How Post It portraits helped me wrestle with my completion monster

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I had become so used to falling short of the goals I set for myself that the promises I made to myself and others felt empty. While almost certainly partially fun-monkey related*, I do think that part of my procrastination was a submission to the fate of the partially completed project. And somewhere in you-tube-athon or possibly procrastination click-fest I came across the tiniest piece of advice. A snippet of a frase, and frustratingly I’m not even sure where it came from – really – because I’d love to say thanks.

The advice was: lower the goal. Set yourself the minimum achievable goal. Something you can definitely do. Build your confidence in your willpower and creativity by achieving at first, the ridiculously easily achievable.

I’d tried the sketchbook route before, which I know works very well for a lot of people. I have a tendency to become frustrated with the “bad” pages, and an equally frequent tendency to mislay the book when I’m looking to draw. I understood: the low goal had to include fail safes. I settled on the post-it note. One note, one face, one day.

An unexpected upside of the post-it note was the very visible nature of the activity. “What’s going on here?” said my flatmate, and she’d visit the wall to laugh at the squished faces of the people hastily sketched at 2.43 am. I can’t tell the number of times I’ve retired to bed to face the wall, feeling sweaty with the realisation that I haven’t done the days drawing.

The theory went that provided it was a face, some drawing was better than none, and keeping that bar ground-scrapingly low I  wasn’t allowed multiple attempts. After drawing inspiration to scribblers everywhere, Danny Gregory, for a week, I switched onto an actor in a TV show I was watching, then my family, and then my Facebook friends from a randomised list.

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The eagle-eyed among you will spot a faceless day. Failure. A real low.

The success of the post-it portraits had significantly improved my ability to take on and complete other tasks, and in the week of the 4th of February my flatmate and I successfully launched, on a very tight deadline, a special project (which is ongoing). I hit the sack on the night of the 11th without even realizing I’d not done a face.

I felt pretty crappy about it the next day. I felt like a 2 ball juggler who’d added a third to her repertoire and dropped one without even noticing. I felt like I’d be a 2 ball juggler all my life. And my drawings were crappy. They weren’t even great – unlike in the first weeks I was rushing them, and many were a late night afterthought.

I put a blank post it on the wall, giving ditching the project some serious consideration. And with that I realised how pitiful I was being. With one setback, and some subpar images, I was ready to sabotage the whole – let’s face it – frivolous project. The polar opposite of grit, it’s not too great to realise that when the going gets tough (or even just doesn’t continue being super easy), you’re the first with your hands in the air saying “well that didn’t work”. I grumpily and begrudginly continued onwards (what a champion I am!). Although the quality of the work didn’t greatly improve I was certainly faster at getting down a likeness and some shadows and contours seemed to be becoming almost like friends.

For a few years, I’ve thought of doing a drawing for my parents’ birthdays. They are the proud owners of the publishers’ proofs of their wedding photos that they couldn’t afford to print properly, and I’ve always toyed with drawing one (minus the big “proof” stamp). This year, I felt it would be possible: I knew I was faster and with the strict no multiple attempts rule not in place, I started a drawing 3 days prior to the event (because although I might be better at follow though I still have the tendency to be a bit last minute). About 1 hour in I had some doubts, and then banished them. The whole thing is about A3 size, took nearly 10 hours, and is the most serious piece of intentional drawing I’ve done in years.

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Please excuse the glare on my dad’s shoulder from my desk lamp! It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a solid likeness. I am 100% sure I would never have done it without all the crappy 3.25 am faces, I’m sure my power of observation and possibly even technical ability has improved slightly, but more important was the belief that I could take on the project (albeit only lasting 10 hours in the end) and see it through.

Thanks post-it notes. Thanks internet artists (notable mentions Danny Gregory, Mark Crilley) Thanks whoever it was that helped me set the bar low.

 

*the best article/post on procrastination ever written by Tim Urban. I imagine everyone’s already read it but i’ve linked it anyway :-).

What it feels like to not show up for work, or what I learned from Whiplash

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A trembling cymbal and fine motor control of a rhythmic iteration have brought me to my senses.

I’ve realised what it feels like not to have been showing up to work.

Possibly for years.

I put more time and effort into my transitory job, than into the reasons I took this low paid but commitment-lite work in the first place.

I know what “bone tired” feels like, but it’s not a sensation I’ve had for years. I’ve not poured my heart and soul into anything, and it’s killing me.

Whiplash is a raw film about the demands and exhilaration of excellence.

I have a moderate life and I detest myself for it.

I fear late nights, when I am at my most productive, for feeling tired and raw the next day. I think, better go to sleep, and have that lie-in anyway because I’m really not at my best then anyway.

This year, my aimless existence has even been subsidised by a sibling, so I can’t even claim self sufficiency.

I feel deeply uncomfortable in my high level of comfort.

Before I slept: 2 drawings. An attempt at Terence Fletcher’s concentrated but at once contemplative face (a justly oscar worthy performance from JK Simmons), and a scribblier Miles Teller in a relatively neutral pose from the final scene. Expressions and likenesses are obviously a challenge. In particular with regard to Teller, I’ve learned from this to choose a stronger facial expression to give the thing some life!

On looking at these images again this morning, I made some adjustments – but my international adaptor is currently in Seville, so better to upload these now than later.

The life affirming magic of putting stuff into bags*

IMG_2141   (this is not my camino packing)

I’m a natural hoarder like my dad.

I feel sad for the waste of disposal.

I’ll admit to having kept a collection of receipts as a child. But as an adult, I’ve never stayed in one place for too long and have spent an unusual proportion of my twenties in “hospital accommodation”, choosing cheaper bricks and mortar in exchange for better city locations. As such I do have less physical possessions than most of my peers. I know one more thing bought is just one more thing carried.

But I always feel that an object in my hand might be useful one day.

And I’m reminded of my mother who would throw out my dad’s possessions without him realising, and that woman who bangs on about the objects that bring you joy*.

But I still loathe the moving/packing/cleaning process. It seems to take me longer than anyone else I know (and I’ve had a fair bit more experience with it).

I move around my flat in ever decreasing circles, until I’m left with the batteries, keys and paperclips.

Some items continue to be “in use” right until the last moment (cutlery – which I only have one set of, cup – ditto). Recognising this to be the case, I often just surrender to other activities (my old friend procrastination back again 😉 !) Today: buying bus tickets, recycling (WORTHY procrastination, ideal), speaking to my mum (ditto the worthy but she also always has good chat, so it’s not such a one sided deal) and writing this post!

My main items (pictured half filling suitcase above) will be stored with friends and my camino gear will, of course, come on my back!

My sketchbook is indulgently large (A4 Leuchtturm 180grms) and I’m taking a few sheets of watercolour paper, my watercolour palette and a pencil case with a couple of pens and pencils (I do mean a couple). So I’ll have to think about how to save weight otherwise. I’d be interested to hear from anyone doing the camino now – in the summer – what do you have on your feet? Are you ever wearing boots? I have a lot of conflict about taking something heavier than my teva sandals…

*I’ve not read this book, but I will, not least because it seems incredibly divisive!

Decluttering in Space, and Time

Minimalism is having a moment.

And my brother was ahead of the game.

When he was at university, he had a philosophy of only trying to accomplish “one thing” in a day, for example a “thing” might be going to the post office.

Eating, sleeping playing the guitar and watching TV seen as “core tasks”, which he enjoyed, or were necessary.  Other activities (studying, administrative items) were seen as intrusions to the schedule and were minimised.

This wasn’t amazing for his degree, but he plays the guitar very well, and has an innate understanding of media and storytelling and this is where he now works despite the lack of qualifications.

Many people have written about how routine can “declutter” our lives and lead to us accomplishing more. I’m certainly a person who can live, and prefers to live without many objects. I’ve been able to fit my life into two suitcases for the past five years, however I have sometimes felt that I allow things which are not important to me to “clutter” my time.

But for one month this summer, I will be privileged to be able to spend 4 weeks on 4 main tasks:

walking, sleeping eating and drawing on the Camino de Santiago.

(From what I’ve read, there’s a possibility that “foot care” may become an intrusive item.)

I’m looking forward to this sparse schedule, but the exact choice of camino is likely to significantly impact this experience. It’s something I’ll be giving consideration to in the next few days.

Gothic Horror in the Housing Association (part 1)

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I debated whether I should finish my whole drawing/strip before uploading it to my page. I estimate that there are another two similar squares to come. Perfectionism and “Completionism” (hmm.. that doesn’t seem to be a word… I’m going with it for now) are the bedfellows of my good friend procrastination, and I decided to thwart this frenemy by posting in instalments.

I started this for my “favourite TV show challenge”, although it is really one of my favourite comedy sketches, where the gothic world of HP Lovecraft collides with a local Scottish housing association (see also “Epiphany Continuum” Sketch where horrors of a biblical proportion meet TV dinners). I’ve never done this sort of strip before, and it’s fair to say the planning was poor. Additionally, it’s important to keep the character’s faces looking similar from one frame to the next (tricky 🙂 !), but given that I’ve found, and completed this third of the drawing, I’ll hopefully continue onto the others!

On failing

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I can’t believe I’m here again.

Challenge failed, or at least stalled… and about six weeks since my last log in on WordPress.

Why can’t I just post regularly like other people?

Some reasons:

– A feeling of dread that, when embarking on something (example a drawing), it will seem terrible and pointless in the end.

– That such conclusions will lead to the gaping realisation of my own insignificance in creation.

– As such I favour other, more productive tasks, such as elaborate meal preparation, viewing some extremely dodgy “alternative health” youtube videos and half assed cleaning.

– Willpower made of marshmallow.

– Feeling that to accomplish anything creative I must have, in the words of Louis Armstrong “all the time in the world”

– Realisation that such a feeling can only be the unrealistic product of someone whose life and time have been spent largely in areas that are either reactive (Hello, you seem to have had a medical emergency of some kind, I will endeavour to react appropriately), or hopelessly open-ended (Bonjour/Buenas, I’m learning your language, something I can never hope to conquer as a native child of five might) and never having really produced anything in my puff… even my degree thesis ended up being a deconstruction of a histology department’s own crazy brand of mathematics (it turned out to be not really mathematics, which was the problem) and instead of proposing and testing a hypothesis, I dismantled their criteria for testing various hypotheses. This was a kamikaze move in terms of my own project, but I had unwittingly brought down the projects of two innocent bystanders, and understandably the department weren’t too happy about it.

– Hence I’m nervy about creation, production and all that.

– And have the tendency to become easily sidetracked.

I won’t ask you to watch this space. Even I reckon I’ve go to keep my expectations realistic.

The only useful advice I have for you is not to scroll through “Rats asses” on google images.

Starting and Finishing

It wasn’t my intention to coincide this post with the New Year.

I am, however, probably subject to l’air du temps as much as anyone.

I’m quite the procrastinator. As someone who’s come across this blog you might be too.

Tim Urban from the website “Wait but why?” helpfully names that procrastination abyss “The Dark Playground”, and in doing so hopes to help us think, and choose more clearly about how to use our time. Hopefully escaping the compulsive sidebar clicking.

Am I reaching dizzy heights of procrastination, by continually blogging about my struggles with it?

I not only have problems with starting, but my impression is certainly that my completion rate is not at all high. I’ve done a bit of an inventory of “projects commenced” over the past five years.  I’ve got quite an large embroidery image (taken from an old poster from the San Sebastian film festival) which I begun in ahem… 2010 (photos of that later), a half made collar with antique ribbon back when that was trendy, and a slightly strange bead embroidery of a tree, the intention for which I now can’t recall….

that lilac felt shouldn't still be visible!            IMG_1642

These aren’t the best examples. I need to set up a sewing machine to complete the collar (not how I’m planning to spend my short visit to Scotland with my family), and I’m not even sure what the point of “completion” of the tree is… but I’ll be sure to post the “San Sebastian” embroidery, which I do plan to finish in the Spring of 2015.

That wary feeling that causes me to procrastinate stuff

Waking up late is a pain in the ass.

The day is delayed, it’s an unwitting form form of procrastination.

But I do believe a good night’s kip is time well spent.

In the coming year I will be trying to become a little bit more of a lark. My heart sinks when, after watching videos until 1am, I see that it’s 11.45am on a Saturday and, rolling into the blankets with the depression of this information, the next time I look it’s already the afternoon. Eating porridge in a dressing gown and slippers after midday puts a depressingly student-like spin on the day. It seems the later half of the day will inevitably slide towards the truly mindless pursuit of watching daytime television. (And thanks to something called “Salvame”*, this can’t even be construed a productive exercise in Spanish learning!).

I want to move forward in my writing, drawing and spanish, while maintaining my french! So why are these the things which are pushed so far down my “to do” list, that they inevitably fall off, onto the next day’s routine activities, and the cycle begins again?

I’m not one who believes in physical discomfort. I suspect my biology is the boss of me, rather than the other way around. I want to sleep 8 hours a night, and I think cooking your own food from scratch (soup, salads, nowt fancy) is a serious investment in your future health.

There’s the tricky business of earning money. Which tends to take up quite a bit of time.

I’ve recently taken quite the pay cut, and moved into the area of language teaching (English 🙂  ), with a view to facilitate the above goals. Because I’m new to it, it hasn’t, so far, freed up the hours that I’d hoped, but I’m now four months in and the fact that I’ve now got some language exchanges on the go reflects that now I do have a little more time.

But time is no obstacle for the master procrastinator. For example, I have just stopped myself opening a new browser window for the pressing matter or whether the brand of cowboy boots I am considering would be a solid purchase. As I’m actually writing about procrastination, my willpower has held out on this occasion.

So, in relation to the ol’ earning money element of spending time, this weekend I have to write some end of term reports for kids I teach. I have some verbal spanish, but almost no written skills and as such it is likely to take me a number of quite painful hours. I could look upon it as a learning experience, but the frustrating thing would be that it probably wouldn’t be presentable in the end anyway.

The idea came to me to “outsource” the work.

I know, how very 2009 of me.

I’d already written the English versions of their reports on one of my recent train journeys. Being in table format I was able to anonymise them by giving each student a number and using this to identify them in the text.

But because I’ve never done it before, I feel wary! and I’m procrastinating it… !! I’m wondering if it won’t work, and if, at the last minute i’ll have to cobble together some pitiful Spanish.

So I thought I’d write a quick blog post, a “before”, if you will.

The other question is, having freed up this time, will I use it on one of my goals, or shall I end up watching inane youtube videos?

* this is certainly a post for another time