packaging, or at least enough that my order arrives intact. I’ll pay enough that drivers get training and support, or at least enough that they care if my package shows up at the right home. How much do I have to pay to get the same level of quality that was standard five years ago?
How much will it take for me to decide that it’s worth paying for shipping and taking my orders elsewhere?
Make two columns. On the right-hand side, write the things you enjoy the most. In my case, that would be sleeping in, hanging around in my pajamas reading and playing with my phone, playing board games with my family, and cooking and eating legendary meals. Now, in the left-hand column, write the things you find most annoying. In my case, again, those would be driving in traffic, looking for parking, waiting in line, being accosted by aggressive kiosk salespeople, going outside in cold and wet weather, having to smell a mix of strong perfumes, and leaf blowers. All but one of those are included in the typical Black Friday shopping trip. By a bizarre coincidence, I can avoid them AND indulge in my favorite things AT THE SAME TIME just by staying home!
That’s what I’m going to do, and I’m not going to stop there. I’ve already begun my annual shopping sabbatical, and it will continue until the New Year.
There are a lot of reasons for this, and I keep adding more to my list every year. My sabbatical keeps getting longer and longer as well.
One, I despise feeling pressured to shop or spend money or buy things. I find it rude. No, you’re not going to tell me how to spend my time. No, you’re not going to tell me what colors I’ll be wearing for the next few months. No, you’re not going to succeed by using peer pressure to make me act or dress or eat or spend in a certain way. Cretins.
Two, I loathe Christmas music with every fiber of my being. I can’t even begin to say how much it drives me up the wall. Every year, stores start playing it earlier and earlier, and every year, as soon as I notice, I shrug and write off that store until January. I always ask, and they always say the directive comes down from corporate. I’ve tweeted or emailed Starbucks and Barnes & Noble about this, and Whole Foods is next. SCHTAAAAAAAPPP!
WHY should a one-day holiday (or give it twelve per tradition) be “celebrated” for two months or more every year? Why? If you want to do it at home, go right on ahead. Festoon your entire house in tinsel, wear green and red stripes, play carols on your headphones every single day, knock yourself out. But do you really need every inch of public space to do it as well?
Ahem. Back to my list.
Three, I work with clutter and chronic disorganization, and it just breaks my heart that this time of year always sets my people back so much. On one hand, they have all the stress and anxiety of upending their finances to try to buy appropriate gifts for everyone on their list. Compulsive accumulators have a lot of trouble setting boundaries around this behavior, and this season pushes all their buttons like nothing else. Also, they find themselves paralyzed by the thought of letting go of gifts, even if they were totally anonymous and unsuitable. I always find unopened gift bags among the unopened shopping bags. Everything will still be in the wrapper with all the tags still on, often three or four years later. We passed what should have been Peak Holiday Madness at least a decade ago and it doesn’t get any easier for my crowd.
Four, my family usually eats Thanksgiving dinner on Friday instead of Thursday. Like many families, at least one person works on the holiday and we’ve done it this way since the Eighties. What, we’re going to skip one of our few chances to play Scrabble together just to fight traffic in the rain? Just to save a hundred bucks? My family Thanksgiving Friday is worth a lot more than a hundred dollars to me.
Five, my husband and I have financial goals, and for a variety of reasons, doing a bunch of shopping and exchanging a lot of gifts does not fit in with them. We live in a studio apartment, so where are we going to put a bunch of extra stuff? We’ve also done pretty well with saving 40% of our income and trying to get ahead on our retirement strategy. No amount of sales or coupons is going to take priority over our carefully agreed-upon plans.
Six, it’s just a good idea to build breaks into the schedule. That should be every day, every week, and of course every year. I like to take a couple of weeks and sort through our entire place to take inventory. Every drawer, every cupboard, every closet, every pocket. What do we have, and why? Do we need to fix or replace anything? Is there anything we actually do need? (Earlier this year, one of our sets of sheets basically disintegrated after five years of heavy use). We go through our account statements and compare our plans to our actuals, meaning we want to make sure the reality of our spending matches what we wanted it to be. This is how we get better at financial forecasting every year, how we’re able to save so much, and how we’re able to plan great vacations. An extra $25 a week translates to a nice chunk of change in the annual vacation envelope!
Seven, my position is that New Year’s Eve is the best holiday of the year. My favorite day is New Year’s Day, when my entire home is clean and organized, all my loops are closed from the previous year, and I have a fresh start for a fresh year. December is my precious planning period, the time I use to think and daydream and envision how I can make the biggest splash with my one and only lifetime.
Rather than finishing off the year in a frenzy of shopping, driving, parking, waiting in line, cooking, cleaning, gift-wrapping, hosting, eating, and spending, I prefer something else. Winter is traditionally a time to wind down, get more sleep, and prepare for the year ahead. Of course I’ll still visit people, and do some holiday cooking, and of course I’ll always do my annual cleaning rituals. But I refuse to have my holiday and family time dictated by advertisers and major corporate brands.
Times have changed, am I right? At some point twenty years into the future, everyone will have a precision individually calibrated dial-up 3D-printed custom food puck to accommodate every possible food intolerance. Either that, or the food itself will be genetically modified to eliminate allergies, and those who are afraid of GMOs will be reduced to foraging for acorns in the forest. (Acorns, because no strategy will ever stop squirrels from interfering with the propagation process. Except - GMO squirrels?). Today, though, we have the era we have. That’s an era when food isn’t food, it’s a symbol. When nutrition isn’t a science, it’s an ideology. When a menu isn’t a menu, it’s a minefield. Food is the new secular faith, and if you’re doing any kind of holiday meal, you’ve surely become aware of this trend. It’s time to feed your weirdos.
Cards on the table. I’ve been vegan for over twenty years and vegetarian for twenty-five. Back in the early Nineties, there weren’t really any other major dietary trends that reached pop culture awareness. At that time, the only people who had really ever heard the word ‘vegan’ tended to be waiters or cooks. I’d get stuff like, “Oh, you should have told me you were veggie, I would have made you a tuna fish sandwich.” I found myself on the front lines of food trends, because people would ask me if I [ate wheat, read X book, had heard of Dr. So-and-So, knew their auntie]. These days, I can barely keep track of it all, and I’m only one of many.
One year, I had to redo my entire menu because someone in my circle wasn’t eating potatoes.
POTATOES, I am a person of Irish heritage, so I ask of you...
I’ve worked around people who will not or cannot eat:
Gluten, of course
Fruit and sugar together
Naturally, dairy, eggs, fish, other meats
It’s funny when the lightbulb goes on over the head of an otherwise-omnivore who has a serious food allergy to a food that I avoid as a matter of course. Suddenly they realize that if I’m eating it, it’s safe for them. If I brought it, they can trust that it’s dairy-free. (My husband is one of these, someone who is just tired of being brought to his knees by conventional food that makes him ill). I try to build trust with my friends that I get it. I get what it’s like to have to scour every ingredient list, to check the ingredients OF the ingredients. I get what it’s like to feel embattled and alone, pressured by people who truly don’t care what I eat, but simply enjoy teasing and poking and prodding at anyone who stands out for any reason.
There are separate and distinct groups out there. I don’t just mean the Paleo crowd, the gluten-free crowd, that sort of thing. I mean there is a group of people who have been driven to the fringes by mysterious health issues. Then there’s a group of people who are natural optimizers, who like to experiment and collect data. Then there are ideologues like myself and some of the Paleo peeps. We do what we do for different reasons, different internal motivations. What we have in common is that we are done with the societal expectation that everyone should eat the same thing at group meals.
This is rough on everyone else.
It’s rough for a lot of reasons. One, every deviation from a standard group menu takes extra time and concentration. It is an imposition on the host, on the cook, on the resources of the kitchen. I say that with love because I AM that imposition and I am also that cook and that hostess. Two, these diets have complicated guidelines, to the point that it can feel like a graduate-level seminar just to understand the ground rules. Three, every single one of our beloved and cherished alternative diets is more expensive than the standard. Nobody says, “Oh, I’m on the ramen and spotty bananas diet.” Not everyone can afford to cover it! It’s very awkward to bring up. Four, the more of us there are, the more complex it gets.
Another thing that I hesitate to bring up is that we’re on the overlap between food taboos and lifestyle, between purity and preference.
What I mean by that is that all it takes is one individual who is still in the learning or experimental stage, who occasionally takes a bite of something off-plan, to spoil the image of that group’s requirements for everyone.
I’ve (more than once, I tell you I have) put together a complete gluten-free menu, from main course to dessert, for a single guest who has clinical dietary requirements. Off to the side, a separate main course and a loaf of conventional wheat bread for everyone else, because hey, GF is expensive and sometimes not thrilling for the rest of us. Then we sit there and watch as the GF person, who has just eaten a full four-course meal, goes in and starts eating the totally not-okay clearly labeled bread off the other counter. But that makes you sick! Don’t do it! “Oh, sometimes I give in.”
Look, I tried. I’ll continue to try. Because it’s not a matter of personal perfection or religious compliance or scientific consistency. It’s a matter of choice and taste. Even if the person does have a serious health issue, it still falls under the category of “my friend likes it this way.” Why would I not do what I can for someone I like, a guest at my table?
My niece complained that I put onions in the Mexican casserole. Normally I would tell the parent of a whiny six-year-old to make the kid a sandwich and we’ll try again when they’re a year older. That time, I considered her question and made the executive decision to quit putting the onions in that dish. The rest of us can just add chunky salsa. Less work for me.
A pair of squirrels live in the tree outside our front door. They’re habituated, chubby city squirrels and they come up and ask for handouts. They have let us know in no uncertain terms that they appreciate almonds, walnuts, and unsweetened dried cranberries, but they do not care for pumpkin seeds. The nerve of these chubsters, I tell ya. Guess what. I give them the walnuts. I do it because it’s more fun as a host to smile over a satisfied guest who plans to come back.
As a guest, I’m out to make friends. True, I’m not going to have a very strong friendship with someone who mocks my choices, tries to trick or pressure me into eating stuff, or questions my lifestyle. I’m like this every day, you know. I’m not pretending just to annoy you tonight. When I go to a social occasion with people I don’t already know, my goal is to be as low-maintenance as possible. I usually bring an emergency sandwich in my bag, and it’s my job not to be famished or fainting with hunger when I arrive. I will change the subject if it comes up, because a party is not the place to talk about my weird lifestyle. It’s not about me, or if it is, my diet is the very least part of me that I’d want to share with new friends. I hate being remembered as “that person.”
On the other hand, I want my guests to feel, when they come to my home, that they’ve been taken care of. That I paid attention and anticipated their needs. That I take them seriously. That if they want their name spelled out in pine nuts, I tried to use the right font. If someone ever got sick from eating at my table, I’d throw myself off a bridge. With this one lifetime that I have, I aspire to magnanimity as a host, to an elevated level of welcome that might transform a few hours of life for my guests and friends.
Feed your weirdos. If nothing else, it’s a chance to learn something new, an experience that makes for a good story. If I’m right, it’s also the wave of the future.
Panic over routine events such as Thanksgiving is something that Future You can avoid, but only if Today You is willing to help. Do you think you can do that? It’s really pretty simple. Every time you find yourself feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, make a note. Figure out a way to send some kind of reminder to Future You so you don’t find yourself in the same situation next year.
The last time I did this, it was summertime. There’s a weeklong event that my husband and I go to every year, and I notoriously always get myself wound up by overcommitting. I set a reminder on my phone for about a week before I will be packing for that trip. In the notes section, I wrote myself a little letter reminding Future Me of all the entirely predictable things I will inevitably try to do. Some of those things include: trying to do housework on the day we leave for the airport, trying to pack more books than I can read, and getting dehydrated. When I see the note, I’ll be surprised, because every time I do this I’ve forgotten all about it.
Sometimes I leave myself a voicemail, even though Today Me hates voicemail exactly as much as Past Me always has, and presumably Future Us does too. I’ll say, “Hi me, it’s me.” Blah blah blah. For some reason this never fails to crack me up, both while I record it and while I listen to it as a future iteration of myself.
Here’s the thing. Thanksgiving is basically here. The next six weeks are going to be holiday madness. Nothing goes at the same speed, whether that’s traffic, shipping times, travel delays, or any line at any store or facility. Our stress levels go up at the same time that everything takes longer and gets more complicated. It’s the perfect recipe for a total emotional meltdown. That’s before adding in family visits, bad weather, a packed social calendar, and cold and flu season. The only things that can help are patience, better planning, or perhaps chocolate.
I am a bah humbug of the first water. I’ll just say that right now. The only things I enjoy about the winter holidays are eating a fabulous meal with my family, and knowing it’s time to start my New Year’s goal-setting extravaganza. Because I don’t like the color combination of green and red, because Christmas music makes me break out in hives, and because I object to the concept of a one-day holiday being stretched out over a minimum of two months, I tend to see the shady side of the season. My skepticism and many petty annoyances help me to plan like I would plan any other chore, say, a remodel or bathing my dog. Ugh, let’s just get through this the best way we can.
As a result, sometimes my cynicism is brightened by a genuine moment of kindness, friendship, or family togetherness. Aww.
For holiday junkies, though, all the anticipation of the sparkling lights and tinsel streudel or whatever the heck makes people live for December, well, it can lead to unrealistic expectations of perfection. Being stuck in a slow line or getting a tired sales clerk seems not just ordinary but positively unholy. How dare you ruin my snow globe image! This is MY MONTH!
As the song says, The weather outside is frightful... let it go, let it go, let it go.
Anyway. Family are coming, people are going to start putting us on the spot by springing non-reciprocal gifts, materialistic pressures are going to start building, and things are going to get tense. Let that be the expectation. Let that reality sink in. Accept it, and plan around it, and maybe smooth out the rough parts.
Every time I have a less-than-ideal time, it tends to be a result of a poorly planned transition. It’s almost always me who is responsible, because my husband likes to be everywhere half an hour early (at least) and he has never bought into many of my weird guidelines and expectations. Whenever we go on a trip or have anyone come over, and I include the plumber who is here to fix the garbage disposal on this list, I feel this inner need to deep-clean our entire home from top to bottom. A maintenance person was here the other day to test our smoke detector, and I even cleaned out the fridge just in case. I have all these high hopes about entirely handmade dishes and vast, complicated menus. If I extended my food fantasies to interior design, floral arrangements, or gift wrap, I’d go around the bend. You know what isn’t festive? A hostess with bags under her eyes and a flour-coated shirt, trudging down the hall with a migraine, making the guests feel bad they ever came.
If you’re anything like me, or if you spend a lot of time looking at Pinterest, which I don’t because I pressure myself enough already as it is, you can have it one way or the other, but not both. Either lower your expectations and take some pressure off yourself, or extend your planning session further back in time next year. Add at least a day, preferably three, to what you consider “the season.” It might seem that adding time allows for raised standards as well, but it doesn’t, due to the planning fallacy. It’s simply human nature to be poor at guessing how long it takes to do things. Adding one more item multiplies the complexity.
I got rid of most of my holiday jitters by downsizing into a studio apartment. True, I have to travel a significant distance if I want to party with anybody. The advantage to that, though, is that the travel itself counts as a contribution, so anything I do to help cook or set up is a bonus. Because I’m in someone else’s home, I don’t feel responsible for the overall level of cleanliness, planning the menu, or staging the view of every room from every angle. It’s almost like... it’s almost like other people don’t really care that much about whether every single thing gets done?
The metric is joy. Almost all of joy consists of stepping out of the moment and forgetting all the background troubles and worries of daily life. The more of those concerns we can drop or discard, the closer we can get. Whenever we think about whether to take on a holiday project or chore or special dish, we can pause and ask, Is this going to give joy a chance, or is it going to make it less likely? There isn’t a complicated joy. Simple joy is the goal.
Dating a broke guy is a highly underrated strategy for romance. The state of broke-ness is usually temporary, part of a life transition that will be much improved when the situation is resolved. It’s an opportunity to find out a lot about someone’s character. If you like him when he’s broke and going through a rough time, you’ll probably like him even more when things are back to normal. There are numerous other advantages. Maybe you’re dating a broke guy right now, and you haven’t even realized what a lucky time this is.
Being broke is not in itself a desirable trait. It can be the result of some bad things, and sometimes the result of bad choices. Say, if someone embezzled money from work and got caught, or is deep in addiction to gambling or whatever. Then it depends completely on this person’s commitment to inner work. If someone is suffering as a result of harmful behavior, won’t admit it, won’t accept accountability, and refuses to change, well then... Money isn’t the problem.
Think of these types of problems whenever your crush is going through a tough time. It can help you both to keep your perspective.
Being broke might be the result of positive change, too. For instance, anyone in school is probably poor as heck. Starting a business, remodeling a house, or having small children are also positive changes that tend to impact the wallet. Maybe this guy is a big dreamer who plans ahead and works hard. Maybe he’s willing to make smart sacrifices in the short term for big gains later on. This is the ideal scenario. Meeting someone at this stage of life is like finding a major bargain on sale. Jump up and grab it while you can.
Sometimes someone is broke due to temporary difficulty, like divorce or short-term disability. This can involve a lot of stress and emotional pain. The hidden gift in this kind of situation is that you get the chance to see this man at his lowest ebb. If you still like him when he’s at his worst, then everything will be so much better when he gets his feet under him again. The added value here is that he can learn to trust your friendship and loyalty when he needs you the most. He’ll be more open with you in easier times.
Being broke can also be a mutual decision. I write about this quite a bit, as my hubby and I are midway through a temporary downsizing move into a studio apartment. We save 40% of our income, something it would be really hard to do in a typical suburban house with one or two vehicles. Two adults and two pets in a 612-square-foot apartment with one closet and no bedroom door! Acting broke when you are not in fact actually broke is very different. We know we have insurance and savings and investments and an income stream. We have paradoxically more options. We can knock ourselves out on vacation. Other luxuries become accessible. As an example, I just bought a set of thousand-thread-count sheets on closeout for $45. We’ve been wallowing in them in a way we never would, just by spending an extra $10,000 a year in rent on a more normal-sized residence.
In my twenties, I pretty much only dated broke guys because that is the natural state of people in their twenties. I was impressed if my date showed up in a car that he owned, even if he had to start it with a screwdriver. I was impressed if my date lived on his own, even if he had four roommates. My friends and I spent a lot of time in those days doing free and fun stuff that people in their thirties and older usually stop doing altogether. Sitting on the floor playing cards or board games for hours, lip-syncing and dancing to songs on the radio, peeling oranges and talking the day away, going on picnics, wandering the bookstore. All we had in those days was time. Now we all have money but we never have the time for those endless afternoons of leisure anymore.
A broke guy will do things to impress his new girlfriend that a financially prosperous guy might never think to try. An hour-long massage? Check. Breakfast in bed? Anything for you. Mix tapes? Mmhmm. If you like him and you’re good to him, a broke guy won’t believe his incredible luck in meeting someone like you. A guy with money and a career may be complacent, or simply too busy to give you much thought.
Single men often complain that women only care about money, that we’ll always go for the guy with the better job or the nicer car. I honestly think that is false. From my perspective, what’s important in an adult person is a feeling of drive, purpose, and engagement. In SOMETHING. Usually that happens to be a career. Ideally, our work is the biggest contribution we can make with our energy and focus. If that happens to generate cash flow, fantastic. Often the process of discovering that outlet and earning the appropriate credentials includes a brief period of financial strain. This is why it can be so much fun to date a student, someone who will eat a sandwich on a park bench with you while genuinely engaging in lengthy discussions about anything and everything. Interesting people don’t always have any money and having money in itself is usually not very interesting.
I happened to meet my husband at a time when we both were at a low financial ebb. It was a bonding experience, the exact thing that made us friends. We used to sit around on our lunch break at work talking about all our money problems. One day we looked up and realized that everyone we knew assumed we were dating. Why was that?? Hmm. Now that I think about it, it’s probably because MARRIED people spend a lot of time sitting around and talking about money problems! Becoming friends when we didn’t have any money helped us to trust each other and listen to each other’s advice. It also gave us plenty of free things to do for fun. That’s why we’re able to save so much money together without feeling dissatisfied and frustrated.
Something important I would really like to say about money is that it’s simply a form of energy, a metric for tracking how we are doing in certain areas of life. There’s absolutely no reason to rely on a man for prosperity or financial comforts. Go after them and get them for yourself. Maybe your broke guy is simply not an ambitious person. Maybe he’ll be delighted to cheer you on and give you emotional support while you chase your own dreams of success. Maybe you earn all the income and he meets you in other ways. Looking at financial partnership in this way would probably resolve a lot of quarrels and create a lot of dazzlingly successful marriages. Choose your romances based on how much you like each other and how well you get along, and let the money part be more or less irrelevant.
I kept meaning to read this book, because I like the subtitle: An Overdue History of Procrastination, from Leonardo and Darwin to You and Me. Somehow, though, my stack kept getting longer and this title kept getting pushed farther down. It wasn’t until I had an urgent need for a book I knew I’d want to review that I dug around and found it. I read it in one sitting. That’s probably because I am procrastinating on a major project. What an ideal situation for reading a book like Soon! Paradoxically, it celebrates the motives behind procrastination, while also offering insight and inspiration for completing projects.
This book is tricky. It profiles some very famous procrastinators, people whose work has stood the test of time for centuries. On the one hand, we’re treated to descriptions of all the many ways they procrastinated and how they explained themselves. On the other hand, we see how they have become legends and how important their work was. What we don’t see are any profiles of garden-variety procrastinators who never did anything important or valuable. Those of us who recognize ourselves in these tales of dithering will be forced to wonder, do we have this level of legendary work buried somewhere inside ourselves?
Darwin had his great insight about evolution all the way back in 1838. He put off writing it up for over twenty years, and only got to work when he heard that someone else was closing in on similar research. This makes me wonder about two things. First, would Charles Darwin have published more work if he’d had more external pressure? Second, how different would the modern world be if the theory of evolution had entered pop culture two decades sooner?
Would Jonathan Franzen have written less if he hadn’t worn earplugs, earmuffs, and an actual blindfold while typing?
It’s easy to wonder whether modern technology causes more procrastination. Is it just the existence of clocks and calendars and to-do lists and the Puritan work ethic? But then Santella makes a convincing case that The Odyssey is all about procrastination. This is just part of how humans get through life.
Why do people procrastinate? Santella spends almost all of Soon referring to his own delays in researching and writing the very book that we are reading. Yet he methodically gets through it all, with the existence of the book somehow both proving and refuting his hypotheses. Is procrastination due to perfectionism, rebellion, overwhelm, mood regulation, or lack of identification with Future Self? Procrastination, how much does it overlap with free will?
I enjoyed reading this book. It helped me to put my procrastinated project into new context. In the face of all these legendary historical figures, who completed major, influential projects despite their habits, who am I to resist my own creative force? Let’s all think of our efforts in the context of our life story and legacy, or especially let’s do that when we’re putting off doing something else.
Procrastinators can keep admirably busy even while they’re avoiding their work.
Are we ethically required to make the most of the time allotted to us?
Optimism is the quality most often overlooked in procrastinators.
Can I really afford to spend my day doing mere work?
When you are free to set your own schedule, you are also free to disregard it completely.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.