Folks are always sending me lists. A born-again list-lover, I admit, I’m a list junkie. In a way, a list is like a chorus of microbes — they may make you itch with the need to get cracking. I’m guilty of inflicting a few on others.
One time a guy wrote and said he thrived in art by not paying any attention to lists, particularly mine. He has stopped writing to me.
Yesterday, Faith Puleston of Herdecke, Germany, sent me a list. This one (slightly condensed/amended) is the work of the British author Jeanette Winterson. Like a lot of lists, (the Ten Commandments come to mind) her list has ten items:
1. Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.
2. Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write/paint/draw/create something else. Do not stop altogether.
3. Love what you do.
4. Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it.
5. Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.
6. Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.
7. Take no notice of anyone with a gender agenda.
8. Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.
9. Trust your creativity.
10. Enjoy your work!
Fair enough. Number 10 and number 3 sound about the same. But it’s all good stuff, don’t you think? I notice as I’m getting older my lists are getting shorter. One of my own favorites, a totally golden one, first granted by me to the creative world on May 16, 2003, goes:
1. Go to your room.
2. Work regular hours.
3. Finish lots of stuff.
4. Fall in love with process.
Now I’m thinking I can go even shorter. There’s something to be said for brevity. This one’s short-listed for the world’s shortest list. If you think about it, you might just conclude it’s the best list yet:
1. Thou shalt make up thine own list.
PS: “Adam/had ’em.” (Said to be the briefest poem in the English language. Attributed to Strickland Gillilan, about 1900, the title of which is “Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes.”)
Esoterica: One of my all-time favorite lists is Hungarian/Canadian/British author Stephen Vizinczey’s “The Writer’s Ten Commandments.” He’s given permission to change the word “write” to “paint” — or to other words for that matter.
1. Thou shalt not drink, smoke or take drugs.
2. Thou shalt not have expensive habits.
3. Thou shalt dream and write and dream and rewrite.
4. Thou shalt not be vain.
5. Thou shalt not be modest.
6. Thou shalt think continually of those who are truly great.
7. Thou shalt not let a day pass without reading something great.
8. Thou shalt not worship London/New York/Paris.
9. Thou shalt write to please thyself.
10. Thou shalt be hard to please.
Voted best one word list
by Steve, WA, USA
(RG note) A Tsunami of lists hit this computer on Tuesday morning. Thank you all. There were lists too long, and lists with a lot of personal laundry hanging out. There were medium sized lists, and there were some very short ones. We include some of our favorites. The titles are ours. Some other great ideas, and lists, appear in the live comments below.
Lists…don’t make ’em
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA
You should have stopped with this one:
1. Go to your room.
Some philosopher or comedian once said, “Most of the world’s problems would go away if people would just stay in their rooms.” P.S. 1. Thou shalt not make lists.
The good life list
by Jacki Prisk, Edgerton, WI, USA
1. Get up in the morning.
2. Eat a good breakfast.
4. Do the thing that makes your heart sing.
5. With the time left over, clean the toilets.
The better life list
by Nick Lastman
Go to bank.
Go to bed
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The practical life list
by Dave Chapple Cook, Cork, Ireland
1. Don’t let yourself eat in the morning until you’ve done something.
2. You won’t eat anyway unless you repeat 1 regularly.
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The short life list
by Jean Fournier, San Francisco, CA, USA
1. May I spend the next 24 hours living fully.
2. May I engage in creative activity as though it is the last day of my life.
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The evolved life list
by Donna Mason
1) Show up
2) Pay attention
3) Tell the truth
4) Don’t be attached to the outcome
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The ‘get out of jail free’ short list
1. Remember there is gesso. (“I ache for the return of dysfunction. Dysfunction had its problems, but at least dysfunction has function in its title.”)
There are 2 comments for The ‘get out of jail free’ short list by Victoria
Lists hard to follow
by Lynn Arbor, Pleasant Ridge, MI, USA
I think the final word is the final words: (note edits)
1. Thou shalt paint to please thyself. I think this is extremely hard to do.
2. Thou shalt be hard to please. This is easy but can defeat you.
The spiritual list
by Yvonne Rosetti
1. moving into sacred
2. moving out of scared
3. moving out of scar(r)ed
4. embracing earth
5. embracing heart
6. keeping what’s dear
8. begin being
9. be silent and listen
The ‘wonderful life’ type of list
by Katherine Lakeman, Calgary, AB, Canada
Here are my 10 commandments/beliefs. Who needs commandments? I prefer suggestions, or axioms, or affirmations.
I shall be childlike to wonder
I shall be generous to all
I shall be creative in problem solving
I shall love the artist’s struggle
I shall be happy to be alive
I shall be truthful when it counts
I shall be wise when wisdom is called for
I shall be funny when levity is required
I shall be kind to those less fortunate
I shall live long and free.
Lists as a method of processing ideas
by Max Elliott, Banff, AB, Canada
As a fellow list junkie, I can appreciate the value in organizing one’s thoughts and activities this way. My observation amongst my artist peers is that most of us have far more ideas and desires than time…. I find my list making has become a process of editing ideas. There is generally a larger project or two to tackle (at the moment planning the launch of a new book, and starting book #2); these are ideas that stuck over time. Satellite ideas that relate to the larger project are next on the priority list. Unrelated ideas are further down the list, and will make their way up as they survive the editing process. I have found as an artist, designer, business woman, friend, lover of the outdoors, and member of a vibrant community that prioritizing is essential to staying sane and productive.
The ‘Ivy Lee’ type of list
by Russ Henshall, Pulham Market, Norfolk, UK
The American “Father of Public Relations” Ivy Lee (1887-1939) advised Walter Chrysler when his company was failing once before. He arranged for all the managers in Chrysler to list, every day, their top priorities and work on each task in that order until that job was completed. Any task then not done at the end of the day was not a priority and should not be carried on to the next day’s list. ‘That way’ said Lee ‘you will not be cluttered up with work not finished and causing stress and problems. My wife and I followed Ivy Lee’s advice to the letter. Every day my wife and I do an ‘Ivy Lee’ list even if it only has
1. Be creative do writing
2. Buy cornflakes and
3. Walk the dog on it.
So, artists, writers and all creative people – think about Lee’s advice. Reduce that awful feeling everyday of panic; simply make an Ivy Lee list and stick to it whenever you can. And get on with your pleasure in creative work.
Taking out the personal implications
by Bobbo Goldberg, Orlando, FL, USA
I like a lot of these, but have to say I’ve got a problem with #4. There’s a world of difference between “you’re no good” (ouch) and “the work you’re doing is no good.” In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman points out the three “P”s of pessimism. The problem at hand is felt to be Permanent, Pervasive and Personal. Interrupt that three-headed error anywhere and things look a lot better. If you’re “no good” at what you’re doing, you can get better. If you’re “no good,” well, you’re no good. Hopeless. Defeated. Gah-bage. Let’s be confident enough in our own “good”ness to reject something that’s not working out, without generalizing it to who we are.
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Fear of lists
by Jeri Lynn Ing, Red Deer, AB, Canada
I fear lists. The mention of the word LIST really does bring a jolt of fear to my heart. Why? I think it is because my brain does not work in sequence. I scramble about with my thoughts and when approached to make a list I crumble. Just like a batter with not enough liquid to help it bind and flow- that is my mind when asked to make a list.
I really do not want to be this way – I know that lists work and that they make things easier but I still feel a blank space in mind when asked to offer my meager list. Words like “Do you need anything from the grocery store?” bring me nothing but “No, I am good.”
There is good news regarding lists for me — I can follow a list. Just present it to me and bingo I am off. I rather enjoy the ticking of the list, the accomplishment that it brings, and the sense of closure when it is complete. Rather like producing a good painting. I guess you could say that I am a follower of good list makers.
I only wish my mind could do the job and make my own elusive list. My life would be a breeze. It would take me half the time to do the things I do and I could easily ask for help by offering a list of things that need to be done. I could be more successful. Maybe. But would I be happier?
P.S. This is coming from a girl who is known to hang wallpaper without a plumb line and without matching the patterns….
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Further thoughts on lists
by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany
1. Do it!
Let’s have an end to all those procrastinations, all those time-consuming jobs that have the knack of pushing what’s vital aside, and all those musings that have no place in your life unless you fight for the space they need. Short lists also come in useful for that kind of clean-up.
But maybe I do need a second list to express what I also tend to advise myself to do when (seriously) challenged:
1. Sleep on it!
Which reminds me of a gardening programme (gardeners’ question time – still running half a century later) my parents used to listen to when I was a kid. A very countrified expert with a Cornish accent (rolled “r”s and dragged vowels being dominant features) usually gave this advice, whatever the gardeners asked: “The answer’s in the soil!” Next list imminent:
1. Dig your patch (metaphorically speaking, of course).
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digital painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Pat Kamperschroer of Brazil, who wrote, “You have no idea how timely this letter is for me. I edit a large newsletter for a non-profit needle-art guild and am establishing processes that are different than my predecessor. She is a wonderful person, but is having a hard time letting go. Yesterday I told everyone I was going forward with my process. Thanks for the confirmation I am going the right way. This letter is one I will keep in my reflection file.”
And also Wendy Wacko of Jasper, AB, Canada, who wrote, “Who can relentlessly pump out these incredible emails and provide us with increasingly outrageous images month after month, year after year!? I have just had my third glass of red and as always am stopped dead in my tracks by your letter, no matter how tired I am – or what has to be done. Reading your letters is imperative!”
And also Judith Hand of Syracuse, NY, USA, who wrote, “My Father often quoted this short poem as ‘An Ode on the Antiquity of Fleas.’ However, he had an even shorter poem: ‘The Lay of the Last Mosquito’ which was ‘It bit.'”
Enjoy the past comments below for The sweet joy of lists…