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Hypocondriac's Disease Checklist

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Greetings and welcome once again to Steve's Weekly Column of Insanity, which, quite frankly, kind of gives the game away in the title. I mean, you're not going to tune in to Steve's Weekly Column Of Insanity for help with your taxes, or painting your house or anything, are you? Anyway, it's been said and can't be unsaid. See, I'm feeling a bit disjointed lately, a little incoherent, so my apologies if this article has less than my normal quotient of cogent wisdom. I have something wrong with me and I don't know what it is. It may be serious or it may not be, but I've waited around two weeks to get into the doctor and my mind has been working overtime in the meantime, whilst I lay in bed. I think I have a bad case of Medical Student's Disease, which you get by reading about terrible diseases and then thinking that you have all of them. Yes, I've become a bit of a hypocondriac lately and it's getting me down, but I thought I'd turn my pain to good use, so I decided to come up with the Hypocondriac's Disease Checklist.

Planning for "Found Art" Objects

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the remaining stragglers of colorful red, gold, and brown leaves are finally falling from the long branches of the tress from where they once hung onto. And yet, instead of rushing outside to collect the last remaining bits of color that provide contrast to a world filled with grey skies and green grounds, I sit inside my house, frantically finishing the opening words to my NaNoWriMo novel. If I had thought about it, I’d have spent my last remaining days before November outside, collecting leaves and other found objects to use in my collages and art projects. Alas, it’s now too wet and I am bound to my chair to write and write and write until I complete my novel. I wanted to give you all a creative way to collect your own found ephemera (simply defined as objects that we collect that we can use to remake into something else) and store it in homemade planner envelopes so that it can be used in your artistic endeavors later on when the weather gets too bad for playing outside.

Focus, Like a Rooftop Garden

Rooftop Garden, courtesy US Human SocietyAbout twelve years ago, I was happy just to be in Paris. The language, the people, the bookstores and stalls, the museums, the music, the food, the endless day-and-night hustle and bustle... I just had to try and absorb it all, had to fill some empty well within me. On one particular occasion, I crashed for a week at the low-rent apartment of a friend of mine, about an hour's haul by subway and bus outside of the city proper. After unpacking that dreary May morning, I remember staring out the window at the bleak suburban landscape below, taking in the small blocky jail, a row of graffiti-scarred tenements, some soot-sweating factories with broken panes and scorched sides. The sun, barely able to peer through the clouds, did nothing to brighten the view. I was eager to get back into the city, but my friend insisted on showing me the roof. "Why?" I asked, thinking I'd only see more of the same grey and depressing scene from up above.

"You'll see," he said.

He led me up some dimly-lit, damp stairs that reeked vaguely of ammonia, mold and urine, and we came to a locked door. He fumbled around his vest for its key and carefully unlocked it, cautioning me that I wasn't to tell anybody what I saw, or at least where it was. As the door opened, a sudden flash of green light stabbing through the darkness temporarily blinded me, and as my eyes adjusted I could see lush vegetation, bright flowers, vibrant jade leaves, and the sparkle and shimmer of light upon water. It was a rooftop garden.

Keep Track of Rotating Chores

I share my suite with three other girls. Two bathrooms, the kitchen and the floor need to be cleaned every week. My suitemates and I have a clever way to keep track of who's in charge of doing what. If you have suitemates or kids, or if you need to remember what you're supposed to work on this week, check this out!

Template Design 101: Getting Started

So you have this great idea for a template, and you've looked around in vain for a similiar one. Despite a few polite suggestions and heated requests to various designers, they're booked solid and don't have the time to make it. So what can you do?

Well, make it yourself! You'll find that it isn't really that difficult. All you need is an idea, a little brainstorming session, and some software you either already have, or can find for free.

If you have the urge to make a template, you're not alone. One of the questions I generally find in my mailbox at least once a week is, "What's the best way to go about making a form?" That's usually followed by further questions about the suitability of OpenOffice.org, Illustrator, Word, InDesign, Scribus, Inkscape, and so on. So I decided to jot down a few rough notes about the best way to create your own template. This is going to be a bit vague, and I'm not going to dwell on certain applications; this little article is only meant to give you the bare basics.

Classically Storyboarding My Day

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Greetings and welcome once again to Steve's Organisational Column Of Insanity, where we discuss all things related to classical art and paper-based planning. Last month, I published a column in this space about using the D*I*Y Planner Storyboard template to organize your life. I thought I was being silly. I was not. A number of people took it quite seriously and I was informed by our man in Jerusalem Avi Solomon that I had stumbled on a terrifically useful organisational system. Well, I certainly didn't mean to do that, but, hey, go with the flow, that's my motto. I was thinking about my previous post, which was mentioned in LifeHacker (ahem, *self-satisfied smirk*) and I think one of its major drawbacks is that I can't draw my way out of a paper bag. I do have some art history training, however, and I thought that I might be able to apply that to my storyboarding idea. So, without further ado, here's my attempt to bring some culture to this space, my Classical Storyboarding Template.

Doing It Every Day

The more you write, the better you get. It’s a common koan, found in just about every book on writing out on the bookshelves these days. Not sure if it’s true because I still think I write a lot more junk than I do "the good stuff." But I try and meet the page or screen at least once a day and hope that whatever comes out comes close to matching the image or thought inside my mind. Last week, after I got off my butt and resolved to take charge of my writing and artistic life, I decided it was also time it take up a new habit or two.

So I wandered over to my artistic bookshelf and revisited an old friend. The book's paper smelled musty, worn with age from having sat on the shelves for awhile now. The front cover said it all, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. My best friend gave me this copy a few years ago, during a particularly stressful bout of writer’s block. While I don’t feel blocked now, I figured it was time to revisit the discipline and practices therein. More specifically, I’ve decided to start up the morning pages habit.

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.

How to Actively Read

I have midterms this Wednesday. Eep. Fortunately, I have to write a D*I*Y Planner article, so I can put off worrying about my test. ;) Here's the template I use for studying for exams. Maybe you can pass the tips on to other students, or use it for more effective, more active reading.

Okay, it's not a _real template, because it's just a matter of folding. I fold my note paper into two columns (2/3, 1/3). The left column is for notes, the right column for higher-level cues. I fold a narrow column on the left side of the paper. This is for page numbers.

Then I read the textbook. (Can't avoid doing that. Tough...) Here's the trick: I write down questions.

Not facts, not summaries, but questions. This prevents me from lulling myself into a false sense of security. It's easy to look at a statement and say, "Yeah, I know that." Questions force me to think and help me practice explaining concepts. I then answer the question out loud while reading the textbook.

So I go through the entire textbook. At the end of every sub-chapter and chapter, I review my questions. I answer the questions either out loud or on another piece of paper. Saying and hearing the answer or writing and reading the answer helps reinforce it in my mind. I also quickly review all the questions once I reach the end of the book. (Well, theoretically, I would. I haven't gotten to this point yet.) I can check my answers by looking them up again. That's when the page numbers become handy!

What's the rightmost column for? Well, questions that closely follow the textbook make sure I know the details, but I might miss the big picture. It's easy to answer a detailed question because it's focused, but if I need to combine knowledge from different parts of the book, I might forget to include something relevant. The rightmost column helps me summarize chapters into key insights, and thus key questions. To review those, I can simply fold the paper over or hide the other columns.

Why not do this for books as well? If you're reading a book, actively read it. Ask yourself questions. Make yourself think of the important points. Give yourself a quiz afterwards. You'll retain the information much better, and you can use your question sheet to refresh your memory too.

Have fun! Now I have to get back to studying...