Saturday, October 6, 2012
Blueprints and Data Mining and Jigsaw Puzzles
There are many ways to go about finding something when the way ahead is not entirely clear. Some of my friends take a goal-oriented approach. Assess where you are now, define where you want to be, then make a detailed outline of the steps you need to take to get from here to there. That's great when you have a clear idea of what "there" looks like.
Some problems can be solved by diving into books and articles and advice from friends. Find out what someone else already knows, and use that to make your design. That's great when the question you want to answer is something that someone else has already answered.
My problem is that I seldom know what my goal will look like. I may have a general dissatisfaction with the way things are and a vague sense of what direction I need to go, and that's about it. The life I imagined for myself 30 years ago bears little resemblance to the life I have today, and that's not such a bad thing. I didn't have the ability back then to imagine this life. I discovered it as I went along.
I did the best I could with what I had, and every now and then I took stock of things and saw where the pieces fit together and suggested the outlines of a next step or two. It's been like solving a puzzle.
First, you clear out an empty space where you can work. It's much harder putting a jigsaw puzzle together on a cluttered table. The pieces don't fit because of all the stuff underneath. You can't see what fits where because there are too many things in the way.
When you begin, you don't have a clue where most of the pieces are supposed to go. You might not even have a picture to help you along. So you start with what you have. Edges and corners, pieces that are clearly part of a bright pattern, like a flower or a jewel. You fit those together, and the spaces between them suggest other pieces that might fit in. The colors along the edges suggest interior pieces that might fit that general area. You try pieces out, and sometimes they fit and sometimes they don't.
You take a break when you need to, then you come back and fit a few more pieces into place. Pieces that you wouldn't have known how to place before you put those first pieces in. Sometimes, you realize that the pieces aren't fitting properly, and you have to undo a section before you plow on ahead.
Little by little, the picture emerges. Maybe it's what you expected, maybe not. Sometimes, pieces get lost and you wind up with blank spots in your puzzle. As long as the picture is relatively clear, it's enough.
I cleared things out in a big way over the past couple of years. I cleaned closets and weeded out files and got furniture that harmonized and fit my space. I quit a job that was taking up too much space in my life. I made time for quiet, reading, long walks -- and blogging!
I have begun to fit a few pieces into this clear space:
Yoga and walking, for a quiet mind and a healthy body. I went from "plank pose is gonna kill me!" to "I can do this!" The balance poses need more work, but I'm getting better. A three-mile walk now seems very ordinary to me.
A new guitar and several new CDs, for more music in my life. I feel self-conscious about playing my piano, especially with my touchy downstairs neighbors. My guitar is quieter -- and much more portable. I'm having to re-learn what little I knew about playing guitar from my few lessons in the 1970s, and I am in serious need of some finger callouses. That will come.
Movies, art exhibits, panel discussions, and other events for mental stimulation. Sometimes with friends, sometimes by myself. Sometimes, I come away with an idea for the next move in my career. Sometimes, I just come away feeling inspired and happy. Both are valuable to me.
Writing projects, because this is a big part of who I am. I have a fiction piece coming out online next month, and a nonfiction piece being published this month. (I'll put in some links when they go live.) I am getting small bits of inspiration for several stories in progress. And most mornings, I write Morning Pages (a la The Artist's Way), which vary from brain dumps to aimless meanderings to bloody brilliant.
Social media, as a way of getting the word out there and reminding people I still exist. I'm learning my way around Twitter and news feeds and my very own website, and a professional FaceBook page. It's kind of disjointed right now, and I can spend way too much time just looking at other people's updates. Gradually, I'm getting a feel for how to skim the important stuff, avoid the negativity, and make a presence for myself. It's a skill, like anything else.
Little pieces of the puzzle, coming together. I'm still not sure what the picture is, but something is starting to emerge.