If you count the cardboard store front that I opened when I was about seven years old in the basement of our old house, I guess that I have started up about three (er…four, cardboard counts!) businesses.
I used to tell people retailing was in my DNA that’s how much I enjoyed it. I was curious about everything retail, including inventory (what sells, what doesn’t; dead stock – called “dogs”), management (working on the business, not in the business – a phrase coined by Michael Gerber), business plans, marketing and advertising (they are not the same thing), community giving, and, of course, talking with my customers.
But one of my traits (and I own it fully) is that while juggling many balls in the air, I can become easily distracted. One moment I can be writing about retail (this very post) and the very next I can be staring out my window watching the sparrows and the juncos. And because I might have noticed an unusual activity (perhaps the birds are gathering in great numbers), I am reaching for my bird guide or Googling birds and their habits. Sooner or later, I will pick up my very small brown notebook (that I call my bird log because it sounds like I know what I am doing) and I will make notes: date, location, bird ID and habit.
At this point, my writing will have been forgotten and it might be another twelve or twenty-four hours before I sit down on my ass and write (as Steven Pressfield commands).
My husband is kinder: He says I am an “idea person.” Brainstorming, collaborating with other like-minded people, both excite me and help me generate ideas. But when it comes to the execution of the ideas, then I am not particularly interesting in settling in and hammering out the details. Unless the idea really excites me. Then, I’m in.
When it came to business, I always had lots of ideas and many of them I incorporated into my store’s day-to-day routines; but I also look back and see clearly that I sometimes took my eye off the core of my business because I lacked focus. My businesses were profitable, yes; but many opportunities to grow were left unattended because I was too busy generating ideas (because that is fun).
Instead, I would be out of my store working on different community functions and fundraisers, or mentoring a new business owner, or attending workshops that sometimes had nothing to do with running a business.
While in business, one year I decided that I would relinquish some of my need to control and so I employed a bookkeeper. She worked out of her home, that is, out of her garage (now office) and I visited her monthly; we would drink green tea and discuss Oprah’s latest episode. My bookkeeper was a huge fan of Oprah and had installed a television set in her office so that she and her employees could watch Oprah each weekday at three.
On the way home to my store after visits with my bookkeeper, my head would be filled with thoughts of Oprah’s wisdom and insights (and thoughts of installing a television set in my office), instead of numbers and bottom lines.
The fact that I drove home from my bookkeeper with thoughts of sugar plums and green tea in my head, I think, reflects well on me. I am just not excited about numbers and accounting; they are white noise, to me.
I’m easily distracted because there are too many distractions. Once I began to meditate so many years ago, I began to see the inner beauty in everything. Mindfulness and paying attention are the source of my random collections of the mundane, the prosaic and the more profound. There are times when I feel like a magpie attracted to pretty baubles. Except that fact is not even true: According to https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/wild-things/magpies-don%E2%80%99t-shiny-things, magpies are not particularly drawn to shiny things. (I’m sorry: I was distracted by the story behind pretty baubles.)
Thankfully, Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist assures the reader that our distractions, procrastination, and our hobbies and our passions – things that give us joy – are the portal to our own creativity, all of which enhance it. (I feel so vindicated.)
Kleon describes creative types as “collectors.”
“The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they love.” from Garbage In, Garbage Out, Steal Like An Artist
Our journals and notebooks where we jot down quotes, or thoughts, or ideas represent our collections: collections of things that we love or give us joy. Ideas give me joy.
We read a passage that is so insightful or thought-provoking, well, we must capture it so we jot it down in one of our journals. (When I am reading Anne Lamott’s books, I literally surround myself with notebooks: I just know that I will be writing down passages, beautiful phrases, metaphors…endless words that give me pause!)
Business how-to-tips, Internet sites, travel locations or travel tips, books that I want to read in the future, bird notes, garden notes, creativity thoughts, meditation thoughts, gratitude notes…our ideas and notes that we jot down may differ, but they still represent who we are – who we want to become.
Recently my son texted me a quote and that went into my journal…
“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through. Listen to this music.” Sufi
Since he is a carpenter and a musician and a writer and a basketball aficionado, I suspect he is wired like a collector, too.
Artists, writers and other creative people have numerous labels for their collections or their ideas file. Austin Kleon calls it a “swipe file,” Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, calls it her “scratchings.”
Bird watchers carry small notebooks to jot down details of bird sightings: date, location, bird sighted, habits.
Artists carry sketchbooks to draw landscapes and streetscapes… really anything that catches their attention. Some of those quick sketches will be expanded upon later and others will not. But all of the drawings are considered worth collecting whether they are further expanded upon, or not.
Even though I closed my store ten years ago, I still have a fat binder filled with mementos from my last business. I save it for posterity’s sake, as if I’m leaving a trail of ephemera to tell my story when I am gone – I was here and I made a difference. Although this collection of mine tells a story about my past, not my future. It’s my reminder that my past ideas and collections did coalesce for a brief moment of my history.
Ironically, I’m fully aware that distractions are the antithesis of mindfulness – distractions are how we divert our attention, rather than to pay attention. But, the fact is I am mindful of my moments throughout my days, but I am so taken by the beauty that surrounds me when I go for a walk, sit by the river, visit the long-term care home where I volunteer, meditate with some really fabulous people at class, practice Tai Chi or practice yoga, sketch birds, or sit with my beloved and enjoy a cup of coffee – that I am inundated with moments that I want to collect. So, I’m trying to figure out if both is possible. Can I be mindful and distracted?
I think so.
Once we become mindful, our consciousness expands; we open up and begin to see the Divine in everything. One moment I am writing and fully in the moment when in my periphery, I notice a winged swoop outside my window. I am certain a hawk has captured both my attention and his next meal. I am now fully distracted. Or am I? Am I not in the Now? Yes, I am sitting in a chair, the computer sits in front of me…but Nature is putting on a show outside (not one of her best (I admit) but still her story.) This openness to my surroundings – a dog’s incessant bark, a train in the far distance shunting; the ticking of a clock in the background; the sunlight pouring through the windows; my tokens that sit on my desk (pebbles from my daily walks, jade from China, creativity stones, a gift from my sister, small pewter hearts that my husband and I have exchanged) – leads to a contentment and peace within.
Mindfulness and distractions – both give me joy.
Ah, joy. It’s at the stem, the core, the root of many things that I write about.
I’m digressing. Again.
Kleon, Artist. Steal Like An Artist (New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2012).
Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
(New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2003).