j4: (BOMB)
I find that, more and more, there are things I know I need to do, and even (in some cases) want to do, but I don't do them, and I have no idea why. I write them on my various to-do lists, on the mini-whiteboard in my office, on the back of my hand... and still I put them off. I transfer them from one day's 'to do today' list to the next's, and the next's, writing them out like a scribe trying to preserve ancient writings they don't even understand, knowing only that they are somehow sacred. But where the scribe might perhaps feel an air of sanctity, I feel only the sensation of guilt settling on my shoulders, around my neck: the holy albatross descending.

Of course, I don't do nothing in preference to the tasks on my list; I do smaller and smaller tasks. If the task I'm procrastinating from is a big one, I'll break it down into little things. If it's a little thing, I'll do the one-liners, the one-action tasks. If it's a one-liner, I'll check my email. If I've run out of email, I'll check something else, running round in an endless circle of refresh-refresh-refresh like a dog still confidently expecting its tail to get closer. Checking email isn't a task; it's like checking that there's still gin in the bottle by drinking some.

The next stage is writing about the procrastination on LiveJournal; from the initial "I can't seem to make myself do it", through the "Tell me off if you see me here", to the inevitable "still not done it". It's Hamlet's disease: words, words, words. Nothing shall come of nothing, and words (not actions) shall come of words; they grow legs, they grow wings. Writing about the procrastination turns into describing the sensations of guilt, describing the procrastinatory tactics, wallowing in the attempt to weave creative writing out of uncreative ennui. It's like trying to knit your way out of a blanket.

But words breed yet more words, they invite the helpful suggestions over the threshold: do 43 Folders, Inbox Zero, Morning Pages, the GI Diet, Tai Chi; set alarm clocks; embrace idleness; uninstall FreeCell; make lists; don't make lists; drink 8 glasses of water a day; don't step on the cracks. The tiny thread of deferral unravels until the entire jumper of forward motion is lying in a tangle of mixed metaphors on the ground. The inch in which we live becomes the minute in which we'll do it, and before we know it we're bounded in a nutshell with bad dreams to boot. You know the sort of dreams: the ones where you're trying to organise a conference but all the people who turn up aren't on the list and their names are in Russian and it's supposed to start at 9am and you're trying to explain why it's running a bit late and then you look at the clock and it's already 11am and you don't know how that happened and you're trying to email the other organiser but she's gone to Birmingham and when you do get in touch with her you find out that the reason she isn't there is that she's turned into an owl and it's already 3pm and ... Look, I know it's not just me. Not even the owl.

In the end, there's only one solution to getting things done, and it's an unpopular solution, an unsexy solution; it's the journey of a single step. You can't sell books about it, you can't even write an iPhone app for it, because the solution is to ACTUALLY DO THE THINGS.
j4: (knitting)
I'm having more and more trouble finding something I can constrain into just one blog post, something that doesn't just sprout tendrils of arguments all over the place as soon as I get one sentence into it. There's a big long post I've started writing a couple of times now and I've come to the conclusion that it's actually several essays about things I don't know enough about to write them properly, or rather I know the shape of things but I'd need to do some actual planning and fact-checking and re-drafting rather than just writing them off the top of my head, and that's scary because it feels like investing real work in something that will probably never come to anything. Maybe real writers feel like this all the time. Maybe I should have gone for NaNoFiWriMo, non-fiction-writing instead of novel-writing. But I know that when I get to the point of thinking "I'd rather sit on this until I can write it properly" it means I'll probably never write it. Maybe I should make more time to sit on these things decisively until they either suffocate or hatch. Maybe I should just shut up.

I've spent a lot of time recently pulling up nettle roots. The things in our garden that pass for flower-beds (the bits where the lawn completely fails to appear) are so choked with roots that as soon as you turn over a bit of soil it looks like somebody's tried to dig a shallow grave for a macrame bedspread. The nettles keep coming back, but smaller and fewer each time; I don't think I'll ever get rid of all of them, but I think I'll get them under control. The problem is, you see what looks like a tiny nettle (barely an inch high) growing out of the soil, so you pull it from the base of the stem, and up comes a tiny spindly root, and if I don't break off the spindly root I find that it's joined on to a bigger root. So you stick the fork in around and under the bigger root until you can get a good hold on it with my gloved hand, fingers scrabbling through the soil underneath, and you give the bigger root a good solid tug until it starts to come out of the ground. You pull it up until it hits another root going over it, and either break it off there or try to pull that one up as well... the second root turns out to be lodged under a third root, which is thicker than a tree-trunk and buried deep in the soil. Pulling that up, bits of it break off; you dig down to try to get them out and find that they're buried under more roots. Eventually you get to what feels like a decent run of root which isn't trapped under something, and as you pull it you watch the soil parting, and the lawn parting, like a zip unzipping, and the root rips a line through the grass for a couple of feet before breaking off with an unsatisfying little snap which tells you that there's plenty more nettle roots down there, oh yes, and they're just biding their time. The other trick they play on you is to creep under the fence, so you pull one up and it peels backwards and backwards and lands right up against the fence, at which point you can either start tunnelling under into next door's garden like a badger, or you can break it off (watching bits of rotten fence splinter off soggily now that they're no longer supported by nettle roots) with an exasperated sigh. By this time you've forgotten all about the first root you were trying to pull up, but it's still there, probably growing even while your back's turned. Digging at a bit of apparently clear soil, I find another knot of rat-tailed roots to start picking apart; the Gordian approach does not work.

It's absolutely neverending, and yet somehow satisfying -- I think perhaps it's because it's a physical metaphor for all the things my mind gets stuck on: the arguments I try to construct where I get distracted by all the possible rebuttals, tilting at all the straw men who come staggering out of the mist, led astray by the will-o'-the-wisps of other interesting arguments who lead me further and further into the swamps of endless deferral; the projects where each task becomes a mini-project, not merely cans of worms but matryoshka dolls full of many-headed mini-hydras. Because it's a physical task, it doesn't come with all the emotional baggage of guilt and expectation; it's just a thing I can do with my hands. I can see the physical progress in the pile of roots I've excavated (heaped up on a spare recycling-bin lid) and the slightly-clearer soil, but that's not why it's easier, exactly; with less physical tasks I can often see a result: items crossed off a list, RT tickets resolved, link-checking reports coming back with fewer errors. (Ironically, the nettle roots are trying to fix their web, their links, their network, and I'm trying to bring them down; like the internet, they route around damage, rebuild their series of tubes, and all I can do is keep pulling their plugs out of their sockets.) And it's not that it gives me hope that tasks can be finished, because destroying their network is as unfinishable as fixing the web. It's more that it's a thing that I can do with my hands, setting my mind free from the guilt of unfinishable thoughts for a while. Maybe it is just a thing I can do with my hands, and that's enough, without giving it emotional significance. Maybe I am better at pulling things apart than making them grow. Maybe a nettle root is just a nettle root, and my hands are just my hands.

Brain check

Jun. 9th, 2007 11:42 pm
j4: (hair)
The older I get, the more stupid I feel. At school, I felt as though I knew a lot about my subjects (though not very much about Real Life); at university, I felt as though I knew even more about my subject and quite a lot about Real Life, including some bits of Real Life that I'd've been quite happy not to know about.

Now I don't even know what my subject is any more, and I don't really know anything about Real Life (except the sort that happens while you're waiting for it to happen, but increasingly that feels very detached from any kind of representative reality... but that's a whole nother area of tedious navel-gazing, and one of which I will steer clear for now).

I've forgotten most of the things I knew at university, I've forgotten most of the things I knew at school (and what's left is a bit 1066 and all that), and I feel as though I haven't learned anything properly since leaving university. Yes, I've learned all sorts of things; but I don't feel as though I've learned anything as fully.

Yawn, you say. Terribly boring. Everybody feels like this. Go and read something else, then.

My reliance on the web is partly to blame. There was a time when I had to actually know things in my head because the library shut at 7pm, and we didn't have all the books in the world at home (despite best efforts), and books were where you looked things up. Now it's like an open-text exam with all the books in the world on your desk, and all you have to do to find the answers is leaf through the books, and it doesn't help, even if you're allowed to take annotated copies of all the books in the world, even if they're the teachers' editions with the answers at the back. Which they are, I suppose.

I still have anxiety dreams that are a bit like that, actually. I used to be good at exams, but I have dreams where I don't have a pen and the questions are in a language I don't know and the time seems to be ticking away faster than I can keep track of (and it is, though, it is, isn't it) and everything's all confused and hot. I don't think I'd know where to start now with a real exam. Apart from remembering a pen.

Focus, for god's sake, focus. You've still got all your own teeth. Mostly.

I want to learn everything in the world. I wake up terrified that I'll never be able to learn anything properly again.

There was a time when I'd've thought about something and planned how to write about it and then written it down in proper sentences and edited it and written it out again neatly. This isn't that time any more. It isn't any time. I don't have time. I don't have time.

I am increasingly fed up with having to sleep. Such a waste.

There's more (always), but it's even less coherent (usually).
j4: (internets)
It seems like everybody I know has done this heap-of-questions thing, so I'm joining the club (no, not that club).

Describe yourself in far too many words )
j4: (kanji)
It is useful to be reminded sometimes of the error of my largely unexamined assumption that everybody wishes to contribute something useful to society over and above their presence in it.

It is useful, because I believe (without being able to prove it) that people have some kind of inherent worth, not contingent on the scale of the contribution to society that we (using our own system of measurement) perceive them to be making, which I would struggle to describe or quantify but am wary of accidentally discounting; because I also believe that (by and large) people have to decide for themselves what motives or morals guide them; and because for me to make these unstated assumptions about other people comes perilously close to projecting my own value system on to them in a way that I would prefer not to do.

However, it is also disheartening, not because I want other people to believe or act differently, but because of the effect their stance has on my confidence in my own position. I feel that I could and should (and in some cases even do) contribute to society in excess of the gift of my existence, and yet I am often frustrated by how little I do contribute; so to see other people explicitly disavowing any interest in giving or doing any more, and being content and happy (which are two different things) in that position, makes me wonder if I am going about things the wrong way. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing to wonder; but it deflates, it undeniably deflates.

To every sentence accrues a thousand unstated assumptions.
j4: (dodecahedron)
Dear [livejournal.com profile] j4,

You may have noticed over the past couple of days that actually doing work -- however pointless and dull the work may be -- is more satisfying and even sometimes more interesting than messing about on the web. You may also have noticed that once you start doing something, it's no longer hanging over you like a bloody great raincloud. This greatly increases overall productivity in the department of Not Feeling Like Shit. (Work produced for this department is generally considered to be its own reward, but you may wish to claim a small bonus from the chocolate machine as a token of appreciation.)

While whittling your inbox down from 1600+ messages to 350-odd and trying to tidy up several months' worth of loose ends, you may also have noticed that in some ways you are actually more conscientious about your work than certain other people in your vicinity, in that you occasionally give a damn about doing things that you said you'd do, and getting things finished within a finite time-frame. I wish to emphasise that this is not something about which to feel guilty. Also, while you may feel that the respective salaries of yourself and said certain-other-person do not always adequately reflect the division of labour (nor the division of Time Actually Spent In The Office), you are reminded that you have enough money to eat, clothe yourself, buy stupid things off the internet, and pay for cosmetic dentistry. You are therefore encouraged to stop whining already.

The inbox situation is not just an isolated side-project, but marks an encouraging development on the recent Being More Bloody Organised project. (Recent LiveJournal-based research into working practices has shown that being oh-I'm-so-disorganised is not interesting, and nobody is impressed.) While there is always further room for improvement, your attempts to streamline working processes in this area have not gone unnoticed.

The only area of your work that gives us serious cause for concern at the current time is your coffee consumption. May I venture to suggest that limiting your intake to 5 or fewer cups per day would probably provide you with adequate caffeine while still leaving you with a chance of sleeping, ever. Sleeping has been conclusively proven to have beneficial effects on employees' ability to work.

It remains only to thank you again for your contributions, and request that you read, mark, and inwardly digest the contents of this memo to facilitate further useful work on future occasions.

Yours,
[livejournal.com profile] j4

Today

Feb. 4th, 2005 12:08 am
j4: (southpark)
Just call me Miss Moodswings. Today I have been mostly excited, but also frustrated. But the frustrated is mostly work, and that's boring. No fewer boring than anything else I write, but differently so. See?

So. Today I managed to win a hotly-contested game of Scrabble (not the one against [livejournal.com profile] verlaine, or the one against [livejournal.com profile] sion_a, in both of which I was given the PASTINGS I couldn't play at [livejournal.com profile] addedentry). I also managed to buy useful things at lunchtime, including a proper bag to replace my tattered work bag (an army surplus rucksack that I bought about 5 years ago for a tenner which (the bag, not the tenner) has developed a hole in the bottom THE SIZE OF A MAN'S HEAD [that's the hole that's the size of, etc., not the bottom]). The proper bag is a cunning convertible whatnot which converts, with two unclips and reclips (two of each) of the strap-clips, from a shoulder-bag into a rucksack. (Still with me? Good.) It also has a mobile-phone-shaped pocket into which my mobile phone will undoubtedly fail to fit since it is the size of a small family car (the phone, not the pocket [which is the nature of the problem (that is, the problem is the disparity in size, not the pocket per se, but even more so not the phone [so perhaps after all it is the pocket that is at fault])]). In addition to the bag and all its attendent grammatical complications I bought a stir-fry mix which made a jolly good salad (especially with half of yesterday's can of tuna in it), a haggis, some carrots, and some egg custard tarts.

This evening I tidied up the mountain of paper-based stuff on [livejournal.com profile] sion_a's chair, and did some mending that had been sitting around waiting to be mended for about FIVE YEARS, while [livejournal.com profile] sion_a played Sonic Spinball. (That is, I did the mending while he, not it sat around while he, if you see what I.) This makes it sound like I did all the work while he slacked, but really, normally he does everything while I procrastinate too much to even slack efficiently. The conversation (if you can call it a conversation) went something like this:

S: "Nooooo! That's not fair!!"
J: "God, I've completely messed this up. I'll have to unpick the whole row."
S: "Phew, I've bust through the door, now I've just got to get back up the barrels."
J: "It's only back-stitch, how can I make such a mess of this?"
S: "Aghh! Now I've got to get ALL FOUR HEADS again!"
J: "I'd have to darn this, for fuck's sake. I can't darn corduroy."
S: "OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE!"
J: "GRAHHHHH!"

Men are from Nintendo, women are from haberdashery. After much thread-related frustration on my part and hedgehog-related frustration on his, we went to the pub and drank beer. I came away with one invitation to pancakes, one promise of a cgi tutorial, one plan for a party, and one absence of cornet music. And two pints' worth of drunkenness.

Now I am going to have a bath. Drunken conversations make more sense than normal conversations:

J: "[livejournal.com profile] sion_a?"
S: [silence]
J: "[livejournal.com profile] sion_a!"
S: [silence]
J: "MISTER [livejournal.com profile] sion_a!!!"
S: "Hm?"
J: "Are you having a bath?"
S: "Huh?"
J: "ARE YOU HAVING A BATH?"
S: "No!"
J: "Can I have a bath?"
S: "Yes!"
J: "Great!"

It's like Beckett, but with more baths in it. I have run a bath. My bath is going cold while I type this. It is like Molloy, ONLY WITH BATHS. Really. Take my word for it. Or not.

No subject

Feb. 1st, 2005 09:05 am
j4: (hair)
So tired. I think of so many things I want to do, and I never do any of them. Being surrounded by people who cheerfully teach themselves six ancient languages before breakfast doesn't help, but even the things that might be within my intellectual grasp -- things like doing the laundry, or making myself a sandwich -- just hit a wall of inertia when I think about trying to do them. I drag myself into work, I manage to do the things that are necessary, but there's so much more I could make of this job... no, that's not true. There's so much more anybody else could make of this job. All I can do with it is hope they don't fire me.

More and more I feel as though I just want to throw everything away and start again, to somehow get back to where I started and do better next time. Of course I know that's not possible. But the thought that I'll die with my life still this much of a mess -- still thinking of all the things I could have done with my life, still unable to do anything, still with everything from debts to desktop in hopeless disorder -- makes me nauseated, makes me despair. But I can't catch up.

And yes, I know everybody else in the world worked this out years ago.

Just so tired.

When I'm walking from one place to another I feel full of energy; I can envisage myself doing things, imagine what it would be like to be competent at this business of getting along from day to day. They're not wild daydreams of a 'me' who is creative or interesting; but I can visualise a 'me' who might, one day, before she dies, be able to iron clothes when they need ironed, or tidy the house efficiently. I can just about -- or maybe this is just a wild daydream -- visualise being a functioning adult human being.

Then I stop walking, and all my energy evaporates, and I'm sitting in front of a computer vacantly hitting 'reload' on a page I've seen a thousand times before, unable to do anything more than stare and try not to cry.

Perhaps the solution is just to walk away and keep on walking.
j4: (dodecahedron)
One of my new year's resolutions was to cook proper meals. Wasn't it? I can't remember now. In one ear, out the other. Anyway, this weekend I actually made some progress in that direction: three proper meals, plus one which my parents brought and cooked, and therefore doesn't really count. food! )

So, gosh, that's more cooking in a weekend than I did in the previous 3 months, probably. Inbetween all the cooking, on Saturday I managed to do a bit of a shift at Oxfam (though I am getting hideously slack about that, and in penance I have promised to get there early next Saturday, i.e. just before 9 a.m.). Then at lunchtime my parents came to visit, bringing soup, bread, and the remainder of my Christmas presents, including my long-awaited iSight, about which more when I have actually set it up etc etc.

Then after parents had left, O. and I headed into town with bags full of my unwanted books, intending to sell some to the Haunted Bookshop (which specialises in children's books) and give the rest to Amnesty. However in the event of it, due to my Hard Bargaining Skillz (aka complete confusion) I managed to sell the lot to the Haunted Bookshop for a grand total of £32. That works out at about a quid a book, but given that I got many of them for under a quid and some for free, I think it's not too bad. And, hell, it meant I didn't have to walk any further with a bagful of books on my back, which has got to be a good thing. Though we did eventually walk to the Amnesty shop anyway and even spend some money there, which assuaged my guilt over cheating them out of books.

In addition to the books I've sold, I've given away about 30 books through ucam.adverts.giveaway; for a couple of weeks now my desk at work has looked like a car boot sale, but it's finally getting under control. I was annoyed by one man who emailed immediately to claim a whole batch of books I was giving away, but then after about a dozen faffy emails over the space of a week and a half totally failed to come and collect the damn things ... offset against that frustration, though, is the satisfaction I felt when I was able to email the people who had mailed me after no-show guy to claim various books (which I'd said at the time were already gone) and tell them "actually this is available again, do you still want it?"

So over all I feel pounds lighter and a few pounds richer. Not quite enough pounds richer to cover the money I owe the Inland Revenue, but I have now actually completed my self-assessment form (with tons of practical help, translation of tax-speak, and moral support from [livejournal.com profile] sion_a). Okay, so I owe them more money than I can pay without exceeding my overdraft limit, but at least I know the worst now... right? I still have thousands of pounds of debts to pay off, I still haven't done half the things I'm supposed to have done, but right now I'm going to drink a bottle of badger beer, eat a coconut macaroon, and relax for a moment. Sufficient unto the day, etc.
j4: (kanji)
Remember learning to write? Your parents or teachers make you trace over the printed outlines of perfectly-formed letters time and time again until, after lines and lines of exercise-book pages, your shaky pencil shapes grow so close to the dotted letters that the deviations from the line can barely be seen. Eventually you're ready to write those same shapes without the safety-net of the dotted letters; and when you do so, your letters may well revert to being a little more uncertain, a little more irregular than they were previously. On the other hand, because there's no longer any underlying image to which to conform, it shows less when you do deviate from what is, after all, only someone else's ideal. You're free to form your letters in whatever way you choose. Eventually your printing becomes neater, and your handwriting settles into something fairly consistent, though it slowly shifts and changes over the years as you refine one bit or another; perhaps you try to neaten it, or make it more romantic, or make it more angular; perhaps you change the pen you use and your writing changes a little to reflect that; or perhaps it's not even conscious, perhaps the shapes of your writing shift like the ponderous movements of continents, and you don't even realise anything has changed until by chance you find a memo to yourself from 10 years ago and you can barely believe it's your writing. And, of course, it isn't; in so many ways, both physical and psychological, you're barely the same person now as you were then.

The only way to improve your handwriting is by practising, but only you know what sort of practice works best for you. Maybe tracing letter-outlines helps you, or maybe you prefer to just write and see what happens; maybe you practise in private where nobody can laugh at your mistakes, or maybe you find that writing to other people helps to motivate you to keep improving.

New Year is an arbitrary blip in the calendar, a milestone (or millstone) that's as meaningless as adult birthdays. But I still make New Year's Resolutions: I like to draw the faint outlines of where and what I want to be, so that later I can see how well my subsequent tracings match the suggested shapes; and I like the external accountability of bringing my progress (or lack of it) into the public eye. Sometimes, somewhere along the way, I have (consciously or otherwise) decided to follow different paths from those I laid out; this doesn't necessarily constitute failure, any more than deciding to write in italic script (perhaps because one prefers the look of it, or the feel of it under the pen) signals a failure to write in upright lettering. The important thing is to distinguish between lapses which damage the desired outcome (e.g. writing a 't' without its crosspiece might render it indistinguishable from an 'l', which would make the writing harder to read and hence make communication more difficult) and lapses which don't (e.g. whether your 'w' is a zigzag or two overlapping 'v's, there aren't really any other letters with which it could become confused). I leave the extension of the already over-stretched analogy as an exercise for the reader (and writer).

So how do the letters line up? Here are last year's resolutions, reproduced here with commentary.

resolved! )

And now this year's Resolutions, with more commentary. This year's are a complete ragbag of resolutions, and there are far too many of them, but I figure that if I aim at the stars, I might just hit a tree. I don't really expect anybody to read all this (though obviously you're all free to do so); I'm writing these out more for my own benefit than anybody else's.

resolvent )

I haven't really made any resolutions about friendships and relationships, or thoughts and feelings, because it's so hard to quantify things; however, for the sake of external accountability, I do intend to make more of an effort to keep in touch with old friends as well as meeting new ones, and I want to be more reliable about getting in touch with people when I've said I'll do so. I also want to get more of a grip on my self-image, but that's heading out of the realm of New Year's Resolutions and into cognitive therapy. If I think it won't be too navel-gazing, I may write about some of that here.

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