Category: Stuff We Love

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The Value Of A Day

People have been known to say, Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Or, There are seven days in the week and none of them are called Someday. Like all maxims, however, these are only partially — or situationally — true. Because there is a converse: Put off until tomorrow the thing you’re not supposed to do today. Life can’t all be done at once. Let’s blame the Industrial Revolution for making us feel like we’re always out of time, all the time, trailing around with a hunted, hollow feeling.

In recovery, they say, One day at a time. Now that is actually good advice. Forget about human-defined parameters, like the 7:07:07 AM on your Casio (ed. note: update to Apple watch?). There is no January in nature. The sun comes up and the sun goes down. That’s the simplest, most observable unit of time. How shall we spend it?

From a work perspective or creative perspective (or both), the to-do list is the key to unlocking the true potential of the day. Here are some suggestions for making yours as effective a tool as possible: 

  1. Don’t put more on the to-do list than you can do. An overly long list becomes self-defeating and a setup for feeling bad about yourself. Instead of continually rolling items into the next day, let’s seek to understand the thing we’re putting on the list. How much is that going to take out of you? How much of this task do you want to accomplish? Obviously, I’m not going to write a whole book today, so what am I truly looking to accomplish? Am I going to transcribe three 40-minute chunks of interviews, and reflect on whether the material is better suited to the beginning, the middle or the end? Great, I have the time and bandwidth to do that. 
  2. All work counts. Brainstorming, planning, or list-making are needed just as much to accomplish a task as what we commonly consider doing. Getting organized is a form of doing. In fact, sitting down and mapping out what’s ahead is often more valuable for understanding what you’re trying to do, ensuring you’re prepared to do it, and setting a process up to be as smooth as possible, than simply plunging in out of harried anxiety.
  3. Prioritize balance. Balance is not something we can wish into existence. Whether we’re talking about balancing work and family, balancing being sedentary and active, or balancing having friends vs. hearing yourself think, to live a balanced life you are ideally living a balanced day — or at least a balanced week. Accomplishing this requires matching your to-do list with your priorities: important work meetings, meditation sessions, creative writing hours, attending your kid’s dance performance… If you can’t find the time for it on your calendar, you are saying it doesn’t really matter to you.
  4. Conclude the day crisply. I have a journal where I write a 75-100 word entry at the end of each day. It could be about a win or a loss, a loose end, or something I realized…writing this entry is the most important thing about it. This act says “I’m done. This day started and this day is over.” Releasing your attachment to this day and its list prepares you to embrace tomorrow. We can’t just be attached, attached, attached. There has to be a letting go. Ritualizing that, honors the day and what it contained.

Today does not equal all time. And its essence might not be realized at all if you can’t resist the impulse to rush on to the next thing. If your to-do list has the proper heft, however, you won’t be worried about what you’re checking off and how quickly. Instead, you’ll be able to live inside the tasks and see them through the right way.

10 Albums for the Inspired Writer

If you’re like me, and you work with words a lot, for fun and/or profit, then at the end of the day you want to hear music that has no lyrics whatsoever (or lyrics in a language you can’t understand, which serves somewhat the same purpose). The mind can detach then from verbal formulations and engage instead simply with rhythm and tone. In fact, I suspect the music is itself assisting with clearing the mind.

This was how I first discovered some of my favorite wordless music which I then began playing while I worked with words. The right soundtrack can make you feel more whole while you are writing, more grounded in your experience and more enthusiastic about the prospects of what you are doing.

And so, I bring you five (actually ten) of my favorite wordless or foreign language albums along with some notes of what kinds of project they might be best suited for.

Journey in Satchidananda by Alice Coltrane. The widow of jazz saxophone great John Coltrane, and a monster on the jazz harp in her own right, this album was written just before Coltrane suffered a two year-period of hallucinating voices and retired to an ashram. The devotional Hindu kirtan pieces that came after that are pretty awesome, too.

Use when: trying to effect an actual change in consciousness.


*You might also try: World Galaxy by Alice Coltrane, especially the avant-garde version of “My Favorite Things” which there’s no way in hell Julie Andrews would recognize.


Ethiopiques, vol. 21: Emahoy. You may have heard this in the background of a recent Walmart commercial, but now you know it is was written by an Ethiopian nun who just passed away at the age of 99. Norah Jones says, “This album is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard: part Duke Ellington, part modal scales, part the blues, part church music.” 

Use when: you are working with a single voice and/or a delicate subject matter.

*You might also try: Weder Harder Guzo by Hailu Mergia. Ethiopian music and Reggae share similar instrumentation (and a belief in the divinity of former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie). You won’t realize it’s on, until it ends, and then you’ll wish it had lasted forever.

Dreams by Gabor Szabo. Szabo was a Hungarian guitarist who brought his Gypsy- and folk-inflected jazz to San Francisco in the1960s. He was on the bill the night Jimi Hendrix gave his first American performance. The Jimi Hendrix Experience first, then Szab

o, then Jefferson Airplane. And that’s the concert I bring up when people ask what concert would you most have liked to see.

Use when: you don’t really know what you’re doing with a particular piece, but you’re open to trying different alternatives.

*You might also try: In Stockholm by Gabor Szabo and Janne Schaffer. It’s two guitars now, both speaking, not quite in words, but they might help you figure out yours.

Interludes for the Dead by Circles Around the Sun. It has the trippy jams and good instrumentation of a Grateful Dead show without the lyrics about going out on a high note despite the tragic state of affairs. The loops create long spaces which can be both heartbeat and wallpaper.

Use when: you are drunk, as Baudelaire says, “On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

*You might also try: Live/Dead by the Grateful Dead. Apart from some minimal intrusion reminding you are going to die, this live album will take you on flights of fancy as far out as you may have ever considered going.

Ascenseur pour l’échafaud by Miles Davis. A noir thriller soundtrack that Miles composed with both members of his band and French session players. The plan was simple: get together, watch the film, and jam. The result: a priceless energy of exploration with the simultaneous resistance of perfection.

Use when: you’re writing the first draft of something and you don’t want to get carried away with knowing its final state or where it goes exactly because — whoops — the song is over already.

*You might also try: La Planete Sauvage by Alain Goraguer. A weirder and more sci-fi version of the same concept. 25 songs in 38 minutes, Got your idea? Good. Next!..

Stuff We Love: Type Two Fun

…which “occurs when a task is difficult at the time, but feels rewarding afterward, often because it challenges the practitioner to test their limits and grow,” as defined here.

Team BA ran the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January. It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution, really. It was more of a: “Hey, we both like running, and challenges, and hanging out, so let’s do it.”

Madison was happy with her performance. She felt strong until mile 10, when her fuel tank plummeted to empty all at once, with no warning. But she was on track to get her personal best time, and so for the last three miles her thought loop sounded something like: this feels horrible and impossibly hard, but I intellectually understand that I’ve trained and am physically able to keep this pace until the end; if I don’t, it’s a choice. And that’s not a choice I’m going to make. 

I, on the other hand, was frustrated by my performance and had to do some hard self-coaching and critical training review. I crunched the numbers. I saw that for races in the past in which I ran a certain number of miles in the four months preceding, I was very pleased with my times. When I ran 80% of those miles in that span, I was pretty happy with my times. When I ran under 65% of those miles, as I did this time around, the outcome was not good. And I shouldn’t be surprised with a subpar outcome.

But, believe it or not, we really would both classify the experience as fun. Engaging with the process of living through a whole variety of avenues can reveal new strengths, expose areas ripe for improvement, and help develop skills already in place that are serving you well.

And so: we discussed, we regrouped. I signed up for another half marathon in June with a revamped plan in place, backed by data and my desire to own my best performance (i.e.. not just go out there and do the middle-aged man shuffle). Madison is venturing into new territory with a long trail race later in the year, confident that her willpower (and, you know, training) will see her through.

In running and in writing and in editing and… Team BA wants to be thoughtful about what going all-in means, and then we want to do it.

Stuff We Love: Read This if You Want to Be A Great Writer

Writers of craft books on writing still read craft books on writing. It would be dangerous to think you know everything. Of course, it’s easier when that book is published in the UK. There’s not so much competition.

Read This if You Want to Be a Great Writer - BIS PublishersOr maybe I’m wrong. Have you heard of the book Read This If You Want To Be a Great Writer by Ross Raisin? The title is pretty sales-y, although I hear aspirational marketing works wonders. (For the record, I did not come up with the title, Blueprint Your Bestseller, either.)

Then I found out that what’s they call all the books in the series, Read This If… you want to be great at drawing, at taking photographs, etc. I was contemplating the move to writing my first fiction in thirty years. I better buy a book.

Broken into roughly sixteen categories, ranging from Place to Sex to Planning, I learned new things throughout. I also felt empowerment to apply what I already knew across the looming bridge from creative nonfiction to made-up storytelling. 

But hey, that’s my process. You will have your own experience of this book by the British novelist, Raisin. To entice you further to buy it (note absence of affiliate links), here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“The plan you drew up at the end of your first draft will have more value than any plan you make before the first draft.”

“If you are stumped for the point at which to enter the narrative it may be helpful to forego, for now, an adherence to writing in a linear way from beginning to end.”

“Some works of fiction that play with preconceived notions of what fiction is supposed to look like can be so compelling that they create their own market. When form is bent to something new, your previously programmed way of reading a text can be, too.”

I think I realized that — as perhaps is true in all genres — it is the voice that beckons to us first. Ross’s expertise is combined with his confidence and warmth to make it feel like it is not such a cold world. I recently heard from one of my readers, “I just read your first book and I’m on your second book. I just wanted to let you know that I loved the graphics, humor, and voice. As I read, I felt as if a real person was talking to me and explaining the process. Most books I’ve read thus far have yet to have that same effect…”

I mean, that’s why we write craft books. It doesn’t send the kids to college. But maybe it helps a few lifelong learners along the way.