Personal Odometer

That title, personal odometer, might bring to mind age or anniversary. Indeed those are the most common personal, human odometers. If you are a runner or cyclist you might track miles or kilometers traveled by running or biking.

Your life can contain many odometers if you care to track them. This is especially true if you are improving a skill. Tracking consecutive days of action to hit a target or to grow a streak as large as possible is a powerful motivator. Photographers take on 365 projects, creating an image a day for a year. Many groups have a 30 day challenge, frequently in April and September. Auto-complete in my DuckDuckGo session shows 30 day of … yoga, thankfulness, poetry, gratitude, and more.

A few days ago I completed my 700th consecutive day of practicing Spanish with Duolingo. Meditation Helper shows that I’ve spent over 120 hours meditating and yesterday completed 160 consecutive days with a meditative session. On my phone Google Fit reports yesterday I did not hit my modest goal for minutes walking, breaking a six day streak. This morning I filled my fourteenth morning pages notebook. A practice that has many enthusiastic practitioners.

Consecutive days are not the only personal odometer to track. Tracking the number of books read, people mentored, pounds lost, money saved, or any countable whatever is a possibility for a personal odometer.

Tracking your personal odometers, why? Life progress can be easily lost. Tracking helps you pay attention. It illustrates how many first steps you’ve taken on your journey of 1,000 miles.

Multiple Notebooks

I read Dorris Lessings’ The Golden Notebook decades ago.

This book is an experiment of sorts. The structure is: A main story (which can be sufficient by itself) and then four other notebooks Anna Wulf created in order to keep her sanity. Then there is the “Golden Notebook” where everything is supposed to be assembled together and should help her make more sense of her chaotic life, mental break-down, including the severe writer’s block she had.
In the basic story “Free Women” Molly and Ana(a successful novelist) are best friends, they are both divorced and have children. One of the ex-husbands has a difficult relationship with his wife and lovers.
-the Black Notebook is about Anna’s experience in Central Africa, during and before World War II.
-the Red Notebook is about Anna’s experience as a member of the Communist Party
-the Yellow Notebook is a novel she is writing about her failed love affair
-the Blue Notebook is Anna’s journal about her emotional and personal life. Most importantly the analysis of her dreams by her psychoanalyst. At times the dreams take over her real life.

Summary from the Multnomah County Library

The concept of having a different journal or diary for different aspects of life was appealing and stuck. Until this year, I never implemented it. It always seemed difficult enough to keep up a single journal. Over the past couple of years I’ve developed a strong habit for Morning Pages. 365 Photo Projects, and an excess of Facebook and Twitter posts. The Morning Pages and 365 Projects have enriched my life. The social media posts seem to be a black hole that do little more than be a distraction.

Because Morning Pages and 365 Projects work, this year I’ve embraced the multiple notebooks. Both sets of work embody paying attention. They include:

  • Morning Pages – ala Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way
  • Week Book – a page each Saturday about the week that just went by
  • Sketch Journal – heavily influenced by and following ideas in Lynda Barry’s Syllabus
  • Face Book – a 6×9 inch book filled with faces. Initial work using the exercises found in Andrew Loomis’ Fun with a Pencil
  • Hand (and foot) Book – goes with the Face Book and because Carlos Villa recommends one
  • Exercise Log – a page a day of what I’ve done physically. I strongly suspect I’ll be motivated to not have blank pages

I’ll update this entry in 2019 with how all the notebooks are working out.

Tassajara Cooking

Cover photo from Ceasars Mama booksellers.

One of the books that changed my life was Tassajara Cooking. The first edition was published just before I graduated from high school. This small brown book was the guide to how to cook, not a list ore recipies. In it, I think, is advice to try every recipe multiple times, leaving an ingredient out each time. This will teach you what each item contributes to the dish.  That “try it for yourself, don’t slavishly follow” was an early, important, life lesson.

At some point I lost my original copy. I’ve been looking for years to find a replacement. This search was complicated by not remembering the title correctly.  Having a copy of The Tassajara Bread Book in hand, from the same era, I kept looking for The Tassajara Cook Book.  That lead to other fine books, but not the one I was looking for.

Today on Amazon I noted the listings for Tassajara Cooking. Scrolling through the used offers I found one with photos of the book.  Eureaka! The full description confirmed it is indeed the 1970s era printing.

I ordered. I sent feedback.

This isn’t a question. This is feedback.

Your listing for Tassajara Cooking – with the inclusion of photos and detailed description – was Fantastic! I’ve been searching for months for this exact item. The published in the 70s copy. The book that was an early guide to cooking for my college-aged self.

Thank you so much for enabling me to find this bit of nostalgia.

Yes, I could have ordered a later print run. But then there would be no plain brown cover, there would be no cover to match my copy of The Tasajara Bread Book. There would be no memories welling up as I take the book from the shelf for reading.

Thank you so much.

This is a very happy start to the new year.

P.S.  Yes, it’s New Year’s Day, a federal holiday. Yet, Ceasars Mama has already replied to my feedback.

Message from 3rd party seller:
Thank you for the wonderful feedback !!
Made us so happy to hear !
Happy New Year to you and thank you !

Resolution: Tracking

Jerry Seinfeld is attributed with popularizing the “don’t break the chain” method of developing habits/stopping procrastination/personal motivation. He denies doing or inventing this. (Choose your own reference.) No matter, his name is attached and people are marking calendars. Me too, kinda.

So what is this? There’s something you want to do, to get better at. You want to do this whatever every day. Get a wall calendar. On the days you do it, mark the day with a red X. After a few days you’ll be motivated to keep growing that chain of Xs.  That’s how it was described to me.

Therefore my (only) resolution for 2018 is to track ten activities I wish to develop into daily habits.

At the start of 2017 there were eight daily habits I wanted to develop. I adapted the practice. In a sketchbook journal I ruled out a grid on the last page, fitting a full month to the page. On days the activity was performed, an X was entered. Of the eight, four have become daily habits. Two are more than once a week habits. Two still need attention.

It worked well. So my only resolution for 2018 is to track the ten activities I’ve identified as desirable habits to strengthen. I am not resolving, for example, to exercise each day. I am resolving to note every day whether or not I did exercise.

A daily review of “did I …” is a motivator to do. Especially on days when most of the items merit a check mark. There’s an impulse to “do them all.” Tracking induces action.

This photo shows the tracking sheet for part of last February. Yes, the third from the right needs some attention. It’s on this year’s list.

Habit Tracking sample, February 2017
Habit Tracking sample, February 2017

Doing Nuthin’

We were at the Hot Cake House for breakfast because we hadn’t been there in many years. At the next table was a white-haired couple. They seem to be regulars. One of the cooks came out to chat with them.

What you doing today?
Absolutely nothing.
That’s great. Just taking it easy, huh?
You know, the problem with doing nothing is you never know when you’re done.

We reflected on this morning wisdom as we walked the dog.

Tree Teaching

Exercise: take a white piece of paper, cut a window into it, pin this to a tree; paint the tree bark visible through the window. Carlos Villa introduced me to this learning tool.

This is especially good to do with watercolors. As you observe and then attempt to replicate the colors of the bark (oh, just simple gray) you’ll keep finding more and more embedded color. The process is almost hallucinogenic. Each time you think you’ve found the match you see another color in the window.

To a casual observer, tree bark is gray or brown or maybe a reddish color. To someone who has tried to paint it the bark is many colors.