The Challenge and Joy of Finishing

Mozart. Bach. Van Gogh. Rodin. Margaret Mitchell. Stephen King. Stephen Spielberg. George Lucas.

Have you heard of these folks? They all finished something. Did they know they were done? Probably, they just got tired of messing with whatever they were working on, put a period, an ending, a final splotch of paint or marble or editing scissors down and called it done. Many “artists” admit they are never done. They just abandon the project and move to the next one. 

But what does that mean? It means that at some point these creatives finished the project. The musical piece was finally written. Maybe there were several instruments. Maybe just one. The marble statue was finally rid of the stuff that wasn’t needed to make the statue (quote Michelangelo), and the life-size piece could stand on its own without the sculpture’s chisel hovering near its unprotected loins.

For every writer, filmmaker, painter, or project manager, businessperson, or code writer, the creative venture needs a finish line. Someone needs to say the magic words: “It is done.” “It is ready.” “It is finished.” At some point, hopefully, the artist’s work is shipped—published, distributed, shown, or sent to the marketplace.

Then the pain begins.

Or not.

For every successful creation, there are hundreds that are crap. But that is actually wonderful. The only way we can know our work is “good” is to send it out. On the other hand, it also makes absolutely no difference if nobody likes your work. Your blood, sweat, and tears spot the pages, but maybe they just do not like your face. They might not be ready for you yet. They might be looking the other way. The timing is wrong. Your luck sucks. 

It doesn’t matter.

If you have finished something—anything—good or bad, you have won. You are a success. You finished what you started. Finishing is difficult.

It’s not impossible. Look at the music, the books, the businesses, the inventions, the paintings, cars, sculptures, computer programs, cell phones, and every other thing you can think of ever created. They were finished. At some moment in time, a human being started something. Then they finished it. That. Is. Awesome.

Quotes on Finishing

“Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. 

~ J. K. Rowling

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

~ Neil Gaiman

Fear of Shipping [My interpretation: Shipping = Finishing]

Shipping is fraught with risk and danger.

Every time you raise your hand, send an email, launch a product or make a suggestion, you’re exposing yourself to criticism. Not just criticism, but the negative consequences that come with wasting money, annoying someone in power, or making a fool of yourself.

“It’s no wonder we’re afraid to ship.

“It’s not clear you have much choice, though. A life spent curled in a ball, hiding in the corner might seem less risky, but in fact, it’s certain to lead to ennui and eventually failure. …”   

~ Seth Godin 

* * *

Thought #1

Why Finishing Is Important

For You and For Us

Finishing is critical because we need to fail!  We need to fail so we can do it right the next time and the next and the next.  Who is one of the biggest failures on the planet right now? Elon Musk. Who else was a huge failure? Steve Jobs. They were successful because they allowed failure into their lives.

From many, many, many podcasts, articles, how-to books, and blogs, I know that failure is the key to success. If failure is the key to success, finishing is the key to failure.

   Finish  —  Fail  — Succeed  —  Repeat

  • Finishing is making a contribution.
  • Finishing is you making your mark on the earth.
  • Finishing is why you are here.
  • Finishing is your life’s purpose.
  • Finishing brings you joy.

Enjoying the journey to the finish line is important, too. Don’t beat yourself up if you are enjoying that journey. That’s okay. Try to finish, though.

* * *

Thought #2

We Need to Fail!

… even though it’s not fun.

I hate to fail. No one likes to fail. We don’t want to be failures. People like winners. True. No one wants to be the last one in the race. Few people want to come in fourth at the Olympics. They don’t get a medal. But what they did get was experiencing the Olympics! How good must they be to make it through all the competitions and trials to get to the Olympics in the first place?

Failing and being a failure are two different things, however. Failing is a temporary thing. In fact, failing a bunch of times is how you eventually get better.

Failing is learning. “Oh! How interesting! That didn’t work. I’ll try something else.”

Failing is helping other people learn. “Wow. Look what they tried! Let’s see if we can do it better or differently.”

Failing is winning the game of perseverance. Gaining strength. Experiencing grit. Knowing how golly gosh darn badly you want it.

Failing is a gift.

Unfortunately, failing multiple times can keep some of us from finishing. We grow tired of the skinned knees, the broken airplanes (Wright Brothers), the cotton gin that breaks (Eli Whitney) and the telephone that doesn’t ring (Alexander Graham Bell). We give up. We will not finish that book. We will never hear the musical piece. We leave our sculpture in a heap of rocks and rubble, and we will punch a hole in the painting. No one will ever experience your novel,  your Mona Lisa, your Nutcracker Suite, or your David statue.

So you are not John Steinbeck or Leonardo da Vinci? You are not Tchaikovsky or Michelangelo? Did they think they were when they created their works? How would they know in the beginning if they did not finish anything?

Every one of the artists you know didn’t know they were any good when they started. John Steinbeck was rejected dozens of times. Starving artists starve for a reason. Are they failures?

Here’s the deal. These creatives are only failures if they measure success by money and fame. Many of the famous artists never saw fame or fortune while they were alive, so they did not think they were any good!

Fail. Fail often. Keep writing, painting, making music, sculpting, and inventing. In the meantime, let’s look at why we don’t finish our works so that we can find a way around it.

* * *

Thought #3

Why We Don’t Finish

It’s very common.

ONE WORD . . .

The word is…

FEAR

Fear Takes Many Forms

Sometimes, the fear “choice” we make is acceptable by society’s standards. We do want things to be perfect, for example. We would prefer that our cars’ brakes work correctly, right?

Busy-ness is another example of an acceptable form of fear. In our western Puritan ethic American culture, having too much to do and being overloaded is “good” for the community. “Busy hands are happy hands.” However, Socrates said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” I like: “Don’t equate activity with accomplishment.”

o Perfectionism (Fear)

o Procrastination (Perfectionism + Fear)

o Time and Overload (Procrastination + Fear)

o Prioritization  (Time + Procrastination + Fear)

o Don’t Know How! (Fear of looking dumb.)

Perfectionism

It has to be perfect! They’ll laugh at me if it’s not perfect. I hate mistakes! (I do.) I just need to work on it a little more. Then it will be perfect. One more time. 

Once more.

One more.

Once more.

And again.

Only one more.

Look at the pattern. It’s stair steps. Down.

It’s fear. Fear of getting it wrong. Fear of finishing. Fear of putting your (unfinished, imperfect) work in the public eye. It’s safer inside where no one can see our warts. No one will laugh at our spelling errors, our inappropriate camera settings, our composition screw-ups, our terrible color choices, background proportion blunders, or visible chisel marks.

SO WHAT? If it is not brakes, or a building, or surgery, a little mistake isn’t going to end the world. Fuggedaboutit. Finish it. And ship it!

Procrastination

This is my favorite, I think. I am particularly good at finding some huge, pressing projects that are laudable to have accomplished… except they are not my dream project. They’re sneaky ways of procrastinating while having some part of myself be gosh darned proud of checking them off my lists.

I can mop the floors, do laundry, go grocery shopping, and make a cake. I am not finishing the chapter. I plan Christmas, or plan a vacation, or plan a meeting. I am not writing my book. I write another short piece. Ship an article to a customer. Call my brother, email my friend, walk the dog.

These are all great accomplishments! But, I am not moving my characters, plot, or theme forward. Here’s the irony: I’m procrastinating by writing this handbook on the challenge of finishing.

The completion of the above tasks is, as I said, laudable and necessary sometimes. However, we (I) need to be aware. I must be mindful and know when I’m off the path to finishing what I most want to finish. The BIG thing. The thing I was put here to do.

Oh, and don’t forget, being a “perfectionist” also serves as procrastination. It keeps us from shipping. It keeps us in the “fun” of “fixing.” It’s safe. We are convinced that we can make it perfect if we work hard enough. Perfect doesn’t happen very often. It’s a lovely idea, but the pursuit of perfection can be our worst enemy. Watch out and be extra conscious of the time you spend proofreading, changing a color in a painting, chiseling that last micrometer off the sculpture, or editing the scene in a movie. You may be an artist, or you may be dawdling. (Don’t you love that word?)

Time and Overload

The secretary to the president of the firm says, “I’m SO busy!” The president of the firm with 20,000 employees says, “I’m SO busy!” They’re both busy. Artist, author, and longtime podcaster Debbie Millman says, “Busy is a decision.” That means we choose how our time is spent, and we elect what we work on at any given moment.

“I have a job,” you say. “I have bills.” How many people have jobs that keep them barely ahead of the bill collector, or just ahead of bankruptcy, whatever their pay?

“Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for,” from Vicki Robin, Your Money or Your Life. The things we choose to do are our “busy” things.

Some people give up stressful jobs to preserve their mental powers for their art form. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve met at the Trader Joe’s checkout counter who are artists, musicians, writers, and painters that ‘just need a little money so they can do what they love.’ The decision comes with sacrifice. 

You do not buy brand new cars, or you decide on a smaller house and trips to discount grocery and shoe stores, and other lifestyle shifts.  If lowering the financial bar saves mental stress, and allows the freedom to create, it may be worth downsizing. Then, the decision to be busy is a decision to be busy with creativity. You reduce your cerebral load to embrace the you that is you.

Prioritization

First things first. Nothing else matters as much as this thing you want to finish. Nothing will get in the way. Start. Continue. Finish. 

Some critical concepts come to mind here.

      1. Time management
      2. Time blocks
      3. Saying no
      4. Desire
      5. Discipline
      6. Grit
      7. Rewards
      8. Consciousness
      9. Clarity
      10. Focus

For many of the above ideas, there are applications to help you. Time management must have a few dozen apps, but for creatives, there is nothing like two- or three- hour time blocks to accomplish your creative output. Ten minutes here and there may work for some people (I know published authors who write on their 30-minute lunch breaks), but this is especially hard. Diving into a big project before you recommence is often a 30-minute process by itself.  Do the best you can to create time blocks by using better time management.

“Saying no” may come in the form of an app like “Freedom,” which shuts off all internet, email, and other distractions from your computer, mobile phone, etc.  Or, just say a polite “no” to the coffee date or free flying lesson.

Desire, discipline, and grit are interconnected. Having the desire means being motivated—wanting beyond all else to finish the piece or attain that goal or knowledge, milestone, etc. The only way to get there is through discipline. Practicing every day. Writing every day. Learning, painting, creating, every day—even when the output sucks, you’re tired, you’re sick, you’re making no progress, and no money —and you have no friends and no fun. The trick here is grit.  Sticking with it. For more information, check out the TED talk on grit by Angela Lee Duckworth.

Rewards are controversial. Some folks think the work is the reward. Others say rewards help you keep going forward. It’s very personal. Maybe one person needs new shoes another can get by with a Starbucks latte. Consider the idea of a reward for reaching a milestone.

Consciousness and Clarity go hand in hand. To be conscious of your every action of the day, the question to ask is, “Is this the best use of my time right now?” OR, “Am I on task for the work I want to finish?” The second concept, clarity, helps us be not only clear but honest about the time and energy we spend. We may be busy, but we are not accomplishing anything.

Focus helps us avoid distractions. It’s becoming a lost art in today’s social media, 24/7 interconnectedness. The idea of freeing ourselves from internet and phone connections is useful, as in the “saying no” choices, but beyond saying no, we must say yes to staying in the flow of our work. For writers, it’s keeping our butts in the chair; for musicians, it’s staying the course with the instrument, the musical score. It is being in the moment. Meditation practice helps with this. Many creatives—and even sports people and entrepreneurs—swear by meditation. Try it.

Don’t Know How!

Hah. I thought I knew how to write. But writing a whole book (fiction or non-fiction) is an entirely bigger ball of wax than writing an article, or website copy, or emails, for gosh sakes.  What made me nuts was thinking about all the people who have successfully written books. They had done it. Why couldn’t I? Something was wrong with me. It must be easy, or all these people wouldn’t have published a book. Right?

Let’s look at the numbers. 

Per the bibliographic information company Bowker®, there were about 305,000 print books published by traditional publishers in 2013.  The non-traditional publishing sector print output was 1.1 million titles for a total of about 1.4 million titles. Sound like a lot? Here’s what’s interesting: There were about 315 million people in the United States in 2013. Approximately 80% were adults. That would mean that .55% of adults (approximately 252,000) in the U.S. published a book. It is not 55%. It is not 5.5%. It is .55%, which is about 55 adults out of 10,000. It’s a small number, and one can say that publishing a book is a big deal.

Not being able to overcome the challenge of finishing is probably one reason. The other might be they do not know how to do it. Or, they don’t have any interest, of course. However, one survey said that 81% of all adults think they have a novel in them.

If you want to finish a book (or anything for that matter) and don’t know how, then take a class. Read a book on writing a book or doing whatever your dreams tell you. Join a critique group. Take a workshop. Go to a conference. Free is good, but sometimes you get what you pay for. Either way, not knowing how certainly hasn’t stopped some people! There are some crummy books out there. But we should not let not knowing keep us from finishing something. Let’s look at that Neil Gaiman quote again.  How else will we know? 

* * *

Thought # 4

What Are You Afraid Of?

Check your assumptions.

Take a look at this spidery thing. Maybe take some notes to understand the source of your fear of finishing.

Fear

* * *

Thought # 5

How to Finish

Pssst . . . You are worth it!

You know your fears now. Look at some ways you can overcome your fears and finish your life’s work. Add more notes to help you overcome your fears.

How to Finish

Thought # 6

Open to the Universe of Possibility

Feel joy

Am I an expert on finishing? Heck, no. I’ve finished a few things. That makes me dangerously smug and complacent. The reason for this diatribe is to provide myself a Kick in the A** (KITA) to move from midpoint to endpoint on my next project. I am a little stuck.

Mostly, though, I wanted to let people know the surprising joy I felt on finishing the first little book. And then another, bigger book. I think everyone deserves to feel that joy.

Here’s one last trick. One of the podcasts I listened to said to write down an affirmation 20 times every day for a month. Here’s an example. “I __________(state your name) am a _______________ (give yourself a title like famous painter, world-class, published author, or highly-respected filmmaker).” Note: Do not use want to be or wish to be. Use the present tense “am.” The Universe likes this. She told me so.

Write your affirmation, and wait for the magic. My last book was a result of this exercise. Power of suggestion or universe of possibility: which is it?

It doesn’t matter. It worked for me. Try it.

* * * Feel the joy of finishing. It doesn’t get much better than this. * * *

 

References and Further Readings

Getting Things Done by David Allen

As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

Tribe of Mentors (and almost any book ) by Tim Ferriss

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, Ph.D.

The Art of Possibility By Rosamund Stone and Benjamin Zander

* * *

Copyright Information

The Challenge and Joy of Finishing

Kathryn Atkins

Copyright © 2018 Kathryn Atkins

The copyright holder can be contacted through this website: http://www.WritingWorld.biz.

Published in the United States of America

By Writing World, LLC

Adolescence. Again.

“. . . I’m the bear standing in the woods with a bullseye on his chest . . .”

My late sixties present me with the most ridiculous angst I’ve felt since I was sixteen. I am no longer a child of forty, and I am not an adult of eighty. Thus, I am an “adolescent” again. Why does it come up now? It dawned on me (after my 50th—there, I said it—high school reunion, for God’s sake) that at this age, we are older, but we are fighting oldness. Gray hair is dyed, colored, and maybe highlighted; straightened and softened to disguise the crinkly, wiry, dry mass that passes for hair. Why don’t I have the soft, pretty kind like my mom did? Dunno. I’m sure it’s because my hair, an enemy of over six decades, does this because it has its own devious mind. My hair knows exactly what irks me.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI have a target on my forehead. I feel like I’m the bear standing in the woods with a bullseye on his chest if you’ve ever seen that cartoon. It’s the target for anti-aging marketers to spot me from 10,000 feet. They don’t need for me to wear the target, though. It’s written in the sneaky wrinkles around my eyes and mouth, and the other ill-mannered houseguests with stupid sunglasses that appeared on my neck and cheeks one day when I wasn’t paying attention. They didn’t have the courtesy to leave.

So, it’s not just the cosmetics products folks; it’s also the dermatologists and estheticians that swear their methods for finding the fountain of youth surpass the others’. For all the Botox treatments, eyelifts, ear-lifts (yes, they have those), and nose jobs, there are face creams and treatments to use between or instead of the unnerving, daunting “cures.” (I would share my chemical peel photos with you, but you’d probably run screaming for the Halloween bar. Yes, I had one. Why? Because I’m still in my adolescence, of course, experimenting as adolescents do.)

Since we’re talking, I thought I might share more nice perspectives to cheer you up. You may be happily getting Botox, chemical peels, and other fine facial procedures to try to fool the calendar, but I’m going to burst your bubble. Are you sitting down? Here goes: There are some telltale signs of advancing age that cannot be removed. As one of my “good” friends said, “You just have to look at someone’s hands to see if they’re old.” Thanks. Thanks so much. I needed that. I have tried to hold my hands above my elbows during pictures to keep from having those lovely blue veins pop out on the back of my hands. Sometimes, though, this is not a good strategy. As in when you’re playing the piano. Or maybe you’re doing a cooking demonstration or giving a knitting lesson. (People still knit. By hand. They do.)

More perspectives: (Spoiler alert.) Hanging, crinkly skin. Yes. Even though we go to the gym, do our due-diligence with weights, on machines, and at endless classes, we are stuck with crinkly skin that hangs off our healthy, osteoporosis-free skeletons if we’re lucky. Yes, we put on lotion. Yes, we tone and stretch. We are limber from yoga. Our lungs are aerobically healthy. Our butts are holding their own underneath. However, the skin that keeps the rest of us in has an un-ironed look about it.

So, when you’re a teenager, you’re dealing with zits, braces, and big ears. The difference is that as a teenager, the zits eventually disappear, the braces come off, and somewhere along the way you grow into your ears. As I age, my wrinkles will not disappear. In fact, they will multiply. Like rabbits. My teeth will get thinner. And my ears AND nose, longer. My hands? More gnarly. (Great word, right?)

What? Get over myself. This is a first world problem, you say? Well, yes, but it’s real to me. Adolescence. Again. Merde! I didn’t like my teen years when I was experiencing them, and I thought I was done. I’m back in them again. And I’d like to think I’m above it all! “I got this,” I say to my face in the mirror, the unrelenting mirror. “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is that ancient person in the shawl?” The mirror is no help. No help at all. Her best advice is to turn off the lights. Would that all rooms were dark!

I look around me at the people with gray hair. I compare. Oh, that’s dumb. At least I’m not that old, I say to myself. But my next thought is: I will be there soon. I saw a young woman today. OMG. “I used to look like that,” I say. Well, that’s nonsense. I NEVER looked like THAT. Who am I kidding? She was model beautiful. Why do I make this comparison? This thing called aging —even healthy aging, where I’m dancing flamenco and walking miles and doing yoga —is taking too much of my mental energy. It robs me of creativity. It stifles my serenity.

So as with my teens, I know that eventually, the between-ness will pass. I can achieve the next stage and relax into it—gracefully, happily, peacefully. That makes sense. If we fight the force of nature, we tend to carry an aura of angry (I hear it’s a mustard color), which by itself can make us look older and feel worse. (Who wants to look like mustard?)

I suggest that you read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. It’s an homage to living well even as it describes the terminal nature of our lives. We are lucky if we get to experience old age before we die. Dr. Gawande says it better, page 141. “The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.” I’m going to embrace the idea of maintaining my integrity by defining “a good day” in my terms and attempting to attain that. Every day. I will not worry about adolescence. Terrible twos. Teens. Twenties. Middle age. They’re stages, each with their challenges. This aging thing is just another stage. Maintaining my integrity is the goal. That’s all.

Published!

GMSTTW COVERThis is my book. I wrote it because I had to put my self out. Be out. These are pieces of me (they’re always called pieces, whether a piece of music, art, or writing) that assure me I was here. I never thought of that before, but it’s true. Creatives leave these little breadcrumbs like Hansel and Gretel.  Do they (we) then have a way to find our way back to ourselves? Does an architect leave a piece? No. They leave big things. Whole things like buildings and subdivisions. Are those pieces? Maybe. Engineers leave bridges, waterways, and aqueducts and dams and things. Doesn’t matter. They see edifices in their minds and build them. Creatives see music and art, and we write it, paint, or draw it. Then, we share it. Sometimes we perform it.

I could say my kids “prove” I was here. Or that I have photos that say, “I was here.” But I’m not sure of that. Some of the photos were taken when I was too little to remember. Was I really there?

My family should be pleased to know I was here. Hah. And they may see themselves immortalized in these pages, too. While many of the stories are pure fiction, some are versions of events that happened with the names of the characters changed. I wonder if they will recognize themselves.

That’s it. The book is available from Outskirts Press, on Amazon, and also on Barnes & Noble.

Now on to the next creation. I do hope some other (not family!) people will read this book and like it. Themes, lessons, and laughter titter through the pages, yes. But mostly I’m glad I wrote it. And published it. Just. For. Me. In. The. Wind.

 

Exclamation Points!!!

Has anyone noticed besides me? When I first started writing professionally, the rule was “only one exclamation point on a page.” What happened? The little devils sneak into so many places, they’re like ants, crawling through paragraphs carrying their dead and dropping them here and there, I guess. I don’t know. Exclamation pointDefining Your Projects are everywhere. (I had to restrain from an exclamation point on that last sentence because it’s all too easy to fall in the trap, the habit of it.)

The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” Do not use even one of these marks unless you’re convinced it is justified. Here’s the problem:

If everything is important, nothing is important.

In business writing and journalism, the exclamation point is not appropriate. So…what do you do? Make your writing provocative without the use of the little buggers. Using great verbs helps.

What else? Use exclamation points sparingly, one per page (like they said in the old days) so that when the mark appears, it means something.  Whatever the subject, the single mark on the page will stand out… not shout, but  speak loudly for readers that are paying attention. Even for those that aren’t aware of it consciously, they will sense it.

In writing as in many endeavors, it’s the little things that make a difference. The professional writer knows. We share. People grow. It’s good.

More to the point (pun intended) what does it say about society that we have to make everything astonishing? It says we have too much content and everyone wants theirs to be the best, the newest, the “mostest.” So we rely on this lowly mark, this unassuming line/dot that has suddenly found its way into the limelight, like the people who have recently died (Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, et al) who have become even more famous from a Social Media blitz that elevates these two, albeit already-famous personae, to demigoddesses. Over the top. Trop. Excess. It’s a way of life, and the exclamation point is but a symptom of the malaise. It seems we simply can’t leave things alone to stand on their own two feet. I am contributing content here, but at least I am not going to try to escalate the importance of this rant by inserting an exclamation mark somewhere to prove the point, so to speak. For the record, it seems that more exclamation points would be the next step… as in the title. But when does it stop?????

I’m done now. I think.

 

 

 

A Necessary Convenience

Q: What 20th century “convenience” is most taken for granted?


A: 69% voted for TOILET PAPER; 42% say the zipper; 38% say frozen foods

Q: If stranded on a desert island with only one “necessity,” what would you choose?


A: 49% of people surveyed chose toilet paper as their greatest island necessity ahead of food.

(From Toiletpaperworld.com surveys.)

History and Invention

Most of us alive in the United States today think that toilet paper has been around forever. Not so. Toilet paper as we know it today was not invented until 1857, and at that time it sold for fifty cents for a package of 500 sheets. This is not to be confused with a product that was used as toilet paper somewhere between AD 857 and 1391 wherein Chinese Emperors commissioned a product that measured two feet wide by three feet long. Because of its size, it is not a bona fide precursor to the product we use today.

In 1857, then, an American Joseph Gayetty invented what we know today as toilet paper. Mr. Gayetty was so proud of his invention that he had his name printed on each sheet before packaging it. Either the product cost too much, or the public wasn’t ready for it. The invention failed. Walter Alcock (of Great Britain) later developed toilet paper on a roll instead of in flat sheets. His creation also failed.

scott-toilet-paperFinally in 1867, Thomas, Edward, and Clarence Scott (brothers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) successfully marketed toilet paper that consisted of a small roll of perforated paper, which they sold from a pushcart along the streets. The product had come into its time, the pushcart had a certain allure, and the commercial success attracted venture capital to give birth to the Scott Paper Company. By 1890, Scott Paper became the nation’s leading producer of bathroom tissue; but even with that realization, toilet paper rolls were not used widely until after the First World War around 1918. There was a taboo or an embarrassment about such things and thus it was that my grandmother, who was born in 1889, probably didn’t use toilet paper until after she was twenty-eight years old at the earliest!

It’s hard to imagine what people used before toilet paper, and what clearly some peoples of the world use to this day. According to history, my aforementioned grandmother growing up in California may have used one of the following: newsprint, Sears Roebuck catalogue pages, corn cobs, mussel shells, newspaper, leaves, or sand, although we never talked about. In the Middle Ages, they may have used hay balls, or a scraper thing-y called a gompf stick that was kept in a container by the privy. Other historical “T-Precursors” included discarded sheep’s wool in the Viking Age in England; a frayed end of an old anchor cable by sailing crews of Spain and Portugal; straw, hay, grass, and the pre-described gompf stick in Medieval Europe; and water and your left hand, in India.

British Lords used pages from a book; early Hawaiians used coconut shells; and French royalty employed lace and hemp, as did other upper class peoples of the world at the time. Sponges soaked in salt water on the end of a stick served the common folk in ancient Rome while the wealthy folks in that same city at the time used wool and rosewater. With this list of uncomfortable-sounding accouterments, it’s no wonder that toilet paper was such an important invention.

To put the invention of toilet paper in historical perspective, here are some other events and inventions around the same time:

Events & Inventions

1829 First Railroad built in the U.S.
1834 McCormick reaper invented
1844 Telegraph invented
1857 Toilet paper invented
1860 Lincoln elected president
1861-5 Civil War
1865 Lincoln assassinated
1867 Dynamite invented by Nobel
1876 Telephone invented
1903 First airplane flight

In the scheme of things, toilet paper rates as one of the major inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, it is hard to think that Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, did not use toilet paper. Nor did he have a telephone, not to mention a smart phone.

* * * *

Truths and Particulars about TP


How many sheets are on a roll?

Some rolls are two ply and have

500 sheets of the two-ply, others have 1000 sheets of one-ply—so, basically 1000 sheets, either way.

  • The people at Charmin say a roll of toilet tissue will last about five days in a family-of-four American household bathroom. They base these figures on surveys indicating users average 8.6 sheets per trip over a family total of 23 trips. That’s 200 sheets per day or that magical 1000 sheets (one roll) in five days (and I say it depends on how many women are in the house, and how many bathrooms.)
  • How much TP is sold in the U.S. annually. What’s the TP per capita? How does this usage relate to other countries? And finally:

Q: Do most people hang the toilet paper roll with the sheet over or under?

A: 68% like to hang toilet paper with the first sheet going over the top, as in hotel rooms.

Why is Toilet Paper important? Because life without toilet paper would be certainly less pleasant, and one only has to remember the great TP shortage precipitated by Johnny Carson in 1973. The slightest mention of a possible shortage left shelves empty, the pipeline gutted, and people fighting in the stores. What a waste of time! Keep the cupboards full of TP, and try to imagine another invention that helped our civilization flourish by reducing discomfort and preventing the spread of disease all at the same time.

 

A Little Science to the Rescue

Below is my list of a few things for which I would just as soon have someone or something come to me in the middle of the night and handle, so I don’t have to make an appointment for it, panic myself with the anticipation of it, suffer the pain of it, or take the time for it.

1.     Pap Smears

2.     Mammograms

3.     Colonoscopies

4.     Teeth cleaning

5.     Bikini waxing

6.     Shaving

7.     Manicures

8.     Pedicures

9.     Eyebrow tweezing

10.  Mustache bleaching

11.  Chin hair plucking

12.  Eye appointments

13.  Breast reduction

14.  Breast enhancement

15.  Liposuction

16.  Dental work

17.  Haircuts

18.  Wrinkle Removal

19.  Lasik Eye Surgery

20.  Nose jobs

21.  Appendectomies

 

For men we can add:

1.     Face Shaving

2.     Vasectomies

3.     Prostate exams

 

My idea is to have a work crew of nanobots who get off their collective tiny little asses and take care of this stuff for me. So what is a nanobot? The prefix “nano” means one billionth. When referring to size, a nanometer, then, is one billionth of a meter. Still need help? A human hair is 50,000 nanometers in diameter. The smallest thing one can see with the unaided human eye is 10,000 nanometers across. The measurement of the dot above the letter “i” in this sentence is approximately one million nanometers.

Hopefully you have heard of the serious field of study called nanoscience, which researches the fundamental principles of molecules and structures with a size of between one and one hundred nanometers. The nanobot falls more under the related field of microelectromechanical (cool word, huh?!) systems, which we can thankfully shorten to MEMS. The scientists (they’re full-sized people by the way) who are developing this phase of the research strive to manufacture tiny robots that can flow through the bloodstream, delivering drugs and repairing tissue. These structures are usually between 1,000 and 1,000,000 nanometers in size. This is not science fiction. To wit, L’Oréal and Lancôme are already using nanoparticles in skin creams and hair conditioners. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Lucent (they’re out of business today) were using nanotechnology in their computers. AND WHO HASN’T HEARD OF THE NANOPOD – a very small IPOD that holds 1000 tunes? (How cool to see “nano” was so forward-thinking back when this was penned.)

magnifying-glassOne of the goals of the MEMS scientists is to teach the robots to build more robots! This may present problems if the robots get out of control (as in the novel PREY by Michael Crichton), but novels aside, there is genuine science already proceeding with nanotechnology, nanostructures, and MEMS. This little science lesson is now over. If you’re interested, here are two of many references on the subject: The Next Big Thing is Really Small (© 2003) by Jack Uldrich with Deb Newberry, and Nanotechnology, A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea (© 2003) by Mark and Daniel Ratner.

Now, back to my list. I know there are people out there who actually LIKE to have some of these things done. However, as I look at the bulk of the items on my list, I’d have to assume the nanobot idea will take hold, and some entrepreneur with very tiny offices and very good eyesight will figure out how to rally these miniature non-unionized workers and make a million dollars in the first few weeks of business.

In general, these tasks are things that I would just as soon not be there for at all, and in fact, if a nanobot did it VERY QUIETLY and VERY GENTLY whilst I was sleeping VERY DEEPLY, it would be awesome. They could do it all at once, as far as I am concerned. I’d wake up in the morning and it would be handled. It’s tantamount to the pure joy of coming in from working all day; the house is clean and spotless, dinner is made, candles are lit throughout the house, soft music is playing, and a well-toned, mute, scantily clad person of choice is waiting to pass out foot rubs and bring beverages of any variety, perfectly made, quickly without nagging, begging, or bickering.

Does this sound outlandish? The idea of a washing machine for women in the old days sounded impossible to them, didn’t it? Well, why can’t we expect to have a future that holds really cool stuff for us? I haven’t figured out a way to leave my head at the hairdresser’s, my hands and feet at the manicurist’s, and other body parts at other places to be poked, probed and handled, as it were. More importantly, I don’t like being awake to feel some of these invasions.

Don’t get me wrong. There are sometimes, many times, when having manicures and pedicures, as an example, are just delightful. They are a break in the action. They let us feel pampered, fawned over, and special. It’s when there really is no time, deadlines loom heavy, the “fit has hit the shan,” and you’re just not able to fit it in. Your nails look like crap, your hair badly needs a cut or color, your teeth need cleaning because your breath catches fire when near a heat source, and you wish the twenty-four hour day would expand to thirty, and your need-for-sleep factor would reduce to zero. We’ve all been there.

MY idea of nanobots are those that would be fitted with little microchips and trained to roam the body eating cuticles, handling your pap smear, ridding your teeth of plaque, checking for cavities, and dragging huge (for them) razors across body parts, like ants carrying a hot dog bun, to rid you of unwanted hair. But, until the next huge, or should I say tiny, breakthrough in nanotechnology, I guess I’ll have to continue to do all of my icky things by and to myself and with myself present.

At the moment, though, my clothes are washing themselves in the washing machine.

 

© Kathryn Atkins, 2005

The Project Lifestyle (TPL)

We all voted and it’s unanimous. The Project Lifestyle (TPL) is a means to sanity in an insane world.

  • What is it?
  • Who uses it?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why does it work?
  • How does it work?

What is TPL?

Question MarksLife is a project. Webster’s defines project as: “an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim.” Hah. No more needs be said, right? We are born as individuals. Most of us collaborate along the way… especially at the beginning. The planning may or may not be done carefully, but still, the aim is to live, somehow, and get to the end. Death. There is nothing in the life project that says we need to get there in one piece even. Nor does it say how long the project will take, either in the definition of project nor in the definition of life. We’re good so far.

The Project Lifestyle as defined here will be one that accepts that each undertaking, each life event, each age, party, move, educational rung, job, business, relationship (yes, those, too), and just about anything you name has a project nature to it. Why I like the project lifestyle: There’s an end. That’s why they’re so cool. Start here. End there. Like Monopoly or something. Closure. Relief. It is over. The end, however, does not say that the project was necessarily good. No. It does say that it existed, and that it has been completed — good or bad, it’s done. That’s why people like hobbies, usually. In. Out. Done.

Who Uses TPL?

Everyone uses the Project Lifestyle. They just don’t know it. Or, they don’t know that it’s got a name, mostly because I just made it up. Anyway, the people that gain the most from it are those that realize it exists and capitalize on the good space it creates in one’s psyche. Parents use it. There is the baby project, the cute years between three and ten, and then there’s the dreaded teenager project. These projects all come to an end. Thank goodness. Then there’s the empty nester project, the retirement project, and the doddering, forgetful project spent mostly looking for stuff that they just had a minute ago.

Mini projects are tucked into each of the parent projects above: birthdays, discipline projects, organization projects, PTA projects, lessons and so forth. Adults with or without children have things called jobs. Those are projects. Entrepreneurs have projects. Retirees have projects: the figuring-out-how-to-retire project and then the-deciding-what-the-heck-to-do-while-retired project based on how well you did the job project or the how-to-fund-your-retirement project. Politicians, plumbers, pediatricians. All have projects.

When Do You Use TPL?

The Project Lifestyle can be used at any life stage. Early on (kids have projects like tying shoes and later learning Pokémon). Teenagers have projects: finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, hanging out, learning to drive, or the increasingly expensive and difficult getting-into-college project. Yes. But when the letters come back, you’re in OR not. The project of getting in is over. Then it’s the getting through-college-in-one-piece project. Then it’s the finding-the-job project. Then it’s the finding-spouse or finding-house project. Or not.

Each project begins and ends. That’s why so many people like their hobbies. They’re little projects that get done a little at a time, but they get done, and people are happy from the result. David Allen of “Getting Things Done” fame says people often don’t start projects because they’re too big. Yes there’s that. So the life project is an amorphous thing that Clutterhappens to us if we let it, and often there’s no formula or system to it. The unplanned life project is usually not very satisfying. The David Allen secret is in having projects be a series of steps, so that the question isn’t “How do I make a frictionless freeway?” (which would likely put anyone’s mind in a dither) but rather ask: “What’s the first step?” For instance simply answer the question, “What is friction?” Then, “What’s the next step?” Answer the question, “Why would a frictionless freeway be cool?” And so forth.

Where Can You Use TPL?

At a table, in a stable; in a room, on a broom. In the air, on a stair. You can ‘project’ anywhere.


Why Do Projects Work?

To have one big long, blobby, unending, winding, circuitous road with no signs gets you nowhere fast. Plus it makes you nuts. Projects are great. They have lids. They’re contained. They begin. They’re (hopefully) organized and get more so with practice! With luck, projects and the tasks in them are prioritized so the more important ones get done first. OR at least they get started first, so momentum is now shoveling snow from the path, and progress is being made.

So there are actually people that have degrees in project management from the Project Management Institute. You don’t need a degree, though, unless you want a career in it. Otherwise, everyday people can adopt The Project Lifestyle and reap the benefits. It’s a question of starting. Start one. Start another and another. Then finish the first one. Then the second and start another. BUT FINISH.

Or consciously quit, but don’t abandon. Don’t let things die. Kill the unfulfilling project consciously: With a hatchet. A broom. A hammer. Be sure you want it gone. Or finish it. Visit the projects list and the action steps on the various projects often. If there’s one that never moves from visit to visit, consider a resounding, meaningful, ceremonial death.

How Do You Start a Project Lifestyle? Buy David Allen’s Book, Getting Things Done. Or buy other how to books. Read and listen to books written about and by people you admire. Seth Godin has several books on powering through and staying in. He also visits conscious quitting.

Projects rock. They’ll save your sanity. And that’s a good thing.