So tonight on Facebook I posed the following question:

“Does anyone else have 14,453 emails in their inbox?”

What’s amazing is that these are only messages which I either need to still follow up on or don’t feel comfortable deleting because I need them for client records. So it’s not as if they are messages I haven’t read.

Q. A little overwhelmed?

A. Why yes, I do believe I am.

I LOVE the work I do, but it is truly astounding–even to me–how many people I communicate with on a daily basis.

And it does get a little overwhelming.

Right now, I am preparing to go on vacation. Six days in the California sun, for which I must pay penance in additional hours worked both before and after the trip. So, my “to do” list is long.

And the best response to a long, overwhelming list of responsibilities I’ve found has been articulated by Anne Lamott. Even if you’ve read this already, I’m guessing that you will still appreciate this reminder to approach an extra long, long list of tasks “bird by bird.”

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my ¬†brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

I tell this story because it usually makes a dent in the tremendous sense of being overwhelmed that my students experience. Sometimes it actually gives them hope, and hope, as Chesterton said, is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate. Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong. It is no wonder if we sometimes tend to take ourselves perhaps a bit too seriously.

Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, “Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time a man sees the woman he will marry. That is all we are going to do for now. We are just going to take this bird by bird, but we are going to finish this one short assignment.”

This one’s for Stella O-H. Everything’s going to be ok, girl.