Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Into the Wind

I have been thinking lately about taking some things off my to do list.  Essentially, winnowing my personal agenda.  

I enjoy looking up words, their origins and their various meanings.  And thus I learned something I didn't know about the process "winnowing" is used to describe.  I had been thinking of it in its modern sense, stripped, as many of our usages are today, of its more corporeal context.  As
4.  to subject to some process of separating or distinguishing; analyze critically; sift; to winnow a mass of statements
5.  to separate or distinguish (valuable from worthless parts) (sometimes fol. by out):  to winnow falsehood from truth.  
But I didn't know how winnowing worked, and that the wind that was its essential element was built into the word.  As
1.  to free (grain) from the lighter particles of chaff, dirt, etc., esp. by throwing it into the air and allowing the wind or a forced current of air to blow away impurities.
2.  to drive or blow (chaff, dirt, etc.) away by fanning.
3.  to blow upon; fan
6.  to pursue (a course) with flapping wings in flying
7.  to fan (or stir) the air as with the wings in flying
8.  to free grain from chaff by wind or driven air
9.  to fly with flapping wings; flutter [from]
Which brings to mind the contemporary phrase to "blow off."
American informal, to not do something you had agreed or arranged to do; I can't believe you blew off the exam.
Synonyms or related words for this meaning of blow off:
To not act, or to not do something
bother--if you do not bother to do something, you do not do it, either because there seems to be no good reason or because it involves too much effort
abstain--to not do something that is likely to cause serious problems
neglect--to fail to do something that you should do
refrain--to stop yourself from doing something.  This word is often used in official announcements or signs
let nature take its course--to allow something to develop without trying to influence it
make no move--to do nothing
can't bring yourself to do something--to be unable to do something because it is too unpleasant or embarrassing, or makes you too upset
omit to do something--to fail to do something that would have been helpful or honest
stand by--to not take action when you should
leave--to not do something, especially because you prefer to do it later or so that someone else can do it [from Macmillan Dictionary]
In some, or in particular instances all of these senses, I need to blow off some of the tasks I have carried forward from days, weeks, months and years past.  And, as Tina Turner says in "Proud Mary," I can "do it easy," or I can do it "rough."  Easy is the stuff that's been hanging around for so long and is so dessicated that the smallest exhalation is enough to disattach it from the whole.  Like the jute sandals I partially crocheted one summer, a couple of children ago, and kept meaning to finish.  Poof!  Not happening.  Or the op-ed piece I thought of penning in response to a column I found insulting--months ago.  Whew!  Gone.  The relative I meant to interview about her childhood, a conversation beyond her energy now.  Letting it go.

Harder, though, are those projects and objectives into which I've sunk some serious time and effort.  Of course, my unfinished dissertation comes to mind.  It's just too big and heavy to remove entirely from my list.  I doubt that even the big bad wolf could muster enough huffing and puffing to blow down the structure of books and notes and tapes and text that is that uninhabitable abode.  Katrina might not have completely dislodged it.  But even so, there is within the bulk of materials and artifacts that which can now be surrendered.  I mean to summon a sufficient zephyr to the task, and to spend some time reclaiming what is worth hanging on to from that aborted work.

Yesterday afternoon, I blew off fully half my list for the chance to spend an afternoon by the pool with my grandson and my daughter and son.  Some of those items, being daily activities, are just not going to be done.   Others were effectively left for another day, or another doer.  And I can live with that.

I'm thinking that this winnowing/blowing off thing is something to get better at.  With practice.  And if I engage in it more regularly, as an essential activity of each growing season, maybe I'll have less chaff to maneuver around.  

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