Sunday, March 23, 2008

Danger: Deadline Dead Ahead

Finish Line before the Finish..
There are two kinds of people in the world: project starters and project finishers. I am one of the world's greatest project starters. In the last year alone, I have started:
  • writing two novels, two nonfiction books, a picture book, several essays and this blog (on top of work-related writing).
  • organizing my office, bedroom, closets, kitchen, kids' rooms, photographs, and computer and paper filing systems.
  • knitting three scarves, sewing four Halloween costumes, and embroidering two cross-stitch projects.
  • spring cleaning, summer cleaning, fall cleaning and winter cleaning.
  • assembling several jigsaw puzzles.
  • reading countless books, magazines, articles and blogs.
  • updating our store Website.
  • researching dozens of other potential new projects.
I could go on, but I won't. The list is too long and depressing, and the list of finished projects is significantly shorter. My intentions are always good. Half the reason I started this blog was to give myself a deadline of completing two writing projects a week. (No fair looking at the dates of my posts. From the start, I said two-ish posts a week, although it may actually be closer to one post every two-ish weeks, but who's counting.)

Starting a project can generate a heart-pounding rush. There's the euphoria of a the idea itself, the thrill of a fresh beginning, and the shear joy of acquiring new supplies. Let's face it, laying in supplies is the best part — new spices for those cooking projects; new fabric or yarns for those needle-craft projects; and best of all, new office or art supplies for those creative writing projects. 

Once I've gathered the necessary provisions, I usually get a great jump off the starting block. The adrenaline rush alone can push me into the wee hours of the morning for days at a time.  But something always happens and, unless the project can be completed in a single session, chances are I won't finish it. Life gets in the way. Kids get in the way. New projects get in the way. After that, the new project becomes just another unfinished project — a guilt-inducing, energy-sapping stone around my neck.

My daughter, on the other hand, is a piston-firing project finisher. That girl gets more done than any human being I have ever met. Oh, sure, she's probably a little ADD and hyperactive, to boot, but she has harnessed that energy to fuel a well-oiled, multitasking machine. I'll give you just one example. 

On a recent school day, she got up, took out the dog, showered, dressed, blow-dried her hair, checked her email, printed her homework, ate breakfast, cleaned five inches of snow off the car, warmed up the car, shoveled the walk, came back in to make lunch, emptied the dishwasher, fed the dog and took her out again, then gathered her school stuff, her mother and brother and got them out the door — all before 7:30 a.m. 

On days like this, I stand clear of the dervish, watching in awe. Now granted, these are all short-term projects, but she offers finely honed planning and time-management skills, as well. When her whirling slows to less dangerous pace, I try to hug her often, in the hopes that some of that verve and tenacity will rub off on me. 

In my defense, despite chronic new-project-itis, I usually manage to get the important stuff done. And it's clear that I have chosen my career wisely. After all, what would a writer be without a deadline?

If you are a hopeless instigator, like me, you may want to check out Rita Emmett's Anticrastination Website (Rita belongs to my writing group.) Then click here to tell me your favorite kind of new project; or, if you are a dedicated project finisher, give me your best tip for getting things done. If you prefer, you may email me at

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Benchley's Law of Distinction

"There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don't."
Robert Benchley (1889 -1945)
US Actor, Author and Humorist

Believe it or not, I don't believe there are just two kinds of people in the world. I do, however, believe that it is human nature to take sides and that there is nothing inherently wrong in that. I believe there are many "two kinds of people" in the world, and that we each take sides a hundred times a day. The richness, complexity and texture of our lives derive not from the myriad black and white choices we make every day, but from the mosaic of colors that results from those choices.

The hitch with taking sides is what I call the "Bush Syndrome." In theory, I suppose there is something about which the current President Bush and I agree. (I will not waste our time trying to think of it now.) The problem I have with the man and the President is his "you're either fer me or agin' me" attitude.

If President Bush has one lasting legacy, I fear it will be that the "Bush Syndrome" (BS for short) will continue to dominate our lives and culture for decades to come. Since BS has become policy, it seems we may no longer agree about some things, yet disagree about others. In a world full of BS, it's all or nothing.

This election year, BS is most evident in the ubiquitous blue and red political map. Just imagine what we could create if this aesthetically-challenged graphic was enhanced with a little Green Party here, a smattering of Libertarian yellow there. I'm no artist, but I know enough about the color wheel to understand that by mixing these four colors alone, we could create a true rainbow of representation.

I believe in making choices. When presented with chocolate or strawberry, I'll take chocolate every time. If it's Michigan vs. Notre Dame, I say "Go Blue." But, I don't hate you if you prefer strawberry. I try not to take it personally if you are a Fighting Irish fan (although this takes some effort). It's true that some of our choices are vitally important — life or death, even — but most are not. Most of our choices are simply preferences with no intrinsic value. So go ahead, pick your side, root for it, defend it, but be sure to inoculate yourself against BS first.

"I am the decider, and I decide what is best." 
— George W. Bush

Stir up a little controversy by clicking here to leave your comment, or email me at

Art by:  2KoP

Monday, March 3, 2008

We're Waiting …

There are two kinds of people in the world: cold weather people and warm weather people.

My best local friend lives for "sweater weather", as she calls it, and only survives the Chicago summer with beaucoup BTUs of air conditioning. My cousin and her family — skiers all — sink into a giant funk when the thermometer tops 35°F. Even my kids claim to love winter, but I know they are really just hoping for a snow day (which hasn't happened in our district since 1967).

In case you haven't gathered by my tone, I am a warm-weather person. I love everything about summer: flowers and flip-flops, popsicles and pool passes, sunscreen and sprinklers.

Why then, you may ask (as my San Francisco-based brother does frequently), do I live in the frozen wasteland that is the greater metropolitan Chicago area? It's a legitimate question.

This winter has seemed particularly brutal. Maybe it's my age. Although the temperature has only averaged about 1.5° below the norm of 24.5°F, it has seemed much colder. Perhaps it is the 52.4 inches of snow (so far) — 14 inches more than we usually get — that has made this winter seem eternal. Enough already!

So back to the original question: why would anyone choose to live in a place that endures weather-wrought potholes, excessive wind chill factors and frostbite warnings? For me, it's a matter of appreciation.

People who live in temperate climates do not fully appreciate freak record highs, like the 65° we reached on January 7. They do not luxuriate across a blue carpet of Chionodoxa (Glory-of-the-snow), those tiny, star-shaped flowers that chase away the snow. They do not come out of hibernation en masse to garden or bike ride or simply be outside on that first truly glorious day of the year. Oh, we know the temperature will drop below freezing again and that there is probably more snow on the way, but that just makes our first fair day all the sweeter.

You will notice that I haven't mentioned the word "spring" in this conversation. We don't actually have spring here in Chicago-land. We have winter, followed by a brief period of filthy, mucky grayness, and then it's straight to 90° and humid.

Today is March 4 and the five-day forecast does not call for anything above freezing. But, it's coming. It's in the air. We're ready, and when that day finally comes, we'll be here — joyful, grateful and a little wiser for the wait.

Click here to let me know whether you prefer warm weather or cold weather, or email me at