August 4, 2022

Creative Momentum

I was towards the end of that last post as I started seeing my head move towards another point and I figured, rather than just execute a couple hard turns under power I could stand to just hit publish on that as it was and start on something else. The abrupt end is the lesser weevil. Enough of that.

So one of the things I’ve known for a while, since we’ve been coming to Smokey on what roughly amounts to a schedule, that I really need the couple continuous days home for my brain to really get engaged and going on creative pursuits.

I used to think I was just mildly hung over on Fridays, since we hit the whiskey pretty hard after bible study. But tracking it over time I realized that I just don’t really drink that much most of the time. Most here being more than 9/10. So what accounted for the fact that my brain on Fridays has been mostly mush?

Well it comes down to the amount of continuous time spent with my own thoughts. When we’re here having a couple on days other than Thursday it’s usually a couple/few cigars over 3-4 hours. But Thursdays I get here at something like 11 in the morning (today it was about 10:30.) I sit here and fiddlyfart on the laptop (usually writing, sometimes coding) for a couple hours. The guys start to drift in between 1 and 3, at which time I’ll pack up and head over to claim my chair, socialize for a couple hours, a couple hours of study, then we’ll drink and bullshit for the better part of 4 hours.

I’m just tapped OUT the next day, alcohol or not. But Friday afternoon comes around and I can feel my brain emerging from the chaos of having to find its place again.

What I found is that the more consecutive days up the hill (I live on a ridge) the more focused I am.

What I didn’t even consider, but should have, was that those distractions of spending my time just dicking around on the internet are at least as poisonous to sustained focus and creativity as anything else. I’ve known that I’d been training myself out of having willpower in the first place.

What I didn’t realize was that creativity is a force that might as well obey Newton’s laws of motion. And this, now that I roll it around, contributes to what will likely be my next post. But we’ll see.

Creativity obeys laws of momentum and friction. As surely as a train of thought, once interrupted, needs to start from scratch and as surely as moving something from a stop requires you to surpass the friction constant to get it moving again, the momentum of creativity is additive and will continue along a trajectory unless operated on by an external force.

I noticed an aspect of this a few months ago when thinking (and likely writing) about games. Both goofy little mobile games and more involved ones. One of the insidious secrets about those habitual distractions is that they not only interrupt and prevent your attention from being otherwise spent in the moment (for the most part. There’s a category of zenning out while you’re trying to solve a problem that’s not germane) but they take up more time and energy than you might think even when you’re not engaged in whatever the specific pursuit is.

And you can notice that easily enough. But what I found so surprising is how I didn’t make that simplest of leaps, to understanding what the repercussions of that were on the negative space of what my mind was or would optimistically be engaged in.

Even when I’d stop wondering about this or that twitter goings on and retool my mind to a coding or workshop project I always felt like I was starting from scratch. But it never occurred to me that that’s exactly what I was doing.

The problem is that perceptually it just seemed like thinking was getting harder.

From this side of things it’s a moronic low-brow insight. Well duh. I’m starting from scratch every damned time and never getting enough project momentum going to propel me through periods of inertia against the ambient friction of day to day life.

But this week, only a few days in to the month, the act of depriving myself of some of my deepest default distractive behaviors has been absolutely exhausting. I can’t quite autopilot the way I normally do. Oh my brain has found some clever tricks and loopholes. I’ve watched hour after hour of “8 out of 10 cats does countdown” videos (do yourself the favor. It’s hilarious and has been going on for more than 20 seasons.)

After all, it’s an absolute bitch to live an intentional life day to day. I suspect it’s not, rather by definition, our default state. We look for patterns of behavior and perception, habits to take us through the day so we don’t have to spend all of our brainpower incurring the stress of focusing on every single thing at all times.

But all too often we fall in the trap of defaulting that way. We’re REALLY good at it and we can let it consume us entirely.

I could say something like take a couple days and set an unobtrusive alarm on your watch or phone to buzz every half hour or hour you’re awake so you can stop and pay attention to what you’re doing, if you’re just zoning out or are actually engaged with something at a level that’s at least proximate to a Flow state. But I don’t think that really does much except making every minute of the day a twitchy anticipation of the next buzz.

Maybe that works just fine on the neurotypical. I’ll sure as fuck never know.

But the pairing of having something intentional to replace the distractive habit with and a clear imposed barrier to said habit is the combination that will likely work.

Because that friction and momentum works both ways. If you make it hard to get to twitter (or…”just hard enough”) it can shake you into awareness of what you’re doing.

What I did, because I’m a nerd, is block those websites on my home network. As long as I’m using my network, over wifi or cable, I just couldn’t get to them if I wanted. Now…I COULD disable the locks. But wanting to do so and reaching for it is enough of a reminder of what I’m doing to force me into “An Intentional Moment” where I have a chance to make a decision, rather than just plow forward on autopilot.

But like I said, without the counter pressure to have something to take its place it would be an absolutely dead moment. Like pushing a shopping cart past the frozen pizza aisle in the supermarket, if I don’t have something else in my head, some directive to which I can defer, the temptation of frozen pizza is just too great to overcome with a general “well…that’s bad for me” because “yeah but it’s delicious as shit, I’m hungry and need a damned treat” is just too damned strong.

Know what you want to be doing, what you’d ideally be doing. Play games about “what’s my fantasy perfect day” if you’ve got to. Get Right Action in your head however you can. Unfortunately I can’t really help you do that. I mean fuck, I’m 53 and am still skipping along the bottom.

Because pure admonishment in the face of temptation isn’t going to do the trick.

But once you’re going in the right direction? Holy shit! Right Action compounds. Good Ideas and creativity have momentum. It doesn’t take long once you’re moving. And I’m not going to say I’m free of the temptation to waste time, the temptation to unshackle myself from the effort required to live more intentionally.

The payoff, even on the front end of it, is crazy. These things I’m working on are exciting! I’m more interested in thinking about and working on them than I am in wasting time.

This interim project is getting more interesting as I keep adding ideas to it. Now I’m in danger over overengineering it. That’s fine. But I’ll get the basic one built (one of it’s saving graces is that it’s a cheap thing to build.) Then I’ll start right out on the next one…

adding One More Thing.

AntiSocial

So it’s August 4th and y’all may not get the notification of this post until September, assuming I can even remember to post it then. I’m not sure how that’ll go. The last three and a half days has been an exercise in patience and madness.

See, for a while now I’ve been taking on a minor practice of giving up something every month. It’s mostly just to keep me sharp, remind me that I’ve got some (however little) control over my own life.

If you just let minutes flow in to hours, you realize all too quickly that it will flow into decades. You’d think there are a couple hops in between but…they’re so small that it might as well just not be true at all.

So one month it was giving up caffeine, one month it was carbs. Two months ago I gave up soda. Last month it was “no amazon” and “no trips to the supermarket” which…is likely to hit the ear a little weird. Somewhere in there I gave up video games for a month (an exercise which was refreshingly easy, in opposition to my anticipated reaction.)

But THIS month it’s no social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Now, as a “social media” platform, reddit doesn’t really qualify. BUT in how I use it it absolutely does.

The “I’ll just check…” turns immediately in to 3-4 hours in front of the computer when I’d come in the office for…who the hell even knows what. I’ve been watching it soak up my time in a way that might as well make it feel like it was literally against my will.

Last week I started thinking about it. About the stuff I mentioned in the last post about tooling up to make stuff but never actually getting to it, just soaking up hours, days, and decades in quick little dopamine hit pursuits.

I could feel the pressure of having other things I wanted to spend my time and energy on. And I’m the first one to say you can’t really quit something cold turkey without a plan. I’m sure I’ve used the quitting smoking metaphor around here someplace.

The overarching idea is that the easiest way to quit doing X is to push it out of the way by Y. But…I think that since this sort of thing, whiling away time in exactly this sort of way, in front of a computer, is something that’s been pretty entrenched in my head for more than 40 years, it was going to take a push. And, no doubt it will take several. This is going to be a matter of skipping along the bottom like a river rock, just bouncing against failure for what will undoubtedly be years.

So the combination of having a bunch of plans, hot in my head and using the “give up something every month” motivation to help snap me out of that groove seems to be working really well (he says on day 4.)

Now, the last three days have been pretty insane. I’ve had a lot of trouble not sitting in front of the computer and I failed to anticipate the number of tools my brain has at its disposal to idle away hours. So…it was a few days in before I caught myself at spending money on amazon, ebay, and etsy as a compensatory practice. Not to mention any number of trips to Lowe’s, Home Depot, Harbor Freight, Tractor Supply, and Walmart. Ah well. I can justify just about all of my expenses in the name of the projects I’m working on (stay tuned to this channel, though I may actually start a literal youtube one as well.)

But I’ve been buying steel and screws, angle grinders and strap clamps, sprockets and pulleys.

Last night I realized that something I was working on wasn’t going to work and I drove all around hell’s half acre in a state of high dudgeon, waving off (politely) the endless “can I help you find something” with a chuckle of “well, my marbles first of all, but I won’t know what else I’ll need ’til I get those.” It’s a throwaway with a smile on it that beats a “no thanks” in most cases. To her eternal credit, the girl in Walmart, instead of smiling in conclusion, waved me along to the toy section and showed me their marble selection.

I’ve rarely been so happy with my train of thought, consisting of lists of dimensions, thread pitches, major and minor diameters and rough estimates of friction ratings to be interrupted.

Of course I bought some marbles.

Duh.

But last night I got home, largely unsuccessful and, likely owing to the restoration of at least some marbles, I realized that I did actually HAVE all the parts I’d need for the next stage of this project (shh), but only because I have just…all the tools. I cleared out some space in front of the metal lathe and after approaching the problem wrong for an hour and getting 1800 degree steel razor blades falling through the holes in my crocs (what?) for an hour I stormed off in momentary frustration.

But 15 minutes later I realized I’d had the exact right idea but was approaching the problem a bit backwards. I drew out some diagrams in my head, did need to order an $11 part for the lathe (boring bar holder if you MUST know) and eventually, at about 12:30, laughed myself to sleep.

I feel fucking excellent. Yeah I’m making stuff to build a tool to help me make stuff and frankly there might be another level or two of what seems like Yak Shaving in between there.

But I can see at least most of the whole path between here and there. And the fact that I’m building a tool to help me cut steel for something else is overshadowed entirely by the fact that the resulting tool is going to be really interesting. I’ve seen a couple youtube videos of people doing something similar. But they’re really missing the possibilities in such an arrangement. So I’ve bookmarked and downloaded all the videos so I can bleed them dry of every bit of fucking clever I can get out of them (shoulders of mad scientists and all.)

And once I build this thing I’ll almost certainly start on building the next one. It’s a really low cost piece of kit, the extent of which I’ve never seen in a home made tool.

So it’ll likely end up being an article and a series of plans. But I’ve got something a bit grander in mind for it, even though in the larger scheme of things it’s really just one step on the road to something else.

It’ll be a bit of a road, to be sure. But I almost can’t wait. I’m nearly annoyed that I’m here today instead of cutting, grinding, surfacing, boring, screwing (“uh…huhhuh…he thed thkrewing”… “Yo shut up Beavis. Let him like…talk or whatever”) and otherwise machining.

That’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This isn’t Rome and I’ve got more than a day.

More in a minute.