One of my students is writing her first book. She asks me question, she listens, she doesn’t get defensive when I make suggestions, and she writes most days. But her Achilles heel (we all have one) is the chaotic nature of all that is involved in bringing a book to completion. She called me last week and I could hear her frustration. “What should I do?” she asked. “My writing is all over the place. I’m in organizational hell.”
“I know how you feel,” I told her. “Just keep going and it will all sort itself out.”
There’s no way to keep your thoughts and ideas in order while you’re beginning a project, so if you can’t live in chaos, I wouldn’t advise you to become an artist. I say in my book, “A Friendly Guide to Writing and Ghostwriting”:
“The writer’s life is made up of unfinished ideas, dangling participles, and flashes of memory that seem unreachable, all powered by a yearning to tell a story or share a teaching. Moving forward takes determination, organization, stamina, more stamina, a willingness to listen to informed criticism and a mighty desire to express yourself and your ideas without filters. It also takes a lot of love, both for yourself and for your work.”
Learning to function in chaos while you hold a variety of ideas in your head at the same time in no particular order is not only important in artistic endeavors. It also helps us in life in general. There is no natural order to how events unfold. More often than not, our daily comings and goings don’t occur the way we want them to. Our to-do lists pile up, they seem to get longer instead of shorter, we spend precious hours on hold, we don’t end up getting our issues sorted and we miss that call we’ve been waiting for.
Since the quarantine began, it seems to be getting worse. When I need to call the phone company or DIRECTV, I get a recording that says, “Due to Covid-19, we are experiencing unusually long wait times.” I’m not sure what the pandemic has to do with reaching DIRECTV or AT&T, but the result is that I’m getting a lot less done than before and I constantly feel like things are unfinished. I’m not alone in this. My friends tell me they feel the same way.
So what do we do? I’ve had to teach myself to learn to live with things that are half done, to compartmentalize in a healthy way so when I can’t complete something, I put it on hold and move on to something else. I remind myself that cultivating some patience does me a world of good. It’s a juggling act as you hold a number of balls in the air at the same time, catch one, throw it back into the air and catch the next one. At times, the circus act is seamless. The balls fly into the air and they seem to automatically drop into your hands. At other times, a ball lands on the floor and you have to stop, pick it up and start over.
I think we would all agree that life is messy, a scramble, with blind intersections and complicated directions that go in circles. Sometimes it seems like you end up where you started. but if you think of it as a spiral rather than a circle, even while we go round and round, we are still moving forward. And we are never alone. Our friends are on the same path beside us. As spiritual teacher Baba Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”