I love solitaire. I find it infinitely soothing. Of course, there’s a line between soothing and numbing, just as there is with any activity. As long as I mindfully use a game or two as a tool rather than being used by it, it’s one of my favorite wait-I-need-to-think-about-this or catch-my-breath techniques.
The thing about solitaire, whether we play the old-fashioned way with a deck of cards, or online, is that each game is different because we shuffle the cards.
We shuffle the cards.
We make choices as we play, so we have some control, but the shuffle is random. Always the same cards, but in different positions every time.
Sometimes we win. Sometimes the cards don’t fall right, or we make mistakes, or both, and we lose.
Each of my relationships is a card. My job-for-a-paycheck is one, and exercise, and sleeping, and eating. My Be Still Now time is a card. All the ordinary household tasks and activities of daily living have a card. My time is a card, and my energy another. Each piece of my life can be represented by a card.
When I don’t shuffle the deck, I keep laying out the cards in the same old way, in the same old order, and experiencing the same old frustrations and challenges.
Holistic decision-making demands a fresh look at what I’m trying to manage and why, as well as an assessment of my personal deck of cards, including priorities, resources, and sustainability. In looking at my life from an unaccustomed vantage point, through the filter of Allan Savory’s model, I see previously unconscious choices and patterns that are not in line with my current intentions.
The cards haven’t quite fallen right, or I’ve made mistakes, or both. My deck is too large and I need to discard, or too small and I need to add some cards. I’ve dealt less important cards on top of essential ones.
So I’m reshuffling my cards and exploring new layouts.
I can’t do everything. I want to. I think I should. I can’t.
Everything and everyone can’t be a priority. Some of my time and energy investments have provided little or no return. In some ways my life hasn’t been reflecting the truth of my heart.
So I’m reshuffling my cards.
I could refuse to reshuffle. Eventually, life will force a reshuffle, maybe in painful and unexpected ways. I could wait for that. On the other hand, I can face my fears, be willing to cut my losses, tell the truth (at least to myself), and let go of what’s no longer serving me.
I choose to reshuffle.
Not enough time/space/energy for what’s really important? Exhausted and overwhelmed?
This week I’m looking at the ecosystem process tools I might use to manage my writing business plan. Savory defines them as human creativity, money and labor, technology, fire, rest, and living organisms.
Leaving aside all this terminology for a minute, how do we manage our lives and environment? I’ve just been housecleaning with a vacuum (requiring electricity), a dust rag, a broom and dustpan, bleach, vinegar, cleanser, rags, Windex and paper towels. These tools don’t represent much money, but I do need to use labor to optimize them.
Now I’m using my laptop and a wireless Internet connection. These technological tools require money, in addition to my creativity and labor.
Although Savory’s focus is on land management, his model continues to lend itself to virtually any kind of management situation, as though all our human endeavor is only a sidestep away from holistic land management. This, of course, is the case, as there can be no human endeavor if we destroy the planet. Whoever we are and whatever we do, our choices and actions have consequences for Earth.
I’m using the tool of creativity as I work with this model and explore all the levels and pieces. Supporting my own creativity as a writer is at the heart of my purpose.
Savory proposes that holistic management planning will always require at least one of the tools of money and labor. Now we come up against the limitations of our resources. We might have money, but no time, energy, or willingness to labor. Or, we might be working as hard as we can, but have no financial resource. Most of us have a mixture of the two, but how do we know how to use our resources of money, time and energy most effectively? This is one of the questions lying at the core of my own situation.
I suspect many of us operate out of scarcity rather than abundance, out of a sense of limitation rather than possibility. Our lives are busy and our days full. We have responsibilities and deadlines. We respond to one demand after another. We fight traffic, the clock, and an unending stream of messages, notifications, beeps, rings, and buzzers.
Using rest as a tool seems counterintuitive. If we’re already running as fast as we can and we can’t keep up, the sky will certainly fall if we make a choice to stop and sit still, even for a few minutes. However, I know from my own experience that none of our efforts are sustainable without rest. We can’t assess our resources fully on the run. We can’t think intelligently about our measure of money and labor and where to use them most effectively, and we can’t maintain juicy creativity without regular and adequate rest.
Fire is another tool we use to manage land, and I apply it metaphorically to my own situation. Natural creative forces like fire are terrifying, and we usually focus on their destructive aspect, forgetting that destruction always opens the door to something new. Sometimes we use such a force deliberately, and sometimes not.
If we are managing humans rather than land, events such as divorce, death, a spiritual crisis, a health crisis, or a wholly unexpected choice can have the same effect as a force of nature like fire. In a very short time, everything changes and we no longer recognize our landscape and landmarks. We feel terror and loss. We feel disempowered. At some point, we begin to shape a new life, adapt to a new job, put roots down in a new place, or learn how to inhabit a new set of circumstances.
Technology is the tool I’m least comfortable with. Unfortunately, in these days it’s a very important tool for an aspiring writer, maybe even an essential one. As I wrote last week, I’m being inexorably forced to make friends with it and develop some skill in using it. Sigh.
Lastly, and closest to the heart of Savory’s work, is the activity of other organisms as an ecosystem management tool. Collaboration. Cooperation. When organism meets organism, both are impacted. It doesn’t matter how large they are, or if they have a Latin name, or if we understand the full nature of that impact. It doesn’t matter if one organism is a cow and one a forb. It doesn’t matter if one is a human being and the other a virus. Life interacts with life, and both lives change.
The long tale of evolution is made up of infinite stories of these interactions.
My interaction with all the life around me, past and present, human and nonhuman, is my most powerful and complex tool for managing my business writing plan. Without my social shaping by family and culture, I would have nothing to write about. Without collaborating with others who have skills, knowledge, and power I lack, I cannot succeed. Without the inspiration and support from those around me, I would not be able to fuel my creativity sustainably.
Tools help us shape and manage our lives. We learn to make them, care for them, and wield them effectively. As humans, we have a long history of developing tools to help us master our world, and human endeavor often fails if we don’t have and know how to use the proper tools.
Questions I ask myself: What tools do I need to build a sustainable management plan? Who will teach me to use them effectively? How much money and labor will be necessary in order to use my tools well?
And what about people? People are not tools. How can I most effectively interact, collaborate, and cooperate with the people around me in order to work towards my goal of creating a more secure, sustainable life as a writer?
Thinking about ecosystem management tools. My daily crime.
From Seth Godin: “When we adopt the posture of commitment, something extraordinary happens: The lessons get more profound and useful. The questions asked get more specific and urgent. The connections that are made get deeper.”
“The discipline is to invest one time in getting your workflow right … Hacking your way through something “for now” belies your commitment to your work …”
This year I decided I was going to build a more secure life over the next three years, and I began to work on a business writing plan using a holistic management template created by Allan Savory. I’ve been writing about this process as I grope my way through it.
I’ve spent a great deal of time asking myself questions, writing notes, identifying obstacles, defining the whole I’m trying to manage, listing resources, outlining my holistic context, and thinking about interconnection and ecosystems.
A concatenation of recent events and more closely identifying my needs and resources led me to find a new hosting company and migrate the blog from one host to another.
My skill level is way below this kind of data transfer, so I researched and chose a new hosting company, gave them my credit card number, and sat back to let the tech wizards do their thing.
After the transfer, everything looked good. I had a minor problem with my header image that was obvious and easy to fix. I immediately went back to weekly posting and plodding through SEO work.
A week ago, it came to my attention that all my internal links, the links from one of my posts to another, were broken. This amounts to thousands of links, and is a major catastrophe for SEO rankings.
I had chosen the new hosting company based on, among other services, the availability of 24/7 tech support and their advertised expertise with WordPress, which is the platform for this blog. Everything had worked perfectly on the old server and I was sure this link problem was a glitch in the transfer process. I called tech support.
I called tech support three times that day, in fact. I explained the problem to each person, gave them examples, and told them what I’d done with the previous support person, but I quickly lost track of who was suggesting what changes and got more and more confused and desperate with each call. I followed all recommendations. Nothing fixed the links.
I struggled all week with tech support, in between work shifts and a power outage. I didn’t post or do SEO work, because I began to have trouble even signing in to WordPress, let alone working on the blog.
Later in the week, during my fifth call, the support person said that she’d never seen links break the way mine had before, she didn’t know what to do, and the hosting company doesn’t actually work on internal links anyway! But to please call back if I continued to have problems and would I stay on the line and take a short survey about my support experience?
The depth of my distress over this is hard to overstate. I had not realized how much this space means to me until it seemed to be irrevocably broken. It’s not that I have a big audience or an intimate social community around it. It’s not that I get a lot of comments or feedback. It’s not that I think it will make me rich.
I think it’s that this writing is the most authentic, truthful thing I do in the world that’s in the public view. It’s also a significant exercise in self-discipline, courage, and commitment. I love my paid job and the people I work with, but I’ve had many beloved jobs and made satisfying contributions in my work before now. I am not the job.
I am the writing. The threat of losing it made me realize how meaningless my life would seem without it.
The part of me that’s so good at stepping back and observing from the corner of the ceiling has been watching all this. In trying to take some forward action and gathering the courage to make a true commitment, financially, internally and publicly, the blog broke. The financial commitment of a new hosting company didn’t pay off. I couldn’t find the support I needed. Not only that, whatever went wrong wasn’t a normal problem, but something (supposedly) never seen before. All my old beliefs about being a burden and broken in profound, ugly, and no-help-for-you ways sprang into life again.
One of my goals is to build a support team for my writing. Was this a message that my writing and I are not worth supporting and will never be successful? Was it a message that there is no support for such as me and I must find a way to learn and do it all?
I was beyond discouraged.
Then, in less than an hour, an extremely bizarre string of events occurred. My partner unearthed the business card of a web designer from whom we bought drums off of Craig’s List about five years ago. We met her in a parking lot in Portland. She and my partner hit it off and she handed him her card. He came home and added it to one of his innumerable piles.
He remembered that card, found it (perhaps the biggest miracle of all), called her at GreenLight Websites, and left a message. She called him back, he explained the problem, gave her the login information, and within half an hour she emailed me that the links were fixed. The fix had been so quick and easy, she said she didn’t need any money for her work.
I checked, in between mopping my face and blowing my nose, which I’d been doing for days. She was right. The links were fixed. Free of charge.
The links were fixed!
In the process of leaving a review for her business, we realized she hosts as well. Her prices are much higher than the host company I originally chose, as money is a very limited resource for me right now, but she specializes in WordPress (backed up by action this time), she’s local, she’s a successful female small business owner with an amazing portfolio, she’s a drummer, she has green hair, and she’s my age. She also does all kinds of web design and consulting.
We considered for about 10 seconds before deciding to host with her.
Nowhere on my wish list of a writing support team was a web designer and consultant. I’ve been looking for an agent, editor and publisher.
I’ve lived long enough to recognize this as one of those completely unexpected journeys we take as we’re carefully plotting and planning a straight line move from A to B. I made a commitment, and those who know me well will tell you once I make up my mind everyone might just as well get out of my way. I think Godin is right, though. The act of making the commitment causes things to start happening.
It was not my plan to start spending significant amounts of money before figuring out how to make some money, but here I am.
It was not my plan to include a web specialist in my support team, but here I am.
It was not my plan to have the blog break down and temporarily undo all my hard SEO work, but it happened anyway.
Progress is a funny thing. Sometimes it looks like collapse, breakdown, and reversal. Often, it’s not going in the direction we had in mind, but in another direction entirely. The purpose of Savory’s model is to accommodate unexpected, edge-of-chaos events and unintended consequences in whatever our situation is.