A Sort of String Theory

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, as the great Robbie Burns wrote, gang aft agley.

How ironic that my post on my Word of the Month — INTENTION — should come at the end of April instead of at the beginning, as I had originally planned.  Then again, given that the word intention derives from the Old French word entencion, which translates as both stretching as well as purpose, perhaps it is fitting that I have somehow managed to stretch out my time sufficiently to squeeze this post in before April bids us farewell — and while I’m sure there’s some witty astrophysical reference I could be making here, my knowledge of string theory is woefully inadequate to make an appropriate cosmic joke.

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Intention is a very powerful tool.

Strangely enough, the reasons why this post is so late also relate to intention. A valued client, who over several months had carefully planned and then (seemingly) successfully executed a handover from one administrative support person to another, was let down suddenly and unexpectedly when the new staff member got cold feet and left without notice or warning. This outcome was, quite obviously, not intended.  And having seen the lengths that my client had gone to to ensure a smooth and stress-free transition, stepping into the breach to provide them with on-site administrative support was a no-brainer for me — even if it meant my own plans, including writing this post, were delayed.

Now, I’m not one to sugarcoat things: the situation was stressful for everyone involved. But what impressed me most was that my client, despite being sincerely disappointed, maintained a positive outlook in the face of such a massive setback. And when I asked my client how he had managed to continue being so upbeat — which went, genuinely, beyond putting on a brave face — he gave me this response:

I’m not going to let one person’s quitting stop me from doing what I set out to.

And there it was: intention in action.

Life is full of unexpected twists and snarls, where the strings we attempt to smooth and straighten and follow along their slender lengths sometimes slip out of our grasp or snap altogether. When confronting such circumstances, however, it is worth returning to your original intentions: recalling your original purpose and remembering the reasons behind your actions can provide sufficient impetus to keep you moving ahead, even when it feels like everything around you is turning into a twisted, tangled mess.

I know my client will go on to hire someone new, and will probably end up with a better, more functional business because of it. In the meantime, it has been a privilege to work with someone who fixes their mind firmly, with intention, on their goals and who sustains their business by working deliberately towards achieving those outcomes, even in the face of unexpected setbacks.

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Suspended Stone Circle II, by Ken Unsworth.

There is great strength to be found in such an approach — in setting your intention and sticking to it. And for some reason, my experiences in April reminded me of an installation by Ken Unsworth at the Art Gallery of NSW that I have visited time and time again. It is called Suspended Stone Circle II, and for me it sums up visually what it’s like to successfully manage a business, or a family, or even the thoughts in your own head.

This is the power of intention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Versions

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Adelaide street art — this is a fairly recent piece, and I love the incorporation of the windows in to the reimagining of this wall space.

So those of you who follow my side hustle at Blue Jai Creative will know that my word of the month for March is REIMAGINE.

I’ve selected the word reimagine quite deliberately — as writers are prone to doing — particularly after last month’s focus on connection, when I delved into the rich pickings that can be gleaned from connecting with people, with your inner voice, and with what inspires you, and then from connecting the dots between all those things to create something whole and meaningful. Hopefully, having spent some time making such connections, you have a stronger sense of what you want to achieve in your work or life.

The first thing that prompted me to select reimagine as the word of the month was a recent trip I took to Adelaide, South Australia. I’d never been there before, but was keen to check out the food and wine and, being a lover of street art, wanted to see some of the amazing work that has popped up all over the inner city in recent years — and I was not disappointed. Seeing the way that hidden nooks and crannies all around Adelaide had been transformed from grotty out of the way spots to beautiful, unexpected spaces was truly inspiring.

So this month, the word reimagine is designed to kickstart an examination of those things in your work or life that need reviewing. We all have pieces that don’t quite fit — procedures that don’t flow quite as smoothly as we’d like them to, systems that have pinch points or regular breakdowns, products that could do with a tweak, ideas that seem to resist attempts to realise them, all manner of things we know could be improved. Because let’s face it: we’re all human, which means none of us is perfect.

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Without wondering and reimagining, would Stephen Hawking’s work would have been impossible.

But the fact that we are human also means that we possess the greatest and most mind-blowing of gifts: we have the power to imagine and to reimagine — over and over again. For as long as we are capable of thinking, we can keep re-envisaging and reinvestigating.  The possibilities and permuations are limitless, endless, for as long as we are consciously able to imagine and reimagine them.

And that brings me to the second thing — or, more accurately, person — who inspired the reimagine theme for March: the brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose passing earlier this month reminded the world not only of his amazing work, but also of some of his more poignant words of advice to his fellow humans: that we need to retain our curiosity and keep wondering — or reimagining — our worlds, and that we don’t ever stop doing so.  In his own words, it matters that you don’t just give up.

I think it’s important, at this point, to draw a distinction between reimagining and reinventing, because I think part of what makes human beings tend to give up on things is that we become caught up in thinking we have to create something completely and entirely new in order to be successful — and it simply isn’t true. As far as I’m concerned, the old adage about not needing to reinvent the wheel is right on the money: the wheel is just fine, thank you, but hats off to the person who can imagine a way to make it faster, stronger, or perhaps even prettier.

So this month, I encourage you to reimagine the things in your work or life that you think could do with some renewal. What would it look like, if you did something differently? How would that feel? Does it really matter that something is not brand new, or is it more important that you’re willing to try doing something in a new way? Sure – it might be a bit scary, but what if it actually worked?

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Some of the many reimaginings of Cillian Murphy…

Which brings me to my third and final inspriation for my March reimagine theme, which was a fantastic bunch of cover versions actor Cillian Murphy played during a recent broadcast on BBC Radio 6. I have a sneaking suspicion that, like me, Cillian Murphy thinks music is about as necessary to human life as oxygen, and as well as being one of my favourite actors (a job which, quite obviously, requires you to reimagine yourself all the time) his recent forays into broadcasting have cemented him in my mind as being one of the most awesome human beings on the planet. (It’s OK…relax, I’ve stopped fangirling now).

Returning to cover versions, though — which are, of course, one artist’s reimaginings of another artist’s work. Some cover versions are pretty much straightforward reproductions of the original song…and to my mind such works are more like tributes than anything else. Other times, however, cover versions take original songs to a whole other level.  They make you aware of a fresh layer of meaning in the original lyrics, or evoke an entirely different mood from the melody, or strip a song back to its essential elements and make you fall in love with it all over again, in a new and exciting way. I’d cite Neil Finn’s cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as being one such a track, and Nirvana’s version of David Bowie’s “Man Who Stole the World”, or even Northeast Party House’s recent rendition of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” as others.

But there was one particular song Cillian Murphy played during his hour of favourite cover versions that he ventured to say was even better than the original — and even though it’s a big call, I’m inclined to agree with him. So I’m going to leave you with it, as a final piece of inspiration to look, and look hard, at what needs reimagining in your life and work.

Here is Stevie Wonder, playing a cover version of The Beatles’ “We Can Work it Out” — at the White House, in front of President Obama and his family, who are sitting right next to Paul McCartney…who wrote and performed the original song. Boom.

If you think you’re scared of reimagining something new, let wheelchair-bound scientist and a blind man show you the way. You might just work it out, too.

 

The Greatest Connection

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We’re all connected…

Connect.

That’s the word I’ve chosen to focus on for February at Blue Jai Creative — not least because here in the Great Southern Land, summer has heralded its annual leave-taking with hot and humid weather. The Silly Season and its many distractions are over, New Year’s Resolutions have (hopefully) taken hold, and our children have dutifully trouped off back to school for the year.

It’s time to get back into the swing of things. To ramp up our efforts. To take the plunge.

It’s time to connect.

Since February began, however, I have realised that there’s not much point in doing any of these things unless our actions are focused.  And now is the perfect time to paint a clear picture in our mind’s eye of what we might want to achieve in the upcoming year — hence, my word of the month and my current plan:

Connect with people. They are our most valuable and — frequently — most overlooked resource. Call someone who is a positive presence in your life, and when you’ve had an uplifting chat, pay it forward if you can — even if it’s just by smiling at a stranger. Find a mentor. Thank a supporter. Ask a colleague for help if you need it. Compliment someone. And connect especially with your clients; listen to what they have to say, and let what you hear help you map out your plans.

Connect with your inner voice. Know what your First Principles are, the guiding tenets that keep you and your journey on track. For example, my First Principles (which revolve around words, music, and food) remind me to keep on creating, to listen to things that bring me joy and peace, and to eat well so I can sustain myself properly. Living and working in alignment with your own First Prinicples will always bring you greatest satisfaction, because you will be living and working authentically.

Connect with what inspires you. In the normal, real world, what you do for work may not take you to dizzying heights of bliss. For many of us, some or even much of what we do can feel repetitive or mundane. Taking the time to seek inspiration — whether it’s playing a particular song, baking a cake, reading, swimming in the ocean, getting up early to see the sunrise, updating your vision board, taking a walk in the rain, or whatever else delights you — can help to keep you motivated to turn up and take the next step.

Connect the dots. No matter how winding the path you take, make sure that each step along the way is bringing you closer to your goals. Connecting the dots helps you bring perspective to your decision making and can help you stay the course when you feel discouraged or distracted. And if you’ve already connected with people, your inner voice and what inspires you, you’ll already know that the quality of your journey is just as important (if not more so) as wherever you’re hoping to get to.

Connect.

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…throughout history and around the globe…

Focusing on this one word (talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, in alignment with my own First Principles) has made me realise that throughout history, around the world, and across every discipline of human endeavour, some of our deepest and most innovative thinkers have all been saying the same thing: we are all connected.

Here’s what Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) had to say during the Renaissance:

To develop a complete mind, study the science of art, study the art of science, learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.

Or the Upanishads, the ancient Sanskrit texts that inform much of Hinduism, written in India six centuries BCE:

Who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.

During the Romantic era the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)  wrote, “I am a part of all that I have met”, while in the twentieth century the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (born 1926) reminded us that, “We are all the leaves of one tree; we are all the waves of one sea.”

Perhaps, in more recent years, it has fallen to the scientists to spell things out in their usual succinct fashion. In the words of American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:

We are all connected — to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, to the rest of the universe atomically.

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…and we’re all making journeys towards the same end. That’s our greatest connection.

Or, as Nikola Tesla (1816-1943) — inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist and futurist — summed it up even more simply when he said “We are all one.”

We all make these journeys — weaving in and out of each others’ worlds and crossing each others’ paths along the way. We’re all doing the same thing, each day, to take the steps to get us to where we want to be. We really are all connected.

And should these words of mine, spiralling out into cyberspace, connect with you today, may you discover connections with people who support you, with experiences that inspire you, with the guidance within you, and every last dot along the way.

 

 

Progress, not Perfection

coffee-catastrophe

I know this looks like a really good idea, but DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME…

One morning last week, having seen my children safely to school, I came into the serenity and silence of my kitchen and made a cup of freshly brewed coffee.  Black, no sugar, piping hot — just like my tea.

And then, eager to begin the day by emailing a fresh lead for a writing gig, I made my way — coffee in hand — over to my beautiful, still nearly brand new, beloved laptop.

You can see where this is going already, can’t you?

You might even be holding your breath…perhaps, hoping against hope, thinking “She didn’t…did she?  She couldn’t have…”

But I did.

Not on purpose, obviously. But it still happened.

As I set the coffee down beside my laptop, the cup tipped…and a warm wave of liquid overwhelmed the keyboard, sank down between the keys, and swamped the inner workings of my marvelous, magical machine.

Oh…the horror…

I’m not going to go into all that happened next, save to say that I was vacillating wildly between panicking that my little friend would not be able to be salvaged and berating myself repeatedly for my massive, monstrous stupidity.

Because that helps, obviously.

And once I’d managed to put the melodramatics aside — which took far longer than I’d like to admit because, believe me, I am more than capable of becoming completely histrionic when such a situation arises — I sucked in a several deep breaths. Then I went to my favourite yoga class and sucked in a few more.

(I may also have called my Dad…because adulting is hard, some days.)

And finally, when I got home from yoga and gingerly inserted the power cord back into the device and discovered that it still wasn’t working, I…

Sighed.  Deeply.

And followed that up with several more big, deep, sob-like sighs…

By this point, you may be wondering why on earth I am writing this? Why am I even admitting to this? Why would someone who prides herself on being organised, of paying attention to detail, of getting things right the first time — not to mention someone who, to earn a living, helps other people to become organised and precise — why would I write about what my kids would call a completely epic fail?

Well, for a couple of reasons, really.

First of all, accidents happen. We all experience setbacks.  We all, as Shakespeare far more elegantly put it, must “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. But it’s what we do in response that counts.  As Victoria Erickson once said, of disappointment:

Don’t immediately brush it off. Feel it first, and it then it will leave you quicker. Here’s the thing about broken glass: it needs to be acknowledged and swept up so you don’t step on it later.

The same thing applies, I suspect, to broken laptops.

coffee-peaky

Monaghan Boy’s Magic Trick: while what I do is definitely not what Tommy Shelby does with the Peaky Blinders, the guy sure knows how to plan thoroughly and execute precisely — even if it is, sometimes, executing literally.

And that brings me to the second thing: planning. Which includes, of course, planning for potential catastrophes — and explains why I diligently followed my To Do List and backed up my laptop the afternoon before I tipped coffee all over it.

Procedures. Systems. Contingency Plans. They might sound (and frequently are) incredibly boring and mundane but believe me, they have their place. And while adhering to my regular backup procedure won’t replace my laptop, it does mean that all my data — and everything last thing I have been working on for my clients — is safe and accessible.

This life — whether it be at home, or at work — is not about achieving perfection. It’s not about managing to snatch a second or two upon a glittering pinnacle. It’s not about being flawless or faultless, because we’re human beings, after all.

Rather, I would argue that life is about striving for progress, not perfection, and about aiming to be our best and most consistent selves, each and every day. Because I would also suggest that our reaction to a situation can, quite literally, have the power to change the situation itself. And the plans we make and execute can leave us in a much better position than we might have been otherwise.

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And, just for the record: Tommy would never tip coffee over his laptop because he, as we know, is a man who drinks tea.

Even when we tip hot coffee on our laptops.

Well, that’s what I think, anyway.

Blue Jai

PS: When did you last do a back up?

 

Blue Jai Creative – freelance writing and administration services for your home and business, servicing Sydney’s Northern Beaches and beyond.

© Blue Jai Creative 2016

 

Chameleon for Hire

 

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The Chameleon: the freelance writer’s spirit animal.

A large part of my work at Blue Jai Creative is freelance writing: I’m a wordsmith for hire, and in that guise my spirit animal is the chameleon.

Maybe it’s a mission statement you’re after, or you need assistance with standardising letter templates for your business, or for someone to revamp the copy on website because you’ve had that on your To Do List since 2014.

Perhaps you want to document your office procedures, or to inject some life into your corporate newsletter, or maybe you need a little help with tweaking a single, significant document for your most important client.

It doesn’t matter to me what it is that you need: if it involves words, I’m your…chameleon.

Let me show you what I mean.

The word chameleon derives from a compound of the Ancient Greek words khamaí and léōn. The Greek word is itself a calque taken from the Akkadian language, meaning the Greeks appropriated a phrase spoken in ancient Mesopotamia meaning “lion of the ground”, translated it word-for-word, and incorporated it into their own vocabulary. Later, the Romans borrowed the word from the Greeks, and modern English usage of the word has emerged from simplifying the spelling of the Latin word chamaeleōn.

BJC Cham3

Adaptation at its most beautiful: when a chameleon (or wordsmith) can match what they have to offer with what you want to present.

See? There you go — you’ve just learned how the word chameleon came to be part of the English language. But you may also have just learned that a ‘calque’ is a word-for-word translation from one language to another, or that the Akkadians lived in ancient Mesopotamia. Because that’s what I do as a wordsmith: I take a whole pile of complicated information and put it together in such a way that it is easy to read and understand.

More significantly, however, I can adapt my writing style to suit whatever your needs are — just like a chameleon changes its colour. For example, I don’t mind if it’s technical or scientific writing: if you want me to explain the importance of chameleons evolving zygodactylous feet, extrudable tongues and prehensile tails, I’ll do it. (Don’t worry, I won’t do it here, even though I could make it sound far more interesting than you may think it is.)

Or if you’d prefer me to take on far more traditional business lexicon, I can do that too:

Chameleon Enterprises distributes more than 200 separate product lines throughout Africa, southern Europe and southern Asia, and has well-established regional offices in Madagascar and Sri Lanka. Our range has been successfully introduced to the United States, with significant uptake already occurring in the household pet sector in Hawaii, California and Florida. Given the suitability of our products for both wild and domestic use across a diverse range of habitats, future trends indicate that Chameleon Enterprises will be the global leader in small lizard goods and merchandise by 2020.

BJC CHam 4

At Blue Jai Creative, I make sure we’re singing the same song.

See what I mean? I know — in this instance I made it all up. I don’t really believe that there is an as yet untapped market for designer lizard wear for the discerning chameleon, but I can certainly make it sound like I do. And I can make your business sound even better — because your business is real.

Essentially — and yes, I used that particular word deliberately — my job is to make sure that what I write accurately reflects what you and your business are all about. My words need to capture the essence of what you want to say to the world, and to do so with clarity and precision.

So if you want a hand (or even a zygodactylous foot) with whatever writing projects you need to tackle, contact Blue Jai Creative. I believe that you will notice the difference when you do — and your clients will, too.

Go wild: hire a chameleon.

Blue Jai Creative – freelance writing and administration services for your home and business, servicing Sydney’s Northern Beaches and beyond.

© Blue Jai Creative 2016

 

 

Filing Happy

BJB Filing Mess

…that pile of household filing that makes you shudder like you’ve just seen a cockroach.

Have you ever had one of those days when you looked around a room in your house — I’m guessing it’s your kitchen — and discovered that the few important notices you had carefully collated (on the bench, perhaps?!) had suddenly turned into a gigantic pile of paper?

Thought so.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I am surprised by a massive stack of paperwork, I tend to shudder inadvertently — you know, the way you do when you see an unexpected cockroach in your otherwise impeccably clean home — before averting my gaze, and then I try to ignore the slightly nauseated feeling building in my stomach by actively turning my attention to something else.

Like cleaning the oven, for example. Because even that chore is more enjoyable than tackling a huge mess of household filing, isn’t it?

Well, it doesn’t have to be.

And that’s where Filing Happy comes in.

Now, as you can probably tell from what I’ve written so far, there are occasions when I’m as guilty as the next person of neglecting my household filing. I know how overwhelming it can feel to see a stack of papers that need sorting, and how difficult it can be to motivate yourself to tackle that stack. I also know how not being able to find something in the midst of all that…stuff…can make you feel panicked, or ever so slightly out of control. And, finally, I completely understand that there are times when little things — like life, for example — get in the way of our best-organised selves.

One of the reasons I started Blue Jai Creative is that, despite the fact that I’m far from perfect, I happen to be really good at sorting things out. I love developing systems. Logical, user-friendly systems, even. And I’m awesome at organising stuff. Any kind of stuff, really.

So here are my three top tips for beating the paperwork blues, and for getting yourself well on the way to Filing Happy:

1. Know where to look. 

Everyone has places in their homes where stuff accumulates. You might know them as hot spots, or drop zones, or dumping grounds. These are the spots where things pile up: school newsletters, product warranties, utility bills, unclaimed medical receipts, the page you tore out of the toy catalogue because there’s a super special on the Lego your six year old desperately wants for their birthday (and no, I have not been snooping through your windows when you’re not at home).

Step One of Filing Happy is to identify the places where things accumulate in your home, to develop an awareness of where things pile up, and what’s most likely to end up there.

2. Separate the Active from the Passive.

Once you know where your papers accumulate, the next step is to sort them out. Don’t freak out — I’m not talking about finding every last gas bill, car registration certificate and school report and paper-clipping them into neat and tidy piles. All we’re doing here is separating the papers that need attention from those that don’t.

So, Step Two of Filing Happy is simply to separate the papers into two piles: an Active pile of papers that require some sort of action (such as unpaid bills, school permission slips, even that Lego special), and a Passive pile of papers that you’ve already dealt with (and don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for doing that — good for you).

3. Find something —anything — positive to get you going.

Now that you have your Active and Passive piles, the logical next step is to deal with the (hopefully much smaller) Active pile. In the time it takes to boil the kettle, you’ve hopefully managed to sort the Active pile by prioritising it — and in my experience, this tends to be by due date. If you’re still going by the time the kettle has boiled, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and keep working away while you drink it.

If caffeine isn’t your thing, maybe put on some music you like. Maybe you can aim to sort the pile before your favourite song finishes playing. The point of Step Three of Filing Happy is simply to build in something enjoyable to the experience so you stick with the task until it’s done.

Now, I’m not going to get into what to do with the Passive Pile today — that’s a whole other post entirely, though the principles are fairly similar.

BJB Filed

Find something positive to kickstart the action – even if it’s making it pretty!

Needless to say, if you feel like you need more help, or some tailor-made tips, or just a simple kickstart, please get in contact with Blue Jai Creative. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s your home or business that needs sorting, I’m here to help. But it might help if you know this:

I’m not emotionally invested in your stuff, whatever it is, so I can deal with it far more easily than you can.

I don’t judge. We’ve all been there at some point — believe me. And, it goes without saying, I treat your stuff (whatever it is) with respect, discretion and absolute confidentiality.

At Blue Jai Creative, I’m all for finding solutions that work for you, whether they be paperless, or colour-coded, or list-based, or whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable and in control.

Because that’s what Filing Happy is all about.