Friday, September 4, 2009

Zen and the Art of List Making

Just this morning, it seemed like a good time to write. The sun hadn’t yet blazed its trail through the clouds. The familiar sounds of a new day were mysteriously mute – except for the cheerful babble of coffee perking. (I had never before noticed how merry and wholesome is that sound ). Soon the refrigerator joined the chorus, humming and vibrating, declaring a rare moment of dominance in a world so often occupied with clamor. And words -- wonderful, melodious words -- streamed easily and pleasingly through my mind. But they had no reservoir in which to settle and sadly, with all the futility of one trying to grasp running water, I was left dry. The sun at once announced itself in my room, placing gray shadows on my chilly walls. The neighbors arose. I turned on my computer.
That computer. I surrender once again to its whirlwind mediocrity, a frantic monument to my impotence, a cacophonic testimony to my ineffectiveness.
I once felt alive with activity and performance, believing my success had to do with lists which I kept on my fridge. Lists that ordered me around. I was obedient to their blunt and brief commands and begrudgingly or happily, the jobs were done, leaving me feeling light on my feet – the same feeling I get standing at the foot of the ocean.
But now I feel weak. Heavy.
Why does my art escape me? I make lists everyday, lists of things to do, ideas, projects, insights and images. Lists of ways to better myself and my life. Lists that lead down the pathway to perfection. And each one is written with more resolve than the last (as if a thick, black marker could ensure more success than a spineless number 10 pencil). Yet still, some small but mighty part of me has been holding back, telling myself to be wary of effort, convincing me to feed my diminishing discipline and at all costs, do not clutter an empty page with new words. Turn on the computer.
Perhaps, instead of finding more to add to my lists, I should find ones to scratch off. Simple? Yes. But unless someone is accustomed to turning things over for a fresh look, even the most simple of ideas won’t come.
I used to think like that. I turned everything upside down and shook the nonsense out of it. There’s nothing terrible clever about that, but it is a most helpful habit, one which I seemed to have fallen out. But, today I will make a new list. A very short list:
At one time, my lists were bridges between my thought and my action. Then, they became a means by which I could avoid action and pay more heed to dissatisfaction instead. Each item I added to the list was like a boulder I could not lift. They no longer contained goals, but shortcomings. They were no longer instructions, but accusations. In my effort to become better, to become myself, I had beaten myself down. I would be wise, now, to clear the ground of those heavy stones so something fresh can surface.
Many of us suffer from the strange self-imposed affliction of trying to become what we already are. We re-discover small fragments of ourselves that have been sleepy since childhood –and we’d like to awaken them. We sense an urge, a view, an image that we have been dismissing or concealing. We hide our writings, our paintings, our voices. We hide out art – then ultimately, ourselves. And why?
We forget that we live only at this moment, our time has been allotted, and our art is the most we have to offer. We cannot bottle moments nor damn up time, for it is a fierce rapid; we do well to tread through it fearlessly.
I suspect that if we really grasped that notion – really understood the finite nature of our existence, we would fear nothing! We would not know hesitation. We would dive headlong into the fall. And sorrow would be a stranger, for sorrow is surely caused by the desire to possess the moment, hold it safe in our hands, and our ultimate inability to do so. Just like those words I tried to grasp this morning that gushed away like running water, trickling madly over the heavy stones that are my self-doubts.


  1. Remarkable. I will laude you at length later, but this fine work indeed. You have proved yourself worthy of your gift :)

  2. Very nice. I rarely read a post twice, but here I wanted to.

  3. how wonderfully refreshing and freeing this was to read. we are so hard on ourselves for the things we don't get done, ever striving on and on and on, forgetting to truly enjoy this moment, LIVE in the NOW, always striving towards the next thing to get down, that life is for hampsters and wheels. a wonderful reminder to create, be and breathe, thats all we need to remember.

  4. Thank you so much for your feedback. It thrills me and humbles me.

  5. Beautiful. Thank you so much. <3