Living in Season
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My Season: A Happy Scanner
Barbara Sher has been one of my heroines since I read her first book, Wishcraft, back in 1979 and I've been teaching classes based on the book ever since. In fact, it was during one of these classes that I got the inspiration that became School of the Seasons.
A few years ago, I was able to attend a one-day seminar Barbara taught here in Seattle. I can still remember the hair-prickling moment when she made a distinction between Divers, who immerse themselves deeply in one subject and Scanners, folks who like to do a lot of different things.
If you're a scanner, and I suspect many of you are as most of the creative people I know fit the description, you often have difficulty choosing between many meaningful projects, your house is cluttered with evidence of your many passions, you find it easy to start things but difficult to finish and it feels like you have more things than you can possible do in a day, or a week, or a lifetime. Probably you've grown used to people calling you a dilettante; you may even consider yourself a failure because you can't settle down and do just one thing.
As she does in most of her books, Sher encourages you to embrace your own personal style. Instead of blaming yourself because you never finish anything, realize that once you've learned how to do something, you're satisfied. Instead of thinking your house is cluttered, view it as a gallery displaying your many passions. Instead of believing you can't finish anything, acknowledge that you learn things more quickly than others move on to something new.
The book is full of delightful exercises, and I'm working my way through them slowly, just because they're so much fun I want to savor them. For a long time I tried to damp down my new ideas, thinking I had to finish some old ones first but now that I'm nurturing my ideas, they are blossoming. You'll soon be seeing the results of this efflorescence in School of the Seasons, including an online Summer class (more below), a blog (starting next month) and a new HTML version of the newsletter.
May you have energy and space for new ideas in your life,
May Calendar Updated
My web designer, Joanna Powell Colbert, is making the calendars even more beautiful than before by adding lovely floral images to the home page and the calendar. May features lilacs. I can hardly wait to see June (it will be up on June 1st so don't wait for a reminder).
Living in Season: And Everything in Its Time
Let's start with David Allen. His first book, Getting Things Done, is probably the one to start with but I'm still waiting to get it from the library. If I like it I'll buy it but I?m not totally convinced. His second book, Ready for Anything, approaches time as a management issue, seems to be aimed at business owners and is pretty abstract. And yet I'm very tempted by the promise he makes: that you will get everything done if you adopt his simple five point system:
I've already written out my list of everything I want to do (Barbara Sher suggests making a similar list) and it does help me figure out my priorities, instead of just drowning in them. Now I'm working on a list of projects and next steps for each of them.
Priscilla Long's class, which I took at Richard Hugo House, the writing center where I work in Seattle, was based on what she learned studying the biographies of women artists for a book she's writing. She noticed that the more successful artists had certain practices in common. For instance, they took good care of their work (they didn't just stuff canvases under the bed) and they kept track of it too.
So for homework Priscilla asked us to create an inventory of our creative work. I focused on my writing, although one could do this in any creative arena. This inventory is not an artist resume in which you list only published (or sold) work but rather a list of all creations. To make my list I had to root around in the bottom of file cabinets, comb through computer directories and rifle through my shelves. My list was pretty impressive when I put it together (it took about two weeks) but it made clear that my interests ebb and flow, both in terms of genre and subject. (Fortunately Barbara Sher's book helped me realize that this is not a sign of weakness but a natural pattern for a certain type of Scanner, which she calls the Sybil.)
Both Priscilla and Barbara recommend keeping your work organized in ring binders. So I spent one blissful afternoon sorting through my School of the Seasons resources, organizing my writing and research files by holiday, months and seasons in a format that will probably become the structure for a re-design of the web site. David Allen would approve; he says, "When in doubt, clean."
Sorting through the wealth of material I've gathered, I realized that I often avoid working on School of the Seasons because of the sheer quantity of the writing I've done. I'm afraid of repeating myself and bored when I do. With this new system, I can create a core article for each season, holiday and month, then simply embellish each with new information (and eventually add art work and articles submitted by readers, creating, I hope, a living magazine).
Priscilla's other homework assignment was to work for fifteen minutes a day on one project. Again this comes from her recognition that successful artists practice their art daily (they also produce more work than less successful artists). I've been struggling ever since I started my Day Job to preserve the two hours in the morning I dedicate to my writing, but it's been crowded out by projects with more urgent deadlines, errands, appointments, etc. Plus when I have less than two hours, because I've gotten up late or checked my email and gotten sidetracked, I tend to give away the rest of my time.
Fifteen minutes, however, is not so easy to blow off. Everyone has fifteen minutes in a day, and even if that's all the work you do in a day, it keeps you in the flow of the project and feeling productive. Being a scanner, I couldn't choose between my two novels so I alternate between them. Just writing fifteen minutes a day, I've been able to produce a scene a week on my historical novel and I'm working my way through the exercises in the Donald Maass Breakout Novel Workbook on my detective novel. It feels good.
If you're thinking fifteen minutes isn't enough time for some major artistic project in which you're engaged, Barbara has some clever ideas that might help. The Setup is a bag full of stuff you can pick up and take with you, for instance, yarn, knitting needles and a pattern, or a notebook and a workbook of exercises for a writer. The Avocation Station is something you create in your home: a rolling table or plastic bin, which contains all the supplies and tools you need to make a quilt or create a collage. You can bring it out for a fifteen minute session, then put it away.
I?m so thrilled to have these new tools that help me feel more productive and much happier. One tool that I developed (inspired by Barbara Sher) is the idea of the seasonal project, which became the inspiration for the School of the Seasons correspondence course, which is really a giant record of my various projects (or ideas about projects I want to do). With the handy boundaries of each season defining the time available, I choose a project that carries the energy of the season for me. It might be a pilgrimage, like my trip to Mount St. Helen's one summer, or a class (am I ready for that oil painting class yet?) or even a home decoration project (painting the kitchen, yes I think that's it). If this idea inspires you, think about what you would like to explore this summer and make a commitment to do so before the summer ends.
Summer in the School of the Seasons . . .
New: Online Class
If you are interested in joining me for this adventure, here's how it works. The class begins the first week in June and lasts for nine weeks. You will receive a packet of information each week, providing information on various summer activities and suggesting tasks and projects that will help you interact with the natural world where you live, create a magic wand, celebrate Midsummer and Lammas, preserve the fruits of summer (in jams, chutneys, mead, sorbets, etc.), adopt a plant ally, gather magical herbs and make lavender wands.
You will personalize the course so it works for you and report on your activities every week in a private list serve. To enjoy all the benefits of the course, plan to devote at least three hours a week to your studies, which includes reading the weekly lesson, carrying out an activity and posting to the list serve. Because this is a summer course, I realize some of you might go on vacation. Don't worry. You can catch up later, and, if you have access to email while you're gone, we'll enjoy your travel reports.
Enrollment is limited to twelve students.
New Version: Summer Correspondence Course
Holiday Packet: Midsummer
This illustrated portfolio contains over 40 pages of ideas for celebrating Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer, Herb Evening, St. John?s Day and Litha. It tells you how to
You can read an excerpt from the packet on making wreaths (a traditional way to celebrate Midsummer) here.
The print version is $14; please allow 10 days for delivery. An email version is also available for $9. It will be sent to you as an attached Word file within 24 hours. Order in our Store.
Recommended Reading: Barbara Sher
I love all of Barbara Sher's books, but my favorite is still her first. She inspired me, not only to do what I love, but also to teach other people how to do it, an endeavor in which I've been happily engaged for years. My only real problem with Barbara Sher's work is her titles. They just don't work for me. When I was teaching a class based on this book, I had to be careful how I pronounced the title when talking on the phone, WISHcraft not WITCHcraft, although what happens IS magical.
This book contains Barbara's core teachings, written in her indomitable style which is cheerful, conversational and encouraging (without being condescending or syrupy as self-help writers often are). The first part of the book helps you figure out what you love. The second part helps you figure out how to take that into the world. If you do the exercises in this book, (and if you need help, start a group to do them with you, or better yet, teach a class; that's what I did), your life will absolutely change for the better. I love pointing out to my students the description of an ideal day written by one of Sher's early students, a writer named Julia. Then I read a blurb from the back of The Artist's Way describing Julia Cameron's life. Yes, Julia Cameron was one of Barbara's students and many of Julia's great exercises are derived from Barbara's work.
Teamworks! With Annie Gottlieb, Warner (reprint) 1991
I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was: How To Discover What You Really Want and How To Get It, Dell 1995
It's Only Too Late if You Don't Start Now: How To Create Your Second Life After 40, Dell 1999
Live the Life You Love: In Ten Easy Step by Step Lessons, Dell 1997
Another unremarkable title. I can never quite remember the title. And, in fact, although I've read it, I can't quite remember the book. Just read the Amazon reviews and the reviewers loved it. I think maybe I don't remember it because it delivers the same ideas as Wishcraft but with a little more directed approach.
Refuse to Choose: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything You Love, Rodale 2006 (alas! Only available in hardcover but well worth the price)
If you could only pick one Barbara Sher book, and you know you're a Scanner, someone who has millions of interests and has a hard time choosing one or completing anything, then this is the book to get. She recapitulates the tools she provides in earlier books but with a specific focus on Scanners. The first part helps you redefine your life so that you realize what you thought were problems are really signs of brilliance. In the second part of the book, she identifies different types of Scanners everything from the Plate Spinner to the Serial Specialist to the Wanderer. For each she suggests special tools and careers that will complement the Scanner's style, not cramp it.
Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
Every week for 52 weeks you will receive a brief email with a reflection on the qualities of the present time period and one suggestion, task or question that you can savor throughout the week.
Start whenever you like. When you order the Calendar Companion, you will receive the next week's calendar companion, along with an introductory email.
$20 for a year's worth of gentle reminders to help you stay aligned with natural rhythms. To order or to see a sample reflection, click here.
Signs of Summer
I haven't received any signs of summer yet from any of you; maybe it's still Spring where you live. So the web site is still listing Signs of Summer from 2005.
Send me your news of the season and I will post it on my web site under Signs of the Season.