Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Days Flying By and Procrastination

I've noticed that I don't have enough time. Actually, I wonder if anyone ever feels like they have enough. The only time we complain about too much time is when we are stuck somewhere doing something boring and time seems to drag. The rest of our lives we complain about the lack of time.

I look up and it's already the middle of the week and I can't believe it.

This is partly because I really do have a lot to do and partly because that, in stressing over how much I have to do, I've been procrastinating on a number of tasks I need to do.

This is, of course, the worse thing I can do when I am lacking in time. It makes no sense to put off doing work and spend time looking at inconsequential things on the internet when you have several important deadlines coming up and you are behind on several projects.

I've done this before and I have concluded that it is a stress mechanism. I do this when I am stressed. The problem is that it tends to increase my stress in the long run. It is not a productive reaction to a lack of time.

I know I am not alone in using procrastination and general goofing off as a stress reliever during long and difficult projects with fast approaching deadlines.

Does anyone have suggestions on what I can do to make things better?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Month 3 Review: Floggings will Continue Until Morale Improves

Today is third month of this blog. I'm 1/4 of the way to my 42nd birthday. What have I accomplished?

1. I've kept up with this blog and regular posting. That's a huge success for me since I've had other attempts to blog and quickly lost interest.

2. I lost my job. Okay, I didn't mean to get laid off from work but since I definitely wanted to get a better job, you could say it was the first step to the changes I want in life.

3. I made a list of "41 Things to Do Before I'm 42" and I've done 4 of them.

4. I've been working on things I'm passionate about (an event plus some volunteering) for almost three months. It keeps me crazy busy but I'm enjoying it. The big event I'm organizing is just weeks away and it is terrifying but in a good way.

5. I've done some organizing and cleaning.

For three months, it doesn't seem like a lot. I also didn't really ever manage to do much with my theme or monthly goals. Basically, I've let #4 on this list take over my life and push everything back (including writing my novel).

I'm not going to berate myself or push myself to do better until after the event in mid-July. Then I'm reevaluating my time. Two things I'm working on will be done then. I've also stepped down from one volunteer item and stepped back from another so when these two things are done (since they were one time events and will be finished) then I should be able to put my time into some new projects I've been considering plus get back to writing my novel.

So for now my motto is "Maintain! Keep Up With Stuff!" I just need to get through the event and make it a success while not letting the basics fall through the cracks. I'll see what to do with my life after that. Just under THREE WEEKS!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Weekends and Unemployment/Self Employment: Parkinson's Law and the Weekend

When you are working full time, you look forward to the weekends. Ah, TGIF, we say to each other with a grin. Weekends are our time to get caught up on tasks at home, pursue hobbies, spend time with family, go out and have fun, etc. It's the only real "me time" you might get during the week.

I've been unemployed for three months now and mostly doing volunteer work and event planning for little to no pay. However, what I have discovered (or rediscovered from the last time I worked from home) is that weekends are no different than weekdays if you are working from home, working for yourself, or unemployed.

I work on projects all day long. I continue to work on projects on my computer after dinner. I will work on projects on Saturday and Sunday too. The days of the week don't matter. The only thing that matters is getting the work done.

When you don't have defined work hours, it is easy for your work to expand to all of the hours you have. This is sometimes referred to as "Parkinson's Law." I find it to be very true.

What is funny is that I don't mind when it is something I care about. If you are passionate about your cause, working at weird times feels natural. After all, you WANT to be doing this task.

I didn't care about my last job. It was a paycheck, nothing more. I went into work at 8am and left at 4pm. I ate lunch at my desk so that I could leave promptly at 4pm and still charge my eight hours. I was a clock watcher.

I had taken the job because I had been unemployed (and my husband was too) and in debt and I needed work. My husband and I accepted job offers the same week and went back to work. It was the first job in an office cubicle in years. I had been a teacher. As a college teacher, my schedule was quite flexible, varied by semester, and was partly self-dictated.

I had forgotten what it was like to be chained to working at certain hours of the day. It felt unnatural, especially in a windowless room in a building set in a park next to the water. Every morning I would see this beautiful setting and then go through a door and enter BEIGE. I had some decorations in my cube, but the rest of the office was essentially undecorated beige.

It was the most depressing place I've ever worked. Add to that the horrible coworkers and the work subject matter, and I was unhappy for the whole year I was there. I stayed for the paycheck and because I was applying for other jobs with absolutely no luck.

I applied for another job today but I've had only one interview in three months. Tough times out there. So I continue to work on my passions--at odd hours of the day.

Parkinson's Law isn't so bad when it is work you like. If you are being paid for your work, the work is unpleasant, or you need to increase your efficiency, then being conscious of Parkinson's Law becomes important--so that you decrease the amount of time you give yourself for your work and don't let it creep up on you. Deadlines are our friend. I found that out with my dissertation. I could have worked on that for the rest of my life, had I not had deadlines imposed on me from the outside.

Do you long for the weekend? Is there a difference between your workday and weekend schedule (if you are in charge of your hours)? Any tips for using Parkinson's Law to our advantage? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hindsight and Learning New Things

I am in the middle of a very big event I'm planning. We are just a few weeks away from the event and I am way behind on many tasks, particularly publicity.

When we decided to do this event a year ago we knew nothing about doing these things.

Now that I'm almost to the deadline, I realize there is so much that we could have done better.

We should have been doing a lot of publicity work and planning a good 6-8 months ago but we didn't start on some of these until much closer to time (and are still finishing some of them).

It's hard to know when you start a new project, especially something big you've never done before, just how hard it is going to be or what you need to do in advance. Unfortunately, a lot of this you learn too late, through making mistakes.

Hindsight is one of those frustrating things--sure, you have learned something important but sometimes it doesn't feel like enough. It won't help with this event and this event is what matters to me right now. I may never do another event like this, especially if this one fails because my lack of experience caused me to underestimate the work and not get things done in time.

I enjoy learning new things (I learned InDesign this year and have made some really nice projects since then) but the sort of things one learns by making mistakes and then realizing (through hindsight) what should have been done–well, I don't think I am the first person to dislike that sort of learning.

All I can do is to try to make up for my mistakes on the current project, the best I can, and to hope that some future project will benefit from the lessons learned here.

Hindsight is great in the future when it is a life lesson but it sure sucks when it is currently coming to you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Aging, Memories, and Birthdays

This weekend I saw an old family friend for the first time in about ten years. We met when I was about 3 or so and her daughters were about my age; we lived near them, on and off, when I was a kid. I hadn't seen her in a long time but she was visiting my parents this week.

Three things really struck me about seeing her again. One, I was shocked by how old she looked. This is partly because she is a chain smoker and also has always liked tanning. Her face is very, very wrinkled even though she is about my mom's age (and my mom looks like she's 20-30 years younger).

It is hard to believe how much someone can change and it made me feel my own age a bit. Doesn't help that she now has many, many grandchildren (her daughters are all my age and have kids, several in high school). I always have a hard time remembering that I am old enough to have a kid in high school, or even starting college. Technically, that was one road my life could have led down. I don't have kids, but I am at an age where I could have teenagers!

The second thing that struck me was how funny memories can be. I am notorious for having a poor ability to remember things from my childhood. "You were never there" is a phrase that they sometimes say to me as a joke, because they will mention some event or place and I won't remember it. "That's okay, you were never there." It would be funny except I don't like not being able to remember my own childhood well. Things are very blurry and sometimes I'm not even sure if what I remember is my own memory or the story being told later from my parents (I remember the story or the photo but not the event).

Worse, I remember somethings very inaccurately. I told my mom a story of something that happened in my childhood and she said, "It didn't happen that way at all." Apparently everything I remember about that incident--remember with great clarity--is false. It never happened. I guess I have to believe her. She was the adult. I was only about 7 years old. It is more likely that she would remember it clearly.

Still, if my mind can play tricks on me there, how can we be sure about any of our memories? Worse, even events that just happened can be seen entirely differently from two people. This has happened before, where my husband's brother claimed one thing happened at an event but it was very different from our view of the same event--within days of an event we had two different views. Apparently, two people can be at a soccer game but interpret one person's actions completely differently.

How can we believe eyewitnesses at a crime scene if everyone believes what they saw is the truth but everyone saw something different? It happens--Rashomon principle at work. Scary.

The third thing that struck me was that she said her youngest daughter (about 1.5 years younger than me, with several children) was soon celebrating her 40th birthday and was planning on writing a blog about it. This amused me greatly. I know I am not the first person who has faced a personal milestone (for most people the 40th birthday, but for me it is an upcoming 42nd birthday) by reevaluating her life (and doing it in a public forum through a blog); still, the fact that someone else I know would be contemplating doing what I have been secretly doing for several months was amazing to me.

I guess it is because birthdays remind us of aging--and make us wonder if we are doing the best we can with our lives. Birthdays remind us that we are mortal; we have only so much time in this world. Many of us feel like we should/could/want to do more and so we reevaluate our lives when a birthday comes around.

While I don't think we need a "memento mori" facing us all of the time, reminding us of the depressing fact that we are mortal, it is good that we are striving to be our best. Seeing the wrinkled face of this old family friend was a bit of a "memento mori" to me. She is a part of my childhood and now she is suddenly (to me) so much older.

She is also a grandmother (meaning that my childhood friends are now parents of children older than the age we were when we were friends). I can hardly picture this. I don't even know what these girls look like when adults. I picture an 8 year old girl and try to imagine her as a parent to a teenager.

Where have the years gone? It's more important than ever that I figure out where my life is going. Time moves by so swiftly.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thoughts on Dads: Changing Relationships

When I think of my father during my childhood, the thing I remember most is the snapping of the fingers. That was the sign that I had done something wrong.

I hated that snapping finger sound. It would shut me down very quickly. I learned to obey the finger snaps or face an unhappy dad.

When I was growing up, my dad was really two men to me. On the one hand, I have memories of washing the car with him, laughing as he chased me with the hose, or being swung around in play. I'd chase after him, taunting him with cartoon songs, and he'd pick me up and yell "tickle monster" and tickle me until I was shrieking to get away. I loved it.

On the other hand, he was very strict and I was terrified of him. I walked on egg shells when my dad was in a bad mood (too often) and avoided disturbing him, at all costs. I would break into tears if he so much as raised his voice at me and dreaded the snapping of his fingers.

He never raised a hand to me, that I can remember. He probably didn't even raise his voice at me as much as other people have experienced in their lives.

I've always been "too sensitive" (so I am told) and break into tears very easily. Conflict, anger, raised voices--these are things I dread and will avoid at almost any cost.

I was actually afraid of my dad even as a teenager. I can remember this clearly. I wanted to watch TV but Mom was watching TV in the living room so she said I should ask Dad, who was reading in his den (where the other TV was). I didn't want to. It meant disturbing Dad. I was very reluctant to ask for anything for fear that it would upset him. I don't know why the fear grew so strong, but it did.

This started to change at some point after I moved out of their home (after college). I don't think my dad was very good with kids (probably hadn't been around a lot of them, much like my own background). Once I was an adult, he could relate to me better. Also, as an adult, I now recognize that my father probably suffered from depression when he was younger and his frequent mood swings and frustrations were probably related to that.

I don't know quite when it happened, but I've become a friend to my father. My dad is now the parent I can count on to be supportive. If I have an event, my dad is the one most likely to be interested in what I am doing, the one to ask about it, the one to volunteer to help with it. My mom, whom I was so close to growing up, often acts like I'm weird or boring when my interests are brought up. She's even actively seemed to get in the way of my dad helping out at my events, insisting that he has errands to run or other duties to do at home that day, even when he said he would be available.

I'm thankful for this new relationship with my dad. He seems to be a happier and more easy going guy than he was when he was young. Plus he hasn't snapped his fingers at me once in years. (I'm ashamed to admit that I snap my fingers at my cats to get them to stop something--a learned reaction from my childhood I guess. I hope that if I ever had a child, I'd be able to stop myself from clicking my fingers at my little one).

This Sunday, when Father's Day comes around, I think it is a good time to stop and think about our family and our relationships with them. Things can change between people over time. If some of your relationships are strained, perhaps it is time to examine them again and see if there is any way to improve them.

While I recognize that some relationships (abusive ones, for instance) are not salvageable, I do think that holidays about families, like Father's Day, is a good time to see if any of the other, less toxic, strained relationships can be repaired.

Maybe you will find, as I have, that people change and so can how we relate to each other.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Social Media and Attention

Twitter. Facebook. MySpace. Blogs. Forums. Social Media is everywhere. If you are on the internet, you probably participate in at least one of these forms of social media, whether you are reading a blog (like this one) or post your information on Facebook or MySpace.

Several questions arise from this new medium of communication. One, should we post so much about ourselves in such places? Two, are we becoming a generation of self-obsessed writers? and, Three, what do we do about information overload with so much media to consume?

The first question is the one which is taking up the column inches in the traditional media. Because of Facebook's changing privacy options, people are suddenly up in arms about the lack of privacy and control over our information. Apparently some people have been posting private details of their lives on the internet without realizing that other people might see it.

This always amuses me. I have several websites and recently joined Facebook and Twitter. I did this partly to use social media to promote the organizations I belong to. It was easier to set up group pages in Facebook if I knew how to do it with a personal page. Now I'm addicted to reading the updates of my friends. I also set up a Twitter feed for an event I am working on and, although I have few followers, I do participate in conversations on Twitter from time to time (93 tweets in almost 3 weeks).

I also run this blog, anonymously, because I know that anything I put on the internet can be seen by others--that's the whole point of it. While I know that my identity could be discovered, fairly easily, I figured that by posting here anonymously I would at least stop the easy connection to my name by Google and other basic searches. That way I could discuss fears and anxieties without immediate problems in my job search.

The default for posting on the web should be--this will be seen by others and will, for a long time, be associated with my name. It may be used by spammers and marketers. It is certainly not private. That takes care of the first concern people have about social media. If you don't expect privacy from things you post on the internet (and therefore you pick and you chose what you put up there), then there isn't an issue.

The second question is a bit more complex. There are a lot of jokes on the internet (and serious discussions as well) about how people are detailing the inane everyday actions of their lives as if others should care. People use Twitter to post that they're going out to eat or post their dinner menu as their Facebook status. Everyone and their uncle, it seems, starts blogs thinking that they can earn money through posting about their day.

It is possible that one aspect of social media has been to give everyone a voice--and that the expectation that we have to be heard (and should expect to be heard) has led to unsupportable social behavior--a generation who believes that every thought should have an audience (and deserves one).

When printing was hard, you had to work to get your thoughts a larger audience. Only a few could expect an audience and not every thought was deemed worthy of print. Now that there is no barrier to getting your thought to an audience, the overall quality of the thoughts being printed is much lower (because there are substantially more thoughts going out to the public). There is plenty of good material going out but it is accompanied by a huge slew of lesser quality.

However, I do believe that the good thoughts, worthy of an audience, are still out there and more and more people are discovering their ability to communicate (having been given the chance, something not possible even 50 years ago). This is a good thing, even if it is harder to find the good writing in the avalanche of people expressing themselves.

Naturally, this avalanche of people posting information on the web leads to the third issue of social media--the overload when consuming media. I can hardly believe how much time I spend each day on the computer. My laptop is opened when I wake and is closed when I go to sleep. Most of the day it is my constant companion. I check my email constantly, then check my RSS feeds, look at Facebook and check Twitterfall for my search terms.

I am addicted and almost feel twitchy when away from it for too long. I never meant to get so involved with all of it. I only started reading blogs about 4 or 5 years ago. I joined Facebook and Twitter this year. I've had my own websites for much, much longer but it wasn't a constant thing to maintain every day.

There is so much out there. I could web surf all day and still feel like there was more to consume. The information overload coming to us is tremendous and nonstop. I don't have an answer for this. Perhaps each person has to create artificial limits to keep it under control. I just know that I have subscribed to three more blogs recently and it feels like the information avalanche is simply too much at times.

Social Media pulls at our attention all of the time, and also flatters us with the idea that other people are paying attention to us. Either way, it is addicting. While the ability to get published, easily, is a wonderful benefit, it also means that we get drowned in triviality and mundane observations and, simply, too much information (even if much of it is wonderful).

It's a curse...and a blessing. How much of either it is depends on how we manage it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Failure to Plan Ahead

Yesterday was Monday but I didn't post here, the first time I've missed my blog deadline since I started. Why? Partly because I have not been writing my posts ahead of time. Instead the day they are due is the day I've been writing them. When I first started I was a day or two ahead, but that hasn't been the case recently. So when yesterday came along and I had two major events to work on (one on an event I'm in charge of and another for a group I volunteer with), I had no post to fall back on and I missed posting.

I'm not writing this as an excuse to my tiny readership but as an example of what happens when we fail to plan ahead.

I've always been one to love lists and calendars but lately I've not been very good about looking ahead and planning. Even when I do plan, I've not been very good at following through. I might make a list but then only get one thing done on it.

This is partly just because I'm rather overwhelmed right now. I never thought I could be this busy while unemployed. I can only imagine how crazy my life might be right now if I was doing all of this and holding down a job. Perhaps this layoff was a blessing in disguise.

Planning ahead can be a life saver, if you follow through and actually do the work needed for the plan. If I had several posts in my queue waiting to be put on my site, then when things come up and I get too busy to post, it would only take a few seconds to have a blog post up and running, to give me breathing room.

In the same way an emergency fund in our savings account can give us breathing room, financially. When my husband and I were both employed last year I am happy to say that I put a fair amount away in savings for an emergency. This is what has been keeping us out of trouble since he lost his job in November and I lost mine in March. It's covered expenses for our big event in July, medical expenses for my sick cat, and generally kept bills covered during weeks where money was tight. If I hadn't planned ahead last year, I don't know how we would have managed over the last few months.

Thinking of the success of my financial planning ahead and my failure to plan ahead for my blog, I'm going to spend part of this morning getting organized and looking at what areas in my life (including this blog) need a little TLC. I need to plan out a few blog posts in advance and give myself some breathing room for busy days. I probably also need to do a few other things to create some plans for my future.

What things do you need to do to give yourself some breathing room? Do you have an emergency fund? What is stopping you from planning ahead?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Outside Your Comfort Zone: How to Be Your Best Self

Last night I was at a nightclub. I'm 41 and this is the first time I think I can say that particular phrase. Better, last night I was at a Steampunk-themed event at a nightclub until midnight. There--I said it--I was outside of my comfort zone.

Comfort zones--we all have them. There is our normal life and routine which we have gotten pretty used to. We have normal ways of approaching things, normal clothes, normal bedtimes, etc. It can make you feel uneasy when you go outside these normal routines.

I'm a fairly quiet person. I like to stay at home and read, watch tv, or surf the internet. I'm also relatively shy (something I've been working on stretching by doing various drama-related things and costume/acting events).

However, last night I was at an event, in costume, talking to at least 20 strangers (mostly--I had met a few before). They played music unlike the sort of things I listen to (if you remember my "golden shelf" post, I like the familiar routine of 80s music).

It was a great time. I had a lot of fun. I will probably want to do it again sometimes. So it was a great night and also a great victory.

Why a victory? My list of "41 Things to Do Before I'm 42" is partly about trying new things and getting outside of my comfort zone. I think we can not grow as people if we do not try new things from time to time. Since I deal with a great deal of fear and anxiety all of the time, I find that pushing myself to do new things can be very freeing.

I find that I gain strength when I try things like this and find that I enjoy it. I can look back at events like this and remind myself of the enjoyment. It helps me go on to do more things, to try more new experiences, and to face down any fears that may be holding me back.

I think of it like this. I am a flower (in my mind, a daffodil because they are very cheery, loud, but a bit dumb). My fears are like a ceramic pot which is too small for me to grow in. In order for my roots to have room to grow and allow me to flourish, I have to keep increasing the size of my ceramic pot. New experiences allow me to increase the size of that ceramic pot, allow my roots to stretch out a bit more, and allow me to be the best flower I can be.

If I let my fears overwhelm me, then the pot is shrinking and it causes my roots to grow inward. If you have ever taken a root-bound plant out of a pot, you know what that becomes. The roots grow in tiny circles into the shape of the pot and strangle the plant. The roots become like the pot itself, essentially making the plant become part of the pot. My fears and I will become one if I don't keep trying to fight them, to grow past them, to keep pushing outside my comfort zone just a little and learn that I am stronger than my fears and they can not hold me back.

Last night I stretched my roots out a little and it felt good.

Go out today and see if you can stretch your roots out a little and be the best flower you can be.

If you are unfamiliar with the term Steampunk, here are some links which should answer any questions:

Steampunk Ghostbusters
Steampunk Laptop
Steampunk House Interior

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Voting, Duty, and Apathy: or, what is wrong with kids these days?

I voted yesterday. That should not come as a great shock to any of you, but perhaps it does. You see, when I voted I noticed that my voting location was rather empty. I talked to the volunteers there and heard that I was the 40th person they had seen all day (and I was there in the late afternoon). I took my "I Voted" sticker and shook my head in disgust.

I talked about this with my husband a little later (he also voted) and I remembered when I taught community college and used to urge my students to vote (those who could). I would say things about it being our duty as citizens and "don't vote, can't complain." My husband, as he always does when this topic is brought up, argued that he doesn't want uneducated voters (knowing that my students were often rather uninformed about events). I'd point out that I would urge them to find out about the issues, to find something they cared about, and vote about this issue at least. While my husband is not crazy about the idea of a one-issue voter, I figured that it would at least help the students get started.

We had a very low turnout at this election. Voter apathy is apparently very high.

I wonder if part of the problem is the constant spam--from the mail and phone calls. We would get 4 or 5 calls a day (since being on the no call list doesn't help for political calls). In addition, we'd have 5 or more pieces of propaganda in the mail.

I was, quite frankly, relieved when election day came along. I was so tired of being bothered by politicians who apparently don't feel like I can figure out issues on my own, with my own research and reading.

It is enough to turn anyone off of democracy. I haven't missed an election since I turned 18. It's an important duty, I think, in addition to being a right. However, I know why some people don't see it that way. It can be hard to find the time to do the research and sometimes it can be hard to care. I understand, really.

However, duties are not always easy but that doesn't change the need behind them. Life isn't always easy. I wish politics would be handled better--more idealistic, less partisan, and a whole lot less of spam. Whether this ever happens or not, however, all of us can legally vote, should vote. We need to participate in our society.

Let's not let apathy outweigh duty. Voting is important.

(Here ends my "get off my lawn" rant about what is wrong with the world/kids these days.....)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Golden Shelf: Familiarity Breeds Fondness

Yesterday in the car we kept flipping the radio between three stations. Why? Because there is no radio station that plays only 80s music in our city (and we can't afford special satellite radios). Instead we have three stations which often play some 80s music and we just change the channel often.

As you might imagine this can be frustrating because you end up with times when none of the stations have a song we like or more than one are in commercials.

We were sitting at a light listening to Rio by Duran Duran (yes, I was a big fan of Duran Duran in the 80s) and I started thinking about when I was a child and my mom insisted that I must like the Beatles. She is, of course, a huge fan of the Beatles. They were big when she was a teenager. I, however, as a teen thought that they were only so-so and she was upset, making me spend a whole afternoon while she played song after song to prove to me the superiority of her music. I can remember arguing with her about how weird the lyrics are and how they don't make sense.

Today I was listening to Duran Duran's Rio and realized, the lyrics to songs I love don't make a whole lot of sense either.

I've seen you on the beach and I've seen you on TV
Two of a billion stars it means so much to me
Like a birthday or a pretty view
But then I'm sure that you know it's just for you

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand
Just like that river twisting through a dusty land
And when she shines she really shows you all she can
Oh Rio, Rio dance across the Rio Grande

Hey now woo look at that did she nearly run you down
At the end of the drive the lawmen arrive
You make me feel alive, alive alive
I'll take my chance cause luck is on my side or something
I know what you're thinking I tell you something I know what you're thinking

Really? What is that anyways? It sure sounds cool to me when I hear the song, but I honestly am not sure what sort of picture that paints in my head. Apparently a really pretty girl dances and there is a car chase and the guy feels really lucky? I'm not sure.

I heard at a book signing once, Eoin Colfer said that there is a golden shelf that we each have where we place the music, books, movies, etc. of our childhood/teenage years and these will have a special place in our hearts.

I guess it is nostalgia or a golden glow of memory, but I still love 80s music.

Some people are concerned that our ability to select what we see or hear all of the time, to have only music we like (on an ipod or special radio station) or ideas we like (by finding specialized forums or news for like-minded people), etc. creates a sort of echo chamber whereby people are not exposed to new ideas and don't hear opposing ideas. I worry about this myself sometimes. I certainly know that I am affected by the blogs and forums which I frequent. They affect the pop culture references I am familiar with, the sort of language I use, the way I think about things.

When I was younger, you had no choice but to hear new things. There was less opportunity to filter what we were exposed to. Now I can program 36 hours of music to carry in a thing the size of a stamp (when I haven't misplaced it--which I keep doing).

I'm not sure why my husband and I prefer to listen to music which we already know and like rather than experience new songs. I just know that my mind clicks into positive feelings when an 80s song I know and like comes on. My Golden Shelf, full of 80s music, great children's books, and the movie The Princess Bride, is something to which I return again and again.

While I do think we need to be aware of the negative effects which filtering can have on us and the narrowing of our experiences which may come from it, I will continue to spend time with my Golden Shelf and enjoy these things which are familiar to me, because I am fond of them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Power of Language

I went to a lecture earlier this week that focused on the power of language and how to "do" Shakespeare in a way which is the most empowering to the words and, therefore, the acting of the words.

I was struck by something that has always been a big part of my life--the power of words. I used to talk to my students about the power of language, to change people's minds, to effect them, to hurt and to heal. Words matter. This is why I have always been a reader, because I'm inspired by the power of narrative. I love a good story. I get caught up in reading in a way that nothing else has ever done.

Shakespeare was an early influence on me. He is one of several authors whose use of language compels me to read and re-read his works. They are old friends, whose visage returns to me in times of trouble. I will often find bits and pieces of my favorite authors' words in my mind, comforting me and enriching my life.

Today I'm posting just a short piece, to remind you of the power of language. Words matter. We should use them carefully. This means not only caring about what we write (and how we write it) but also to think about what we speak. Words we speak or write can have a profound effect on those around us. Let's make our words count and make a positive difference.

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. ~James Michener

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Overthinking When Examing One's Life

The unexamined life is not worth living. This is an axiom passed on to us from Socrates and followed by many today.

Blog posts abound (here and everywhere else on the web) showing that people have taken this to heart. We spill our heart's secrets to the world, record our most trivial thoughts on Twitter or Facebook for the world to see, and otherwise share our everyday ramblings and life dreams with anyone who will listen or read. Our age is the age of communication. We put out more of our thoughts into the world than ever before and consume more media (otherwise known as other people's thoughts) than any generation before us. It is a world of self-expression--much of it shouting here I am, this is who I am.

Personal Development blogs are particularly popular on the web (and the related personal finance, organization, diet....what have you blogs). In each of these blogs you will find people telling you how you should track what you spend, record your time usage, chart your progress, set goals and make spreadsheets, record your daily word count, or otherwise make your life a series of records. We are told that only by recording the minutiae of our day can we make the changes we want in our life.

And apparently we all have things we want to change. The web is filled with people looking to change their lives for the better (just like me!) and recording how they do it or how others could/should do it.

What I have been wondering about is our obsession with tracking, listing, charting and recording it all. I want to figure out my life in order to put it on track (because on my 41st birthday I felt so uncertain about my career and where my life was going). The first thought I had when planning this was to start a blog--to help me talk my way through my plans and "keep me on track" and "accountable." It was my way to record my thoughts and maybe even build a community of people on a similar journey who would have advice and thoughts on the challenges ahead of me.

However I note that one word has returned time and again to the comments I have received in this blog--overthinking. I may be "overthinking" my life--making things too complex. This is what started me wondering, is there such a thing as too much examination of one's life?

All of these blogs which insist that we cannot improve ourselves without first setting down a record of what we do--does the tracking actually help in the long term? Is it even healthy for all of us to be so obsessed with charts and statistics about our lives?

There was a time about two years ago when I tried to record my day in 15 minute increments and show what category of occupation I was involved in during that time. Last year I had a spreadsheet where I recorded the money I put into savings and had a pie chart showing how I had designated the money for future use and another chart which showed my monthly progress in reaching my savings goals. Two or three years ago I was a member of a diet site where I had to enter in every meal I ate and my progress on a prescribed exercise routine. For each of these projects, I lasted between 4 months to 1.5 years in recording my progress before I gave it up in disgust. I felt like I was obsessed with the charting but not actually happy with my life. I wasn't really gaining knowledge from my charts; I was only gaining obsession.

I find that looking at web statistics for traffic has a similar fascination for me. I will check my statistics on various web sites I run plus this blog--to see if anyone has visited the sites in the last day. I poke around at all of the charts and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that this week I increased readership or yesterday I had better numbers than the day before, or even that my web site has decreased in traffic and wondering why. I'm obsessed with the statistics, but why?

Some people have argued that women are encouraged by society to diet, not because there is a true value in every woman being as thin as can be, but because the obsession with tracking and obsessing over every bite uses up so much brain energy that she will not have the time to be political or otherwise cause trouble. For those who argue this, dieting and the obsession with the minutiae of calories and exercise counts is keeping women from more important issues--and being a full and equal member of society.

I wonder sometimes just how much we could do if all of us were less obsessed with tracking, recording, and listing (my great weaknesses--the list), and more obsessed with simply living. Our society is getting drowned in data and self-expression so that we no longer live our lives but simply examine them.

I realize the irony of this idea. I've dedicated this blog and my upcoming year (10 months to go!) to examining my life and now I find that one of the things that needs to be examined is my need to track, record, list, and (in fact) blog about my life. I'm not quitting my blog and I'm not suggesting that everyone else should ignore the suggestions to track and chart our lives but I am suggesting that perhaps that everyone, myself included, should examine just how much charting and examining we each need to be happy.

Overthinking can be killing the very goals which it sought to find. A step back may be needed, to give us room to live, explore, and grow. Too much examination can wither us, like a plant exposed to too much sun through a magnifying glass fixed on it. The light of such an intense examination can kill the thing which is examined. So we may be killing our lives with our charts and deadening our ability to be more spontaneous, flexible, and open in our lives. Worse, the time and brain energy needed to maintain such vigilance in our lives takes time away from joy. I may find charts fascinating but they will never bring me joy. Joy in life usually comes from simpler and less examined moments and that's where I will try to spend more of my days from now on. I'll examine my life but maybe not quite so much......