that makes me want to use the word "gosh?"
getting shit done, chapter 14: email
ok, so having more time than you know what to do with. today i didn't check my email.
that's it. i didn't check my email. i worked on a poster, i edited some video, i looked up the weather. i didn't check my email. i met with a friend, i did some writing, i met with another friend, i did some reading, i ate some food, i went to work, i paid some bills, i played my ukulele, i called some friends, and i had SO MUCH TIME! as the day wore on, i found myself pulled more and more toward the email. it felt kind of like yom kippur (the one day every year jews fast and pray all day and atone for our sins). sort of holy, sort of empty, sort of reflective, sort of humbling.
every time i defeated the urge to check my email, i felt triumphant, and ready to take on the world, and maybe first check my email. because i miss the spam. i miss getting hounded with a days worth of ads for cialis and hoodia and junk bonds. i miss knowing i clicked to saved the polar bear and the alaskan wildlife and the first amendment. i miss getting the lowdown about registering my cell phone on the do not call list. i miss the seven emails from the class clown in the comedy newsgroup who has to make fun of the spelling mistake in the last post. i miss those emails from people i never see and wouldn't call (because they lie just beyond that realm of relate-ability) who want to say a long lost hello. i miss clicking. i've never smoked a cigarette, but i imagine the act of clicking 'get mail' has a really similar effect on the brain. i guess with a cigarette, it's like you're always getting new mail.
the art of getting shit done is really about getting shit done so you can experience life. what are we trying to get at here? we're getting at letting go of the shit we didn't want to do in the first place but somehow felt obligated to in order to get to the shit we want to do. i like to ask myself, 'what's essential?' i like to ask myself this question on a regular basis, and be brutally honest and yet deeply compassionate with myself at the same time (which i'm about to do for you now, because i'm an artist and i consider it my job to expose my thought process to the light of day for various reasons).
so why am i doing what i'm doing at this moment? what's the purpose of this action? how am i feeling at this moment? what's the purpose of this feeling? (right now, i'm thinking i want to raise my level of awareness by writing about this, but i'm also thinking, maybe people will read it and identify with it and like me. and what's the purpose of that? if they like me, will i then feel ok? nope. won't change anything. ok, then is the writing of this worth doing in itself?) i don't change anything. i just ask. the other day i went to rainbow grocery to get some fruit-sweetened chocolate malt balls and some lunch. it was very important. it was in the middle of my day. i needed to eat, but did i need to go all the way to rainbow? how much writing time did i use on that trip? i still went. this is what's new: i was conscious. and i didn't even eat the malt balls until yesterday. and fuck, they were fruit-sweetened. can i get any healthier?
i would now like to express the most vital concept of Getting Shit Done in the form of an interpretive dance, which i would now like to express in the form of a written essay.
imagine a large dark room with a tiny luminous ball hanging from the ceiling. a creature clad in black with a face painted like a cloud awakens from a deep sleep. i am that creature. as i emerge from the blackness, i begin to limp. i am limping. i am injured. no, deformed. i raise my left hand to discover it is in fact a scientific calculator, and my right, an egg beater. silently, i moan. my left foot is a baby alligator and on my right, an alligator boot. a jig begins to play. my alligator boot begins to jitterbug uncontrollaby. suddenly, i'm performing calculations with the egg beater. i moan again, my body rumbling as i am struck with a lightning bolt of advanced mathematical knowledge.
i am performing the three-fingered mudras of Vecti (with an egg-beater–think edward scissorhands), Goddess of advanced mathematical knowledge, in the way one does when suddenly speaking and understanding italian in a dream. we hear faint honking behind the jig, whose tune has grown loud and unwieldy, and now sounds more like a jig saw. the lumious ball grows brighter. i can now see your faces clearly. you are smiling like flowers. the dark room, it turns out, is not a room at all. it is actually an alley in between three tall tenement buildings. dogs are snarling, and paper is sprawling from last week's ticker tape parade. there is a clock and a stack of books. and a machine from a factory pressing plastic toys for toy story 3's release. i'm not really dancing anymore.
ok, it's a dance in which i inject plastic into little molds. when they cool, i take them out, put them in a bag, take them out of the bag excitedly, play with them, do a pee pee dance, and throw the plastic toy on the ground. then i pick the toys up, 'smelt' them, inhale their fumes (get a little high), and inject the plastic back into the molds (don't forget the egg beater hand). i consult my card file. what's the next action? you are still smiling. no, now you are laughing. as quickly as it lit, the luminous ball begins to fade until all you can see now is the cloud on my face. perhaps it looks like a rubber ducky or the press secretary. no matter. i am still as a cloud.
ever want to get shit ALL done? like there's some project you've had hanging over your head for centuries, and somehow it's never finished? i remember (and have perhaps distorted) an old wives' tale about fisherman's wives who would sew sweaters for their husbands at sea–but right before they got to the end, they'd unravel the thing and start over again–because if they finished the sweater and he was at sea, it meant he was dead.
like my circus. that was a fun project. so many people collaborated. getting to work and play with the infamous benjamin turner (who is now on tour with the carpet bag brigade) was a dream come true (nightmare? just kidding, ben). but, fuck, it took a year to plan and a year to execute. and another six months to make the tour movie. and it's all outta sync and i have to re-do it. it's still not done!
perfectionism. a major obstacle to completion.
how do we know when to stop working on a piece of art (a film, a short story, an ice carving)? it's like dating. you gotta check yourself. i've adapted the dating protocol to art. when i don't know what to do in a relationship, i call friends who know me, tell the truth, and ask for their perspective. and i put that information on the table. i talk to the person and tell them where i'm at. i meditate on it. i sleep on it. i read about it. i write about it. i make art about it.
which brings us back to the art.
e. g. i've been ramping up my standup writing. and i had the bright idea to create a filemaker database to put all my ideas into so i wouldn't lose them as easily. it's also helpful to be able to sort them by topic for when i want to build longer sets. and i could even go back through my old notebooks and harvest the old seeds i sowed long ago! but then my mind said, hold the fuck on–you're going to buy filemaker pro, load it on to the computer, build a database, go through all your old notebooks, and then write new jokes? that's a couple of weeks' work and you might lose the steam you had to write jokes in the first place inside a steam-sucking computer chamber!
NO WAY. and then another voice said, MAKE A PHONE CALL to someone who has PERSPECTIVE. so i called my 'comedy mentor' (who knows how i work and how i shirk), told him the story, and he said DO IT! so i'm doing it. in the past, i would have spent a week just puzzling over whether to make the stupid database and not written a single joke. ah, progress.
and as for stick-a-fork-in-it-done? not gonna happen. maybe for dead people. my good friend brian's motto is helpful for perfectionists (but not for imperfectionists): "better done than good." am i wondering to myself, 'is this blog entry good enough?' yes. am i willing to stay up until 4:30 am again to perfect it? no. good night!
are you ready to put the power of synchronicity into getting shit done?
i'm going to suggest something radical. i want you to throw out your to-do list. i'm not kidding. take it now, and tear it word from word. every task you're supposed to finish, everyone you're supposed to call, the reminders for the thank you note to your boss for the raise, the birthday card for your neice, the electricity bill.
everything. now put the pieces of paper in a bag along with your wrist watch, which represents your concept of time. 'there's never enough time,' we say, 'time is running out,' we insist, 'it's later than you think!' we cry.
now get a hammer. smash the watch and the paper. break it up real good. now put it in a top hat and set it aside. we'll come back to it later, but first i'd like you to pick a card.
seriously, read on only if you've burned, shredded, or drowned your to-do list. and put it in a top hat.
that's the card you want? don't show it to me. have you memorized it? ok, put it back in the deck. no, face down. good.
now i want you to get a pen and a piece of paper. do it. seriously, do it. i want you to write down the three people you know personally who most inspire you. now write down your three favorite activities. now write three favorite times in your life.
and now write down the one thing they all have in common (e. g. the quality of 'gentleness').
i want you to write the opposite of that one thing (e. g. 'forcefulness'). and now, this is complicated, but i want you to write down the opposite of the opposite, without using the first word (let's say, 'allowing'). put that aside for now.
ok, have you ever experienced coincidence? have you heard talk of the same book several days in a row, and subsequently found a copy of it on the sidewalk? have you run into a friend in a distant city? randomly asked someone's birthdate and found it was the same as your own?
write down the first coincidence that comes to mind. immediately and without thinking, write down what that coincidence signaled to you (e. g. 'my best friend called me at the same moment i picked up the phone to call her. the phone didn't even ring. from this i take that somehow we are connected in an unseeable way').
now plug your answers into this equation: i am (allowing) that (we are all connected in an unseeable way). make it grammatically correct so i don't look like a shlump. just jam it together. go ahead. i have a 5 o'clock show on a cruise ship.
now i want you to take this equation, and put it in the top hat. wave your hand and say, 'there are no coincidences! there are no coincidences! there are no coincidences!' now, take out your piece of paper really dramatically as if it's your old smashed watch that's been magically transformed into this new thing.
is this your card?
no. it's today's to-do list.