Cutting Loose the Albatross

Illustration by Dore

We all have times when we get very little done, and often the reasons are beyond our control. Our productivity can suffer because of health issues, family problems, third-party failures, unlucky happenstance, or any combination of the above. And then there are times when we neglect important items, either because of holes in our memory (or our planning systems), fires to put out, abject fear, other crises to manage, or even just plain procrastination. The ensuing build-up of difficult or intimidating tasks is completely natural, but is a result of continued anxiety that must be dealt with, lest stress and other consequences take their toll.

To that end, I'm declaring the next seven days to be my Albatross Week.

Forgive the English teacher roots here, but one of my favourite poems has always been that piece most dreaded by students, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's rather macabre work called The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In it, a ship is led out of the perilous waters of the Antarctic by an albatross, a bird that is a legendary omen of good fortune among sailors. The Mariner kills it with a crossbow, and bad luck ensues. The crew, eager to pin the blame solely on the Mariner, hang the dead bird about his neck. And things continue to go very wrong....

Mostly because of this poem, we have the notion of an "albatross about our necks." In modern times, this has taken on the connotation of something we carry with us --and must face-- that brings us down and causes problems in our life. It could be as dire as an addiction to drugs or alcohol, or a relationship that still haunts us, or an element of our past that colours everything we do with a perceived negativity. Or it could be something like filing our late taxes, getting in touch with someone we've been neglecting, or fixing the drawer out in the kitchen that has been sticking for the past year.

I'm finally getting over the lingering effects of a stomach flu that has been hitting the area, no doubt widespread due to the dreary damp and cold autumn weather we've had for several weeks. A couple weeks of lethargy, a high temperature, a dislike for anything social, the inevitable stomach pain, and a need to rest have all contributed to a to-do list that's daunting, disorganised and --at places-- barely coherent (not unlike my state several days ago). So I've decided to whip out the planner, put all my existing action lists to one side, and start re-organising. And the most essential part of it is my Albatross List, a simple list that gathers all my pending and important projects in one place, no matter how big or small.

For the next week, this list is my main project reference. It will populate my Next Actions, my Waiting For lists, and my calendar. It provides the "big rocks" that absolutely have to be done, and the rest of my tasks must fit around them. Each item I check off deserves a reward of some type, perhaps a nice little Indian meal, or an episode of Lost, or a half-pint of home-brewed stout. This list is my focus, my bible, my ultimate perveyor of all that must go right in my little world.

And in seven days' time, I'll cut loose all these little albatross. I won't say, "Wish me luck," because the Mariner learns that it isn't about luck: it's about facing the source of trouble, doing atonement for it, and making it all right, whatever it takes.

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Holy Smokes - what timing!


I loved reading this post -- I've just been laid off
from my job today (talk about an albatross!) and am a big fan of
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." I've got a lot of things
to consider: what now, what's next, what's left to do, needs to
be done. Now, with some time to think about it.

So as one fellow captive of Life-In-Death to another, I wave
to you on your stagnant ship from mine. Godspeed to your meeting
with the Hermit.



Dunno if this helps, but social research suggests that Albatrosses were routinely shot and eaten. The curse was poetic license.