002: A single backpack

If you were forced to eliminate every physical possession from your life with the exception of what could fit into a single backpack, what would you put in it?

Credit cards to everyplace that sells physical possessions? I kid, I kid.

First things first, a photo from my wedding, a photo of my wife, a photo of my parents, and a photo of my sister, all laminated against spills and tears.

Next, my laptop computer and wireless mouse. This covers all my entertainment needs, most of my social needs, and the vast majority of my working needs; though a printer hookup would definitely be choice. If by “from your life” you mean “forever,” well, I’m more than a little hosed; so let’s aim for a small portable printer as well.

Secondly, a selection of pens and my Leuchtturm 1917 paper journal. This keeps me sane, together, and focused. It’s my to-do list and my aspirations.

Thirdly, my cellphone and Kindle. Yeah, the tablet’s kind of redundant to the laptop, but it’s less than book-sized. Oh, and chargers for all electronics, obviously.
Two changes of underwear, one change of pants, one change of socks, and three shirts all in a gilly roll at the bottom of the backpack. Razor, soap, deodorant stone, shampoo, conditioner, hair product (my little secret) and electric trimmer. As my buddy Ben once pointed out, I believe neatly groomed facial hair is key to the Kingdom of Heaven.

I mean, there’s not much else I need. This is basically what I carry to and from the office every day.

That said, I’m assuming climate won’t be an issue. If so, a good coat is probably going to take up the rest of this backpack.

By the same token, if we’re talking serious post-apocalypse, throw out ALL the electronics, ain’t gonna need them. Replace them with the complete works of William Shakespeare and Dashiell Hammet. The rest of the backpack’s a good sized multi-knife, a mess of canned food, a can opener, mess kit and water purifier, and a tarpaulin for sleeping. Plus a guide to edible flora in the area, as I’m likely going vegetarian. I’d be a lousy hunter.

001: What did I do last week that was memorable?

(Note: This was written several weeks ago, but is being published today.)

Oh, plenty of things. How much fun to answer this after such an eventful week. If I were speaking on my feet, I could not refer to my bullet journal; so I’ll work to simply recall in writing as well.

I completed the edits for two short stories, putting my work on the Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus to bed. Well, the writing work. I also designed a book cover and was paid a pretty penny, which is going to purchase a PlayStation 4 – mostly in anticipation of Red Dead Redemption 2, but partly because I’d like a modern console.

I wrote quite a bit in these blog entries. Five full entries out of an attempted 3. I didn’t get any fiction writing done, but am aiming to fold that in this week. I delivered a speech off the top of my head to an appreciative room and got at least one amazing compliment out of that.

I read a lot. Two chapters in an assertiveness workbook, which is doing me a world of good. Five chapters in a book on compulsive behaviors. Three in a book on soul-friendship, given to me by someone very dear, a true Anam Cara. And five chapters of Jack London’s The Iron Heel, a socialist work against the oligarchy, and very timely in these miserable days beneath the heels.

Probably the two most memorable moments, though, were gathering with another dear friend for coffee on Sunday afternoon – a day when I am often found curled up at home, avoiding the world and myself. She surprised me with gifts from a recent trip, both for myself and my lovely wife, along with a few new card games for us all to try.

And I took said lovely wife to the theater for the closing night of Any Other Name, an excellent new black comedy starring three dear friends – James, Michelle, and Frank. The set design was splendid and the actors were each phenomenal. The tickets were a surprise gift from my good friend Phil.

By Julius Schorzman - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0, I felt very taken care of last week, honestly. It seemed like the world was bending over backward to make good things happen for me. I got the news of both a merit increase at work and the annual bonus payout, both of which made me very pleased. We did our taxes, too; but between state and federal it came out to a wash. Still, I’ll take a wash over a nasty surprise any day of the week.

Aha! Referring back, I see I also got out of the house on Monday and Friday to play games! First time to the Burdsell Manor to play Mansions of Madness over cheese curds and Miskatonic beers, second time to Chateau Glovier for our first try at Archipelago. Dan and I enjoyed tonkatsu udon for dinner that night, which was just delightful; and I was able to treat myself to a rare luxury Sunday evening with the missus.

It was, to be honest, a lovely and golden week. I look forward to this new one with a smile.


Three Ways to Prioritize Your Time

Let’s face it, we all procrastinate to some extent. The question of “to what extent” is what really separates us from one another, and separates the chronically late from the simply ill-prepared. I’m going to introduce you to three tools that moved me from the former category firmly into the latter.

The first is a physical and analog tool. This, my friends, is called a Bullet Journal. I know, I know. It’s the information age, the digital age, the time of miracles and wonder. An age that requires us to be nimble and to move quickly. Our brains, however, haven’t always caught up with that age. We’re still wired to work in an analog setting. The Bullet Journal, developed by a clever young man named Ryder Carrol, works to blend the two.

It has been scientifically proven that writing things out in longhand keeps them in our memory longer. At its simplest and most effective, the Bullet Journal consists of only three things: A number to every page, a topic to every page, and bullet points on every page.

As an example, take a look at these two pages, 114-115. This is where I keep track of restaurants I want to try and movies I want to watch, or have watched. You’ll note that each starts with a bullet point, maybe a brief description. At the bottom of the movies page, there’s a variance – having watched the Coen Brothers’ HAIL, CAESAR, I made an X through the bullet point and provided my personal 3-star rating. It was a good film, but not their best work. Similarly, under Restaurants, I’ve crossed out Trencherman, which sadly closed before I was able to enjoy their fare.

The page numbers allow me to create a quick index at the front of the journal. You can see how this system lets me take casual, one-off thoughts or comments and log them to remember later, when I’m actually looking for something to do. I find recommendations online or on television, and jot them down in the journal so I don’t have to remember them any longer.

The second tool is called the Eisenhower Matrix. Named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, this is the tool that really changed the way I spend my days and weeks. He had a great quote – “What is urgent is rarely important, and what is important is rarely urgent.”

As such, the matrix consists of four quadrants: Important and Urgent, Important and Not Urgent, Urgent but Not Important, and Neither Urgent nor Important. Examples of those four might be tax deadlines, physical exercise or study, assisting co-workers with their deadlines, and – at least in my case – scrolling endlessly through social media.

It’s a funny thing about our modern age that we spend most of our lives in the third quadrant, taking care of things that are Urgent – usually for someone else – but not truly important to us.

Eisenhower recommended that you Do everything in the first quadrant as soon as possible. That you Devote the majority of your free time to the second quadrant. That you Delegate or Decline to accept items in the third quadrant. And that you Delete items in the fourth quadrant.

I found that tracking these in my BuJo – and not even marking down the fourth quadrant – truly helped me begin focusing my time and energy where it was most important.

The third and final item that helped me with time management is called the Pomodoro Technique. Francesco Cirillo developed this in the eighties. The idea is that you can usually focus on ANYTHING for twenty minutes’ time. Therefore, when you begin a difficult task, you set a timer for 20 minutes. When that timer goes off, you ask yourself, do I need a break? If so, you take five minutes to stretch, check Facebook, or do other things Eisenhower would put in his fourth quadrant – then get back to another 20-minute block of work.

These three techniques have changed me from a full-blown procrastinator to a largely functional member of adult society. In fact, not too long ago, one of my mentors commented on the fact that he didn’t believe I’d ever been a procrastinator; because it seemed like I was always busy doing something different. I had to tell him, “Well, that’s the one great part about being a procrastinator. I can’t get bored – I’m just doing the things that were due in January!”

Lyrics, And The Importance Thereof.

So here’s the story about how lyrics I’ve known for over 30 years brought me to happy tears tonight.

You first need to know that my wife, Leanne, is a fabulous artist. She makes amazing jewelry, and she had the courage to strike out on her own several years ago. Since then, the economy has performed its usual fol-de-rol, and as such she’s decided to take on a side job at a grocery chain.

Her shift this morning was 6 AM – 2 PM, and she left the house before I was out of bed. As such, when I came home at 4:30 (PM), she was cocooned in a blanket on the sofa. While I am often out of bed before she is, it’s rare that I have a chance to see her sleeping and at peace; which brought this song to mind.

My late father Craig Ewert loved Jethro Tull, and I inherited that love when he shared it with me. Several old friends have told me they think of me when they hear Ian Anderson sing, and that makes me happy.

I kinda wanted to send Leanne this song, after watching her sleep this afternoon. But I’ve been burned by lyrics before, so I decided to double-check. And my mind, it was blown.

This song was recorded before I was born, and I’ve been mis-hearing the lyrics forever. In my head, they always went like this:

What a reason for waiting
And dreaming of dreams
So here’s hoping you’ll fail
In impossible schemes

A very Scots warning against over-reaching yourself. A very reasonable note that you won’t always succeed, that it’s all right to aim lower than you could, that nobody could blame you for settling. That really, in the end, you’re always going to fail.

But tonight, before sending them to my sleeping beauty, I looked up the lyrics on Google Play.

What a reason for waiting
And dreaming of dreams
So here’s hoping you’ve faith
In impossible schemes

I’m still in tears, frankly, over this confusion. That for thirty or more years, I’ve held back. And that I’m not too old yet for faith.

Thank you, Ian. Thank you, the long-gone Mr. Tull. Thank you to the Blades. Thank you to Leanne for this gift, and thank you to my father, who bequeathed me with cynicism and hope in equal measures.

Right. It’s a work night. No more tears, but thirty years of memories to unpack.

Transitioning to Marginalia

I am not, as a rule, one to write in or mark up books.

There are exceptions. I took notes in my college textbooks, of course. And I love workbooks, those companions to books designed to help you better some aspect of your life. I enjoy filling out the forms, ticking off the boxes, noting what’s most valuable to me. It would never occur to me to make those same notes in the primary book, though.

This may stem from the fact that I’ve got a 1st edition game book in my library which sells for over $200 on eBay, into which I scribed my name and address with magic marker as a child. Ce’st la guerre.

With that said, I adore finding marginalia that others have created. In used bookstores I’ll look for them most well-worn versions of whatever I’m interested in, hoping for dog-ears, annotations, long-forgotten mash notes.

I love the fact that my wife writes in her cookbooks. Sometimes it seems as if the entire recipe is crossed out, replaced with new ingredients and instructions; while at other times a simple “YUM” in capital letters lets me know I can prepare this dish without an issue. And a sweet friend recently presented me with a book simply riddled with highlighted passages, gifting me with a glimpse into what they find valuable and important.

There is something I adore about people who take notes like this, who treat the book not as some sacred relic but as a living part of their world. In a time where guarding ourselves seems so central to “getting ahead,” notes like these are a way to look into someone’s soul, to better understand the secret heart of the previous reader.

It also seems I may be in the minority when it comes to this reluctance to adding ephemera. A recent article in Business Insider, with the unfortunate click-bait title Five Principles That Will Help You Read More, included this gem:

One day I came across this idea where a book should be like a conversation between the reader and the author (…) and it just clicked. I realized that for me, books were too much like lectures. I could talk back. I started writing and making notes in the margins.

I don’t know. I understand the appeal in doing so, and as admitted, I delight in the fact that others work this way. It’s something to try, I suppose; starting with one of those self-improvement tomes that’s been assigned by the dayjob and which, miraculously, could actually be a decent read and of import to my current state. This is a revised edition of a book titled Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, and while I’ve technically borrowed it from a co-worker, he’s made a gift of it. It seems like a logical place to start changing this habit.

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