I used to write Very Personal Ads nearly every week, but I’ve slowed down a bit. Partly because it’s part of the great slowdown in general, but also because I wasn’t sure they were working in the way I wanted them to.
Let me explain.
I do love VPAs! Sometimes they are helpful to think through the necessary logistics of a big scary thing. Sometimes they are helpful to bring more intensity to a longstanding unfulfilled wish, like for a bike trailer. I wrote that, after searching for months, and within a couple hours of hitting Publish, we’d found one. Neat!
I like VPAs when they help slow down my thinking about something I can’t see clearly because it also brings up lots of monsters. And I like VPAs when they help bring magic attention to something, like a spell or a catalyst.
But sometimes it seemed like my mental-playground-experimentation wasn’t really going anywhere, or that I picked VPA subjects that were more about voicing worries and less about actually seeking resolution. More precisely, sometimes VPAs were about trying to figure things out in advance, to stall the Doom Monsters, rather than letting things happen.
And all those things are okay! But I want to experiment with the form, because I think good things are hiding inside experimentation. Here is my little exploration for the day.
A backwards VPA
I did not write a VPA last week about Giving Stuff Away. But I could have. It was very much on my mind, and it was something that got resolved this week. So I’m going to write a backwards VPA about how it worked, and why.
What I wanted: To finish giving stuff away. To get the boxes and the bags out of the closets and the hallways.
How it worked in the end: I suddenly had a lot of internal excitement about finding even more stuff to give away. I spent a surprise hour organizing a closet that yielded more fuel for the giving-stuff-away fire. An external deadline popped up and made itself known.
Why it worked in the end: Well, it went from “it would be nice to do this” to “this is going to happen now.” For a couple weeks I’d been thinking about this action. I wrote about issues of minimalism and too-much-stuff in a couple different places, including a comment on Havi’s timely Ten things gone post. In the end it wasn’t about settling down the monster who says Keep Everything or the ghosts who like to cry about goodbyes, because they’re still here. The need to Finish just took over.
Of course, a backwards VPA can’t be a catalyst or a magic spell. But it can help me find clues to the process.
A few good clues
Clue #1: It felt good to have no timeline when I started out.
I didn’t even really think of this as a Thing To Solve, initially. It was just this thing bugging me — this stuff hanging around my house. I think sometimes my weekly VPAs were generating guilt or frustration at unresolved things, rather than continued attention and care and thoughtful playful experimentation.
So open-ended exploration was key. It’s a neat shortcut around those If We Can’t Solve It In A Week We’re Doomed monsters who seemed to crowd around my weekly VPA practice.
Clue #2: It had helper goals! Big ones!
Giving Stuff Away ended up aligning itself with Tax Stuff, as well as Consignment Sorting, Travel Preparation, and Closet Cleaning. It wasn’t just about finding other reasons to want it, because a laundry list of good reasons doesn’t necessarily lead to action. It’s more like these helper goals helped lend momentum during the crucial phase of finishing up.
This leads me to think that exit momentum is crucial. Can I create it on purpose in the future? I don’t know. But it bears more thought in the future, that’s for sure.
Clue #3: The monsters. I thought about them, but just a little.
Because they didn’t turn out to be very important! Doom, Keep Everything, the ghosts of What’s Gone, they were actually kind of secondary. Perhaps at the beginning I gave them more attention than they really needed, and perhaps they were just very cooperative in the face of this deadline. (And it wasn’t like the deadline interrupted a cathartic monster session or anything, either.)
Next time around
Maybe I will continue this tradition of backwards VPAs, to find little clues to things. Or maybe not. It’s helpful to open it up to experiments. To leave the door open for future magic catalyst VPAs, if needed. To perform backwards dissections of VPAs on opposite day, if needed. To break it down and build it back up, as needed.
Happy experimentation, friends!