December 8, 2007

Multi-tasking Mania

One of my recent paintings, “Multi-Tasker,” sums up the frenetic pace that generally descends upon us at year’s end. This is the time of year that I conclude projects and plan for the next year. Although I could describe myself as a “multi-tasker,” I don’t necessarily believe that getting involved in several activities simultaneously is a good idea. But despite my best intentions, at year’s end there are a number of unfulfilled obligations, procrastination on difficult tasks, and incomplete projects. This week I decided to take on the completion of a number of writing projects in order to clear a pathway to more creative arts pursuits.

Virginia Woolf, in her pivotal essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” outlines the basic prerequisites for creative writing - time, space and money. It served in its time as a thesis on why there were not more women writers. Quite simply, they didn’t have the material resources, a private creative space and the spare time away from family commitments. Add to that the precarious health of 19th century women and limited access to higher education and you have a virtual recipe for a would-be artist’s disaster.

Although written in the 19th century, there are aspects of Virginia Woolfe’s essay that are pertinent even today. And what is more, it is pertinent for men as well as women. We all need time, space and money. In the pursuit to find the time and resources to finish various writing projects Virginia Woolf’s admonitions. For most of the past twenty years, however, I managed to create a substantial body of visual art work and carved out a modest yet fruitful existence as a painter and a mosaicist. But could a knack for getting the job done in one area be transferred to another?

As a visual artist, allocating time and carving out a creative space for myself has always been a challenge but through a combination of support when I needed it, hard work, and a little bit of luck, I managed to finish an impressive oeuvre of art - probably all told about 3,000 art works or more. For the past two years, I have been organizing and cataloguing this work. In my cataloguing process, I have come across an embarrassing number of incomplete works and work that was decidedly not up to par. This work, and there was, and still is, a lot of it, I decided to divide into three categories: work to finish, work to restore, and work to throw out. It was elevating to finish the unfinished and restore the worn. It was a relief to throw out the lost causes.

Some months later, however, this is still a work in progress, because life encroaches on even the best of intentions. Commissions had to be finished, lesson plans had to be written, courses had to be taught, web sites had to be managed. And once removed from concentrating on the vital task at hand, a stagnant impasse had to be breached. But from time to time, I could reconnect to the process at hand: work to finish, work to restore, work to discard. Slowly, methodically, I mined the oeuvre.

Applying this same personal edict to my writing, however, was not easy. The first task at hand was to confront the unfinished work - a necessary unpleasantness that no one likes to do. It was an unpleasant confrontation because one must come face-to-face with the feeling that one’s talents and abilities are not, after all, up to the task at hand. But not to confront it means forever leaving a desire unrealized, content instead to dream of the possibility. But fortunately I found other writers in the same predicament and joined forces with them to confront the difficulty of writing. So armed with a schedule, an agenda, and comrades-in-arms I set out to do battle with the overwhelming task of finishing my writing projects.

Virgina Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, despite its feminist slant, can be read as a general treatise on barriers to writing. So for my first week I sought to identify what the barriers were to finishing my writing work. Like many misguided multi-taskers there were simply too many items on my writing plate. Fortunately, a number of them were small, albeit annoying in their lack of resolution - an article in need of revision, a promised book review in need of being written, a conference paper abstract to submit with a deadline looming close, a course proposal deadline to meet, a web blog to keep up with - all this and my painting projects for my galleries. If I were ever to dig through all this to reach my better creative writing, it would mean mustering up the self-discipline to complete them without further delay, and the courage to limit further distracting demands on my time and resources. It would mean hard work and even harder choices.

The challenges identified, the week played out as follows:
I publish to my blog what I had just written for the writer’s group. Check. I spend a day writing course proposals, invoices and advertising for McDaniel College. Check. I revise my article, spend a while at the tedious chore of arranging the illustrations and send it off. Check. Now for the book review. It helps to finish reading the book first. Write the review. Send it off to Grout, a publication for The British Association for Modern Mosaics. It will be published. Check. Now the Conference Paper. Two days to come up with an idea. I come up with an idea. The panel chair is tepid about it - rightfully so. I go back to the drawing board. Six hours to come up with a new idea. Second try is a go. After two revisions it is sent off. I will present it in the spring. That gives me three months to learn how to do a powerpoint lecture. Nothing like a little pressure. Check. Finish preparing thirty panels for a series of paintings for 2008. Check. After careful consideration and four years of wrangling, I write an agent to tell her that I can’t keep up stocking both her galleries with new work - limiting myself to one city and freeing up my time and opportunities in the other to expand upon work already finished or in progress. Check. I make some long overdue appointments to set a better course on my health care. Check. I finally give that interview for the local newspaper. Check. I finally pull the plug on my defunct web site. Check.

Despite the whirlwind completions, obstacles abound. My husband and I share a “family” computer. It seems to go well until we both have pressing deadlines. As I work frantically my significant other paces behind me asking “Are you done yet? Are you done yet?” I relinquish computer time so he can sit at the screen while I pace around asking “Are you done yet? Are you done yet?” A room of one’s own? Maybe we need computers of our own. During the course of the writing week distractions abound. Telemarketers seem to be leaping out of my telephone like the seven lords on the seventh day of Christmas. Life happens. A health crisis back home. Hours are wasted as my embattled brain watches trash television.

The work completed I turn to the task, finally, of sorting through the plans for writing projects: work to finish, work to revise, and work to discard along with multi-tasking mania!

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