Do What’s Important First

“you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and you must do what’s important first.”— Steven Pressfield

For most of us, life moves at a break neck pace of multi-tasking days as we juggle the competing demands on our limited resources of time. IMG_0518A mobile device seems necessary to organize and plan the details. Being a bit of a Luddite myself, I still prefer to make written “To-Do” Lists. Mine look something like this:

  • -Today
    -The Week Ahead
    -Before the End of the Month
    -Long Term Projects for the Year
    -House Projects
    -Things to Shop for On-line   etc.etc.etc.

Despite our technological efficiency and our herculean efforts, we still say “I can’t find the time” to do this or that. A true statement. There is no more time to be “found” lying around unused somewhere. We cannot lengthen a day. The solution then, is not about finding more time, but about taking time. And if we take time for one thing, we take time away from something else. If we add here, we must subtract there, like it or not. This is simple math, but of course, it’s not easy to do!

How, and what do we subtract? How do we spend the time that we take?

About 2 or 3 times during the year I get to the point where I feel totally overwhelmed. Not only by my “To-Do” lists, but by all the new and interesting activities, people, and places that I want to incorporate into my life. Overrun by choices and the demands on my time, I quickly lose focus and catch myself spinning aimlessly, unable to accomplish anything.

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Me, trying to keep it all under control

Do you know the feeling?

 

When this happens I know that I need to sit down and re-read my “Life Priority List” to remind myself of what I consider to be my life’s over-arching essential goals and direction. It’s my personal vision statement so to speak. It’s my Big Picture “To-Do” List that helps me regain my perspective. It’s my compass to help me find my path when I can’t see the forest for the trees. Here is the gist of it:

-contemplative time to read and write in my journal
-maintain and build relationships with friends/family
-creative expression through song writing and blogging
-development of my piano/guitar/writing skills
-Mind/body wellness through exercise, meditation, etc.

In his motivational book, The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield talks about how, as a professional writer, he must continually discipline himself amidst the demands of the day in order to get his work done. He writes,” I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.

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Me, when I can’t see the forest for the trees

I love the simple truth of this statement and have it taped to the wall in my studio. Like Pressfield, I must discipline myself each day to resist the siren call of the urgent, (basically everything on my “To-Do” Lists), and make my work my priority. I must first sit down and hammer out a set of lyrics, or practice chord progressions in the key of A flat, or flesh out a blog idea. I must take time to do what’s important or I will never find the time. I only feel overwhelmed when I lose sight of this. When I look at the map I’ve drawn for my life, suddenly it becomes clear what I need to subtract to regain my equilibrium.

 

Sometimes what’s urgent and what’s important are the same thing. Only you can decipher this. But if you know the difference between the two, and keep your priorities as Ground Zero, then you will not be subject to the relentless Tyranny of the Urgent with its insatiable appetite for your time. Funny thing, you may discover as I have that when I do my important work first, I feel more energized and I can let go of the stress of whether everything on those “To-Do” Lists actually gets Done.

Dear Readers, do you know what your big-picture life priorities are? How do you cope with the Important versus the Urgent in your daily life? Do share.

A Lesson From Van Gogh

Well, June 3rd has come and gone. The first of the last hurdles is now over in the race to  complete my recording.  I’m very pleased with the results.  Today I head back up for four more days of work in the studio. This time I will record two songs on guitar and we will review all of the songs recorded thus far to determine what will make the cut for the cd.recording studio

One of the songs I’ll be recording next week is actually a re-do of a song I recorded last October called “A Stone’s Throw.” I didn’t like how the recording turned out but I didn’t want to give up on the song so I re-arranged it stylistically and now we’ll give it another go. It is the first song I ever wrote, which was about 4 years ago. Truthfully, it’s not the kind of song that I feel I am gravitating toward writing now. But giving it recorded voice feels necessary for closure to that period of my song writing.

For some reason, Stone’s Throw has undergone more revisions than any song I’ve written thus far. I’ve changed the key, the lyrics, the rhythm and the arrangement. Some songs are written quickly and have an immediate coherency while others, like this one, seem to evolve with fits and starts.

portratureI have been reading a collection of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. In his early correspondence, Van Gogh details his experiences of learning to draw, especially the human form. He works and re-works countless sketches, using live models, hours and hours a day. Landscapes too require much trial and error to get right. He expresses worry over the expense of using so much paint on studies that are then discarded. He tells Theo that he tries to draw with charcoal as much as possible while practicing so to save the costly paint for more evolved compositions. Pot of paint

Van Gogh’s letters reminded me that all artistic work really is work, no matter the artistic form. What we see as the “finished product” is the result of countless hours by the artist of honing their craft. None of us are immune from the learning curve. Van Gogh did not sit down one day and produce a masterpiece. I don’t know if I will ever produce a “masterpiece” but I can certainly attest to the fact that if you want to create something of value then you must buckle down and do the necessary work. It is unavoidable. You can’t go around to get to the other side, you must go through. Is this not true of life in general?

So, back to my song. Actually all of the songs I’ve written. The writing of the melody, the lyrics and the arrangement isn’t the end. The recording process is part of a song’s evolution. Sometimes you just don’t know how it’s going to sound until you record it.  All artists have songs that didn’t turn out as they hoped or just weren’t right and were either abandoned in the studio or reworked in some way. Of course, I’m hoping that this next attempt at  “A Stone’s Throw” will be a keeper for the cd. But I’m learning to remain open to the fluidity of the process trusting that no matter what happens, ultimately having done the work will produce the reward.Painted Background 259

“Insist On Yourself”

June 3rd is looming large on my calendar. On Friday I go back into the studio to record the last two piano songs for my cd. Later in the month, I’ll spend four more days recording on guitar and reviewing all of my songs in preparation for release. I have been working on this project for more than a year now and am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.IMG_2283

IMG_2288Deciding to write and record my own songs was a giant leap into the unknown. An endeavor begun in middle age, with no knowledge of how to do it, and with only a fledgling’s self-confidence that I could do it. But when the opportunity presented itself to quit my day job a few years ago, and to focus on my music, I knew it was now or never.

It had never occurred to me when I was younger that I might possess enough talent to do such a thing. My religious upbringing encouraged conformity not individuality. It was an inhospitable environment for creativity to thrive. Nevertheless, my desire to create never died. It was just lying dormant, awaiting the time when I would evolve into the person who was confident in, and comfortable with her own uniqueness. The person I was always meant to be.

 “Insist on yourself: never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half-possession…Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.” —  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Two months ago I had only one song written to record on piano. Because we rent a large studio with a grand piano for the day, I knew it was necessary to have two songs ready to go. I had an idea in progress for a song, with a chorus already written, but I could never get any traction going on the verses.IMG_2290

After two weeks of laboring over it, I made the decision to cut bait and try for something new. The only thing I had in the wings were some lines inspired by the Greek myth about the Three Fates; Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the three women who determine the length of a life. One spins the symbolic thread, one marks its length, and the third cuts it.

The Three FatesRecently I visited an elderly friend who expressed to me that she had never allowed herself to develop her life’s potential. She had so many dreams and ambitions that never came to fruition because it meant leaving an unhappy marriage, something she could never get the courage to do. Now in her mid 80‘s she was looking back with regret over what might have been.

I was reminded of another friend, who for most of his life, has viewed the world through a very narrow lens. He likes bullet lists, how-to formulas and five step programs. He believes that the most important thing you can learn in life is how to control your emotions. But in the last few years he has glimpsed the vitality and richness of other cultures and world views beyond his ken. The world could be his oyster, but does he have the courage to loosen his grip on control? Will he take the leap into the unknown?

As I pondered my friends’ life stories and my own life’s metamorphosis I saw the thread of commonality and a song began to coalesce and emerge. No matter our individual circumstances, if we are evolving we will reach a point of awareness when we say life has been “thus” but now it can be “thus.” We will reach a point where it will take blind courage to move forward. And we will become aware of the thread growing shorter.

The Fates of Time                                                                        

Looking back at the beginning
You had a formula for winning
Your secret was control
You wrapped your heart in a blindfold

So you took it on the road
In every town a sold out show
People hungry for a cure
Will buy a remedy like yours

But life always seems to stray
From the best of plans we lay
And walls buckles from the strain
Of a ruse you can’t sustain
Not even one more day

Chorus: 
‘Cause the Fates of Time are spinning
Measuring and trimming
The days, the hours, the time
You’ve left to find
The thread of meaning in your life

One day you catch a glimpse
Of a happiness you’ve missed
It’s a passion in your soul
That won’t bend to your control

So embrace uncertainty
You have all the strength you need
Take the leap, it’s not too late
To become yourself, don’t wait
Not even one more day

‘Cause the Fates of Time are spinning
Measuring and trimming
The days, the hours, the time
You’ve left to find
The thread of meaning in your life                                            

words and music by Penny R Pierce
copyright 2016 all rights reserved

 

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Texas Star Rising

CarieJuettnerBioDear Readers,

I’m so delighted to introduce to you our featured poet, Carie Juettner, to help us celebrate National Poetry Month!  Carie is a poet, short story author, and novelist in Austin, TX. Her work has been published in Nature Futures, The Texas Observer, and The Texas Poetry Calendar, among other places, and she has a story forthcoming in Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. In addition to writing, Carie substitute teaches, shelves library books, and speaks to students about poetry. You can learn more about Carie, find links to all of her published work, (along with some great photos of her pets) on her blog,  cariejuettner.com

Below are two poems that you will love along with a short interview with Carie!

Wildflower Season

Highways are bridges across red seas,
oceans of blue—
bodies of color that wave
when the wind blows.

Tourists in our own land, we wade
through ankle-high blooms, then venture deeper—
trying to capture something
that can’t be caught in a photo.

What we want to remember
is our moment of awe
when we crested that hill
and gasped at the painted landscape.

One bluebonnet looks just like the next up close.
They are not zebra stripes, nor snowflakes.
Their power lies in the collective,
beauty in numbers.

Let’s put down our cameras,
keep our kids in the car,
stop stopping on the side of the road
to see the blanket turn to threads,
the ocean of blue become a dried up lake
of bald spots and litter.

Let’s just drive, look,Bluebonnets
enjoy with our windows down.

Make a U-turn if we must.

© Carie Juettner

This poem won first place in the Austin Poetry Society’s Mary Oliver Award in 2015 and is published in Best Austin Poetry 2014-2015. Follow this link to get your copy!

The Bohemian Freethinker chats with Carie Juettner

BFT:  Carie, has Austin and or Texas, always been your home? Your poem “Wildflower Season” about the beautiful bluebonnets indigenous to Texas reveals an inspiration from your specific locale. How does sense of place inspire you? Give us an idea of where your inspiration comes from.

Carie: I’ve lived in Texas all my life. I grew up in Richardson, which is near Dallas, then came to Austin to attend college at UT and, like a lot of people, I stayed. I’ve been in Austin for over fifteen years now. It’s a great town.

I’m definitely inspired by place. I’ve been published several times in the Texas Poetry Calendar, so most of those pieces are Texas-themed, and I have another wildflower poem, a haiku actually, that appeared last August in The Texas Observer. I also love Big Bend National Park in south Texas and am always inspired to write when I go there.

BFT: In one of your essays about teaching, you state that you knew you wanted to be a teacher as early as the 9th grade. When did you discover that you were also a writer, and a poet in particular?

Carie:  I started writing poems in 9th or 10th grade. I still have them. They almost all rhyme and most of them have dramatic titles like “Dancing with Danger” and “Flirting with Disaster,” things I never actually did. 🙂 I started journaling and writing poetry more seriously in college, and I got my first poem published in the 2009 Texas Poetry Calendar.

All throughout my teaching career I wanted to “write a book someday.” But that’s about as far as the thought went. It was just this vague notion of something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what the book would be about or when I would write it or how. In my last year of teaching, I got an idea for a novel and started making notes. Then I made the big decision to quit teaching and jumped into writing with both feet. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned about both the craft and business of writing over the past four years. And there’s still so much TO learn.

BFT:  Although our focus is on poetry today, you are actually a published author in other genres including horror, and young adult fiction. Does one inform the other, or one flow from another? Do you usually have a work in progress in multiple genres simultaneously?

Carie: I do think that the practice of writing, in any genre, makes you a better writer in all genres. I think the succinctness of poetry and the focus on imagery and language aids my prose, and sometimes when a short story is getting too long and I’m having trouble reeling it in, I try to visualize it as a poem in order to focus and find the heart of it.

I ALWAYS have multiple projects going at once, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. In one way, it’s nice to have something else to work on when I get stuck in one piece, but at the same time, that makes it easy to jump from one work-in-progress to the next over and over rather than making myself focus and struggle through the hard parts.

Right now, while I’m looking for an agent for my first middle grade novel, I have a poetry chapbook and a horror short story both in revision and another middle grade novel draft I need to get back to.

BFT:  Your poem, “Poetry Tumbles,” was published in the 2015 Anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival. The festival has already occurred in 2016, yes? Was it well attended? Is poetry alive and well today?

Carie: Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend AIPF this year, but I do think poetry is alive and well today, at least in Austin. I’m on the board of the Austin Poetry Society, where we have a fairly small but very devoted group of poets who enjoy attending our meetings and listening to our guest speakers and entering our monthly and annual contests. We’re always looking for new members and volunteers though, so if you’re a poetry lover in the Austin area, consider joining. http://www.austinpoetrysociety.org

In fact, Austin has is a great community for writers of all types. A few months ago, I raved about all my favorite local literary events and organizations on my blog. You can check it out here: https://cariejuettner.com/2015/09/01/writerly-resources-in-austin-tx/

                                                                      Poetry Tumbles 

Poetry tumbles down the street
skittering into gutters
wrapping around crepe myrtles
and live oak branches
sailing out from under parked cars,
marred by tire treads

Poetry collects in doorways
lurks in bushes
pastes itself to fence posts
like flyers for lost cats.
It teeters on rooftops
threatening to jump

Poetry rings the doorbell
in the middle of the day
then runs away, laughing.
It digs holes in the garden,
then lounges on a lawn chair
nibbling ripe plums
birds eggs in nest
Poetry yawns, stretches  
wiggles its bare toes
and rubs its eyes,
curls up in a bird’s nest
and falls asleep
camouflaged as eggs.

© Carie Juettner  

 

Make The Need Felt

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,-that is genius.”    Ralph Waldo Emerson from Self Reliance

It’s pretty amazing that you are reading this blog. There are some 60 million websites and blogs on WordPress.  Who are all these people, and what do they/we have to communicate that is so important? A large number of blogs are for businesses, how-tos, reviews, lists, and contests.  Even so, there are still lots of people sharing their personal stories, and their creative works, baring their souls as it were, to total strangers.

It was my friend Joy who first suggested that I write a blog and she gently nudged me in that direction until the idea finally started to sink in. But considering how many blogs already exist, I asked her why she thought I should add my voice to the cacophony of the blogosphere?

pen and paperHer response was Emersonian. The point isn’t that you have something to say that no one has ever heard before, but that you have something to say in your own particular voice, as seen through your eyes, as colored by your own experience. You have to believe that what is true for you is true for someone else and that it will resonate through the blogosphere landing on the ears of those who need to hear it.

“He that writes to himself writes to an eternal public…By doing his work he makes the need felt which he can supply and creates the taste by which he is enjoyed.”                               Ralph Waldo Emerson  from  Spiritual Laws

I am reminded of that famous line from the popular 1989 movie, “Field of Dreams.” The main character, Ray Kinsella, has an inner voice urging him to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield. Outwardly it seems a ridiculous notion, especially since the bank is getting ready to foreclose on his farm. But Ray is told,  “If you build it they will come.” By trusting his inner voice, Ray makes a need for baseball felt in the community, and then he supplies the cure- the baseball field. And the people do come.

For all of us bloggers out there daring to believe that we have something meaningful to share, I think Emerson would agree, “If you write it- They will read it.”

Dear Reader, Is there something you would like to share that is true for you and someone else needs to hear it?