I’ve been trying to map my way around the confusion of these daily tasks I’ve set myself and the attending neurotic chaos it’s produced in my head. This morning, likely not for the first time, I drew a straight line between these tasks and playing video games, which says rather a lot about how I feel about both.
The problem with video games is the way your focus is stolen, diluting your potential as a human on something close to all facets. And before gamers get up my ass, yes, there’s value in some of them. Hell, a lot of them. There are great stories and such. Blah blah blah. That’s not what I’m talking about.
It’s easy to fall in to the simple trap of thinking that an hour a day of playing video games represents a cost of an hour a day.
So you budget yourself your hour a day and feel relatively good about it. You stick to that hour, shut down when it’s done and go to bed…or whatever.
But that’s not taking up an hour of your day. You log off or shut down and it’s drifting through your head. “What if I’d done this? What’s the plan for tomorrow?” You wake up the next morning and, along with the rest of your mental effluvia you think “Hmm…I can get past that level, finish that dungeon, if I did this instead. Yeah that might work.” Maybe you leave it there. Maybe you poke around on youtube [note: I actually typed ‘yourube’ there and was really tempted to leave it like that. Instead I’m leaving this note in] and find a video or two on fetching that particular golden dingus.
As you lead up to your allotted playtime you get a little anxious and, like 4:30 on a Friday you pretty much hang up the rest of the day.
You get a snack and a beverage, set yourself up and play for an hour and stop.
Thinking you’ve played for an hour.
Weeks go by and you can feel that nagging sensation that something’s…off. But it doesn’t occur to you what the problem is because, on paper, you’re following the rules you’ve set out for yourself.
Got the principle? Let me say it 19 other fucking ways because that’s how I work an idea around and set it in my head. It’s not really me being patronizing, though it’ll no doubt seem that way.
The cost of an ancillary pursuit is not in the time spent actively pursuing it, but in the attention it demands when you’re not. An hours task a day is a perfectly reasonable amount of time to spend on something, assuming you even could. But creativity, interest, and progress has a tremendous amount to do with the time between the cracks that you spend on the pursuit.
See, I knew I’d get somewhere with this if I just wrote it out.
This dovetails with the phenomenon of the Eureka moments that come to us when we’re “in the shower” or otherwise not engaged. Your (well, my, and I assume your) mind doesn’t REALLY ever stop thinking about something. The very idea of delineating blocks of time for you to be engaged in a pursuit, after which you can stop and work on something else is an entirely illusory notion. Brains just don’t fucking WORK that way.
Everything you do puts things in the hopper of your mind, just behind your consciousness for processing. It doesn’t really matter how much time you think you’re spending on these things, they’re all in the fucking hopper, being processed by the majority of the magnificent engine that partitions only a small portion of itself off for maintaining consciousness.
Owing to the nature of consciousness, we think that’s the majority of what’s going on because consciousness seems to be related to our perceptual linkages…
[ Well wait…that’s not right. We react to things before we realize we’ve perceived them. (That’s some heady stuff to read about.) It’s…almost as if our more primary (primal?) circuitry is higher in the processing queue for stimuli and only passes it along after it’s done with it, going up the line to consciousness, down in priority until we actually have something to deal with ourselves.
Eh. That’s an aside…I think. ]
If you try this sometime I think you’ll see what I mean. Just stop yourself, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and see what comes up in your head. You only need to do it for a few seconds. If you can manage not to have any one particular thought grab your attention and lead you off in one direction you’ll find that it’s complete chaos behind your eyes. That’s your normal state. That’s what’s going on behind your consciousness. You’re trying to play gatekeeper. But your mental potential is being absolutely squandered by that madness.
Now I’m particularly high in trait Neurotic (of Big Five fame) so I’m particularly prone to that kind of internal horseshit. But that just means (as a metaphor, I’ve no idea what the actual mechanics of this are on a biological level) that the aforementioned chaos doesn’t stay put and the barrier at the back of my consciousness is permeable so it comes forward and manifests itself as internal dialog.
It makes me wonder if that’s not what high neurotic really is, at some level at least. Impossible for me to say, certainly. But it’s an interesting Way of Talking at the very least.
Alright. Now let me circle back again. Given that and the prior couple posts in this series, and redescribe what it is I’ve been doing:
I watched that Struthless video and decided “Okay, time to trim down my hobbies. Plus I’ll do one thing a day. I’ll write a page of fiction” I actually added something else. A simple drawing exercise because I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw.
So I poured out most of my aging mead. The stuff I already have bottled I left alone since it’s zero maintenance. Gallons of the stuff. I’m just not doing it anymore.
I bought myself a set of notebooks which came half blank notebooks, half ruled, and committed myself to one drawing and one page of fiction a day. The drawing is of the same subject, much like his Ibis.
So I get up in the morning and say “FUCK. What the hell am I going to write today?” and I watch the time drag on, dick around online and get some administrivia and crap done. But hey, as long as I get my two things done I’m golden, it’s a successful day, right?
I eventually stop carping and do my daily push-ups (because oh yeah, I do that too) and, a trip to the cigar lounge to write or to the stupidmarket to pick up food, or to Lowe’s to buy stuff to screw around in the shop (because…yeah, you guessed it) or a trip to Johnathan’s and suddenly it’s dark.
Well yeah, it’s October, so it’s dark by six something. But people are home from work and twitter is starting to light up and I’m getting hit after hit after hit of those juicy juicy dopamine interactions.
I look to the left and there’s my notebook standing there tapping its foot “no bed ‘til you’re done.”
A few times in the last week I was up after 3am going through writing prompts, looking for SOMEthing to write, having scribbled some doodle in the other notebook out of sheer impatience with myself.
Of course once I’ve actually selected something and the pen has hit the paper the words come pretty damned fast. Sure I have to spend a couple minutes structuring something in my head. But that rarely does more than help me get started. More often than not the challenge becomes stopping at a page. NOT that “strictly one page” is the rule. But I think about the task in terms of “one page. Get it done.” Sure, a couple times I’ve been captured by the spirit and gone for a couple/few instead. And sometimes I’ll actually continue a story from a prior page. I’ve even got them numbered so it’ll be easy to follow if it’s the case.
Then I have that absolute wave of cool water cascading around in my mind that’s just liquid relief. I did it. I finished my day and “didn’t not do it.”
Off to bed.
So many things I haven’t done.
So much time staring at the clock and dicking around doing really nothing other than waiting and agonizing about what it is that I’m going to be faced with when I knuckle down.
The couple/few times I’ve gotten off my ass and gotten it all done within a couple hours of getting my ass out of bed the rest of the day is spent exulting rather than agonizing, but still preoccupied with the task.
There are projects that are admittedly, and in any serious way, far more important to me than these two little pursuits. They’re curiosities. My software development has…well, being honest it’s ceased entirely. I’ve not written more than five lines of code in a couple weeks.
That’s not okay. It’s got to change.
I haven’t lit the forge. I haven’t built the anvil stand, though the plans for something pretty clever and simple are right there on my whiteboard. I did spend some time in the shop Saturday screwing up the build of a bookshelf. But that’s okay. I don’t mind the failed experiment.
So the question becomes this:
Did I make myself a bad promise and if so can I just walk away from it?
Or (and here’s some fucking neurosis for you, strap in)…
Am I reaching the first hump of difficulty because I’m just finishing week two of this habit/pattern and weaving a series of well-founded excuses out of raw aether because “Waaaaa, it’s getting haaaarrrdddd.” And should I therefore stfu, knuckle down and just get it done first thing in the morning so I can move on to other things?
I’m not sure how to tell the difference. Is this a dilution of my potential by squandering it in multiple directions? Do I try to turn it all on its head and focus on project work rather than daily habits? (aside from the metahabit of getting my ass in the chair/shop to do the work every day on a timed schedule?)
The curse of being able to reason out either perspective (or is it a false dichotomy?) is that I have no reason to believe one or the other is more accurate. All of it is just a mind game.
As I’ve said for years, we don’t discover our purpose, we decide. But that’s convenient and self-serving. Maybe I should turn all my efforts to HHC. My god what I could accomplish if I focused on that project and where it led me. Or any of a thousand other things.
I don’t know how to tell.