fuzzy notepad

[blog] What the hell am I doing

I guess I started a bad habit of writing big long posts About Things, and then blogging became this self-imposed chore, and then I didn’t do a lot of it. Oops. I’ll make a deliberate effort to write shorter things when they come to mind. (I also have half a dozen half-finished posts not committed, which by my count should equal three whole posts.)

Lately I’ve been drowning in an (even worse) inability to do things. Something dislodged all the cool progress I made at the end of last year and I don’t feel like I’m getting much of anything done. Numerous conversations with mel, strangely-relevant blog posts I stumbled upon purely by accident, and brilliant self-reflection are starting to help.

  • Failure isn’t okay; it’s necessary. I get very easily wrapped up in solving a problem as optimally as possible the first time around. A noble goal, perhaps, but the result is that I do a lot of fiddling when things aren’t quite right, or get stuck when there’s no obvious way to proceed, or just don’t work on the thing at all. Creating something is, quite literally, better than creating nothing—and the end result tends to be better if I build a prototype, scrap it, and build it again based on what I learned the first time. Failure is interesting and educational; success is boring.

  • I control my environment. Inertia is the worst curse to befall humanity; we find a setting that’s comfortable enough and become attached because it’s safe. We make excuses for why it’s good, we make excuses for why anything else is bad, we cling to places and things we don’t really like that much because change is a gamble. And it’s very silly; everything I have, I earned, and I could earn it all again if I had to.

    I’ve succumbed to this silly trap a number of times, but most recently with my job. I don’t enjoy it, I don’t work on anything I have any vested interest in, and I suspect it drains much of my interest in programming. I tried quitting a month ago to give myself a good kick in the ass, and was offered a three-day-a-week schedule. I accepted because I’m a sucker, but I’m done; next week is my last.

  • Pay attention. I have ADHD. I hate to even phrase it that way, as though it were a disease or curse or excuse; it’s really just a quirk of how my brain is wired. Medicine helps, but it’s not perfect, and it never will be. What helps more is to just notice habits I have that I don’t want, so I can make them not-habits.

    The biggest pitfall comes when faced with a problem that has no immediately obvious solution. It would take some amount of effort to solve, and it’s easier to do something else more passive for a while. So I stare at IRC, watching conversations I’m not much interested in; I check Slashdot, even though I’ve already read all those articles; I pick up my DS for just a couple minutes. Suddenly, it’s hours later.

    The fix, then, is to erect some impediment that’s just inconvenient enough that distractions require as much effort as actual work. I’m still messing around here, but locking the tmux session running IRC seems to help; I have to type my password to see anything, and since my intention is just to have a glance, typing my password doesn’t seem worth the bother. Laziness is a fantastic force. The best part is that IRC acts as a glue between other transient distractions, so shunning it also reduces my interest in other frivolities.

  • Perspective is invaluable. Programming is my hobby. I do it because I enjoy it. If I’m not enjoying it—whether I’m paid or not—then something is wrong, and I should fix that.

    Whatever obligations I think I have are of my own invention. I don’t need to finish floof or veekun. I don’t need to learn Japanese. I don’t even need to have a job or pay the mortgage. I do all of these things because I want to. Life feels a lot brighter when I keep that in mind.

I could blather, but I can barely do this topic justice. I compare notes with mel regularly, and we keep noticing the same issues bogging down both programmers and artists; it seems human beings are just wired funny, and resist the very act of creation.

The best I’ve read on all this is this dude Peter Michaud’s blog. I have a post still open in a tab from weeks ago, just so I’ll reread it every so often:

They can’t just decide that they want to start a company and keep it, or to move to the beach and play the keyboard for a meager living because they realize that would totally fulfill them. Instead they drown under a running faucet of infinite caveats and doubts available at a moment’s notice from their abstract thinking. They are stuck in a labyrinth of endless scenarios that never existed and never plausibly will exist, but that inform their decisions and beliefs all the same.

You will never live the life you want by wandering aimlessly through hypothetical scenarios. I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work. I’ve also tried just doing something. That worked.

So, I’m trying something.

Not really in the mood to write a status post, and not much has moved anyway. I did spruce up the blog design, though; in particular it no longer makes Firefox 4 slow to a crawl.

If you like when I write words, you can fund future wordsmithing (and other endeavors) by throwing a couple bucks at my Patreon!

(illus. by Rumwik)