Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Fish, fish, get your fresh fish. I swear everyone in western Massachusetts knows the lilting sounds of Bud Foster advertising his fresh fish. How he rolls and twirls the words for Foster's Supermarket. This store is such a delight. Big enough to have everything you could possibly want, small enough that much of the produce is local. I anticipate every visit as an adventure.

Do I want five pounds of organic local carrots--on special for $2.79? What about a basket of over-ripe bananas--only $.99? There is a manager's special of fresh haddock--trucks drive into the fish market in Boston two or three times a week getting the best fish available. Very tempting.  Hmm. I need apple cider, mushrooms. Yukon gold potatoes on special. Those leeks look great. My DH is longing for a roast chicken. Not the best right now but that pork roast--can't beat the price. Sure looks great too--very fresh. I'll get some port wine. Raisins. Make some applesauce. I'll freeze the day old hamburger and use it later in the week.

Don't need milk.  A couple of cartons of juice. Yoghurt from SideHill Farms--I drive by their cows grazing in the meadow on my way home. Absolutely delicious--tastes like yoghurt should. Some bread for sandwiches.

There is strategy as I walk the aisles every Tuesday. See what's on sale, pick up the essentials. Always a can of coffee. Replace the can of coconut milk I used for Thanksgiving. I don't even stop at the cookie aisle. Not what I buy. Strategy but no lists. I don't know what I'll cook until I finish shopping. Foster's is like that--at least for me. This is almost fun, an adventure, not a chore.

I put the food away, make lunch--oh that grilled cheese was good. Check my e-mail. Coincidentally, I get a response to my blogpost that lists can be hazardous to your art from Lisa Call when I return. Lists, lists, lists.  She writes about lists for grocery shopping:

Yes – getting things done is what gets things done. But spending our energy trying to remember what needs to get done isn’t productive use of our brain. Writing things down reduces the energy required to remember that list and frees us up to think about other things.

She writes that I have not explained how making lists is dangerous to your art.

I will first use the example of grocery shopping at Foster's. Now occasionally if I am making something special I may jot down a few items. Chocolate and cream for Christmas dessert. Basil and walnuts to make pesto for my step children. But normally I don't. I know what is in the refrigerator. I know what we need--fruit, veggies, main courses. I just don't know what will look best at Foster's. Do I want to pass up the pork roast or the carrots. Nope. I will cook with these. If I had a list, I might not have even seen the pork roast and it sure was good last night.

In my last blogpost I wrote about my friend Mary. Now Mary left a successful job to become an artist. Mary goes up to her studio to work, begins tackling her todo list and by the time Mary must leave the studio she has done some items on her todo list but not made art. She is frustrated and feels like a failure. Now Lisa says the problem is that  Mary was using the WRONG lists. OK--let's blame Mary even more for failing to become the artist she dreams of. Those lists are indeed being dangerous to Mary's art IMHO.

Lisa has referred me to the blog post of ZenHabits. Kill your todo list they advocate.

I’m here to suggest: kill your to-do list.
It sucks up your time, and drains your motivation. Those who have to-do lists usually manage them constantly, or if they don’t they fall into disuse and get dusty and become worthless, while the person who’s fallen behind in maintaining the list feels constantly guilty. For those who keep up with the lists, they spend a lot of time on the lists they could be spending … doing something important.

But Lisa says in an interchange with me, Zen Habits is a successful blog and I should take everything they say with a grain of salt. Probably. There are times when one needs plans, strategies and focus. Her implication is that they use lists to get things done. Maybe, maybe not. Lists may not be the only way.

Switch it around. If lists are frustrating you, try having a strategy instead. Know yourself. Maybe for you spending the first hour of your studio time making art gives you that feeling of accomplishment. Maybe you have too many UFO's around your studio--too many choices, too much feeling of incompletion (is that a word?).  Do you have too much finished work in your studio--maybe you need to find a home for it? Circumvent yourself. There is no right answer and no wrong answer.

I don't have the answers for you. Lisa doesn't have the answers for you. Neither does ZenHabits. Learn from all of us and then find your own answers. Mary now rarely goes up to her studio because she feels so defeated. I find this painfully sad. Don't let this happen to you. After all, being an artist is hard work, and if you aren't having fun sometime during the process--if it just makes you feel badly about yourself then why are you doing it.

And yes the pork roast was delicious. Pork, garlic, onion, sweet potatoes, a few raisins and a dash of the port. Yummy. Today I may make an apple cobbler to go with it. Cream a bit of margarine with sugar, add an egg, a bit of milk, flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Pour over some sliced apples and cook til done. I don't use a recipe here either. That's me and it works for me.

So what do you think? My father was a farmer. Farmers don't make lists-at least my dad didn't---they just milk the cows, plow the field, harvest the crops? I wonder if this is why I don't use lists. Any thoughts?


  1. Ann - you have taken my comment out of context. What I wrote was:

    "Also note that Leo created the Zen Habits blog and huge successful following with todo lists and goals, so his advice to get rid of lists should be taken with a grain of salt. It's the "don't do what I did - but here's a really cool idea" kinda of post. He's riding the wave of minimalism right now - great stuff - but it is not how he got his career up and running. "

    The point being that his "advice" is not what built zen habits. It is not because he is successful that you should question him.

    He started with a lot of structure, built up systems that now run on autopilot and hence he doesn't need as many lists to remind him of what he's doing.

    Telling someone without any structure or focus to just jump in with nothing, I think that is not well thought out advice and it shows a lack of appreciation for what all of that structure did for him in the beginning.

    Just as you make lists but are advocating not making lists, I question your advice.

    I'd love to see you go 6 months to a year without making a single list, no grocery list, no todo lists, nothing. Then report back to us on how that went. That would be of value.

  2. And my point is that people think differently. I am not advocating not having structure--my day and my life are structured. I am a creature of habit. I am just suggesting that people find what works for them. Use lists for when lists work for you and when they don't, then create another structure. Experiment with what works best for you.

    I would be the first to admit that some people need the structure of lists and I have been very careful to suggest that people try using them. But if they are stuck using the lists then maybe try different approaches. I work better with the structure of habit and knowing when I need a list, when I need a system and when I just wing it. I don't like the pressure of lists. I don't like the anxiety of lists or the frustration of lists.

    Basically I rarely use lists. Even when I make them I don't usually consult with them. Seriously. I have tried and find they make me anxious. Even when I was an attorney and had my own business doing research for other lawyers. I preplan things in my mind and occasionally use post it notes. I do get things done. My orders are out on time. I show up for my craft fairs on time. I do even get my grocery shopping done.

    I just feel that while your system works really well for you and I am glad of that, it may not be the best solution for everyone. Question, try different approaches. After all, you are only looking for a new approach if what you are doing doesn't work for you.

    And I do feel it is most important to maintain at least some of the fun of making your art or doing your job.

  3. As I read this, I was thinking about how lists feel good at first but then, I start to feel anxious or depressed if I don't make progress. So, sometimes I use the Daily Docket method. I create a running list of things I need to do but everyday, I pick 3 from the list that must get done. Sometimes, its as simple as do laundry, return books, freecycle. I find that glancing it at it through the day helps me stay on task. As for shopping, though, because I plan our meals a week ahead, I need the list to make sure I get everything I need. It also curbs impulse buys and helps me stay on budget.

    PS I do love Foster's but I rarely shop there. I feel a little guilty about it but I shop at Stop&Shop for the gas points, and deeper discounts.

  4. Thanks Nancy. I do like your concept of the Daily Docket--great idea.