Unfiltered Thoughts: Procrastination

This morning, sitting at my cube reading blogs as the coffee brewed, I read the improvised life’s post “the work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

I’m not sure where I come down on this one. Obviously sitting on-call in a cubicle 40 hours a week is not what I think I should be doing for the rest of my life, though I’ve got some clear ideas on what that is and while I’ve been taking small steps to get me from the cube-sitting to the working-for-myself part, I still have to be a cube jockey until Plan B starts to pay off. But while I am manning this cubicle, I do procrastinate by writing. So in my case the work I do while procrastinating is the work I should be doing, and I already knew that. But I’m just not sure that “procrastinating” is the right word for what I’m doing, and not just since I don’t have other work that needs to be done. (Disclaimer: At work, that is. At home, I’ve got a mountain of work that needs to be done, but I can’t do any of it from my cube).

I think that’s where the problem with the quote lies (for me, anyway) – the troublesome distinction within the quote that work equals, well, work, and procrastination is, in contrast, not productive, or more specifically contributive to work. That’s particularly problematic when you’re in a creative pursuit, like writing, because you can’t separate one from the other. Sometimes when I write I find that the words that give shape and form to my ideas flow quickly and easily, and I’m simply channeling them onto the page. That’s incredibly rare. Most of the time, I find that I stumble on kernels of ideas and those ideas take time to plant, water, and tend before they sprout, nevermind grow.

I carry around a notebook that is full of one-liners and scribbles of half-thoughts that, once fully formed, could become something, but until they are fully formed, those follow me around like my shadow. I find myself constantly thinking about how to reshape an idea, how to phrase and contextualize it, and how to convey its complexity without being overly stuffy. Perhaps a better example is the list of funny anecdotes or observations that were noteworthy enough for me to write them down for reference, if only I could fumble my way past the anecdote itself to what it is that that moment embodies. But if I sit around and stew about “What does this mean? How can I use this as a vehicle to tell some larger tale?” I’d be sitting here staring at a blank screen for the rest of my life. So I just continue on. I go for walks, go get coffee, play with Baby, make dinners, sit in my cubicle, and maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way, I’ll figure it out and then I’ll get to use that in my writing. But, more likely, I’ll get ‘distracted’ along the way, overhear something interesting in line at Starbucks that I’ll write down in my notebook and chase that scrap instead – either because that has a faster path to my discovery of meaning or because it’s more timely or simply more interesting. The most likely reason, though, is because I’m still struggling to achieve a way to impart meaning to the previous moment. In short: it’s not helpful to sit around thinking “INSPIRATION STRIKE NOW, goddamnit!” But just because I cast that moment aside until later doesn’t make everything that happens in between the recording of the moment and the hours, days, weeks, months, or even years before it becomes something “procrastination.”

The Improvised Life did a follow-up post linking to Brain Pickings’ post on procrastination but I think that this post from Brain Pickings makes more connections for me: “We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it’s only after we stop searching that an answer may arrive.”

Where Have I Been?

I don’t know. I haven’t actually *been* anywhere. Didn’t go away since May for the summer. Or anywhere, really. I’ve just been working sitting at a desk in my cubicle. And getting sick. Repeat.

I’ve been on 6 antibiotics since the spring, but I’m still fighting a chronic awful sinus infection (and periodic bouts of strep throat) that make me feel lousy. Just not lousy enough to stay home, but lousy enough to not be able to keep up with all my normal routines. Between working full-time sitting in a cubicle 40 hours a week and being sick full-time and taking care of Baby, who is now a toddler by the way, I haven’t had time to do anything else, like post here or watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. (Which, thanks to the immediacy of our web culture, has already been ruined thanks to the presumption that if you own a DVR, you must not use it because it’s fair game to discuss it freely and openly within 24 hours of its original airing). So while you can talk to me about Breaking Bad, what you cannot do is stop by unannounced and ask to come in to my house. I will cockblock you at the door and get rid of you as quickly (and politely) as possible so you cannot peer past me to even so much as glimpse the absolute wreck within.*

*This is not to say that My Better Half™ has not been keeping up way more than his fair share of things at home. He has been, as always, a tremendous support in all the cooking, cleaning, diapering, feeding, and everything else that goes into being an all-around awesome partner. But still. He’s only one person.

While I haven’t been anywhere, my mind has been wandering. I’ve been thinking more and more about finding another job until I can figure out a way to work for myself. But the thought, which used to be a polite little occasional rap on the door, has become a deafening roar. It’s like there’s a mob armed with pitchforks ready to break down the door and storm the castle. I can accept that I have to work full-time to provide for Baby (and support My Better Half™ while he finishes grad school). But if I have to be in a cubicle 40 hours a week, I’d much rather be doing something that keeps me busy, at a minimum (though it would be nice if it also kept me interested). I got offered this job when I was laid off and knocked up. I accepted the job because it seemed like a good fit – it made use of my existing skills, it was at a university where I figured I’d be around bright people, and it seemed like a place where I could learn a few things. It’s hard to learn anything when, after a year and a half, I’ve had 2 short-term projects. And I am around bright people – my boss remains the best boss I’ve ever had…but she’s no longer my boss, and she’s leaving soon. And I’ve realized that what I love about being in a university setting is the students, and I don’t work with them at all. As far as I can tell, my job seems largely to consist of showing up 40 hours a week to be available in the event that someone needs something that only takes me a couple minutes to do. So I read blogs. And this morning, I read this post by (Not) Maud, in which she writes that she used to keep herself busy at work by reading blogs because she had nothing else to do. This part really sums up what I think is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with work:

“I’m not the only overeducated underused employee that ever existed, so I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who ever did this. I’m not the only person with a degree in English to find herself sitting behind the receptionist’s desk or waiting for someone else to schedule a meeting so that she could update a handbook that nobody would read anyway. On a global-economy scale, that’s a lot of unharnessed energy.”

Damn straight. I have a ton of unharnessed energy, and I am more than ready to harness it and put it to work for myself. Not only will that be much more satisfying to me, but I also would be able to spend more time on the things that matter to me – Baby, My Better Half™, and napping, for starters. Bonus: If I worked for myself, I think I would be better equipped to carve out the time I need to get a few weeks rest because this nickel & diming my time off to rest isn’t helping me get over months of being sick. I’ve made a plan and I’m going to keep myself accountable to it.

At Least I’m Not the Only One Uninspired

Earlier I posted about how I haven’t been writing because I’m just so damn worn out. And while I try not to be too hard on myself about that, that itself is…well, hard.

I mean, all it takes is one sideways glance at my feeds to see that they are clogged with new blog posts, updates, follow-ups, and news items that get updated by the hour moment to prove that only I’m to blame when I find myself staring at a blank screen. Obviously I’m not creative enough. Or the ideas I have are bad and not worth exploring. Or the writing I am producing is crap. Pick your flavor – I’ve got 31 ways to blame myself. On really bad days, my efforts to shoo away my internal critic is so hopeless I’m left alone with “I’m not cut out to be a writer.”

When I get some space and take the time to cross examine my own worst critic, I realize how ridiculous that line of thinking is. It’s also reassuring to read something like this to see that I’m not the only one caught up in a tug of war between wanting to write and insisting that what I write is the BEST THING EVER PUT ON PAPER (or, ahem, screen, in this case). I loved the advice she gives her students going through “Bad Brain Days”:

I tell them that they are feeling this way not because they haven’t learned enough, but because they’ve learned so well. They understand how hard what they’re trying to do is, and know that they’re not there yet. I quote to them from Wallace Stevens, that the difference between a good poet and a great poet is that a good poet reads his work and is satisfied.

So as I slowly build up my motivation and inspiration again, I will be trying hard to take her advice and be a little less hard on myself.

Uninspired. Or just plain tired.

I’m sitting here staring at my monitor ready to write a post. Why? Not because I have anything to say but because I have, for the 1st time today, 20 minutes or so to myself before I collapse in exhaustion.

Between working a full-time job and taking care of a 10 month old without a single full night of sleep in more than 10 months, I feel drained. Creatively. And physically. Spent, in every way. The time to write & the moments of inspiration just do not coincide. And when I do have time, like now, I flip to “inspiration, saved for later” and find…nothing.

I guess the good news is that it’s starting to dawn on me that perhaps the two (sleep deprivation/fatigue, and inspiration, lack of) are related….

long time, no write

It’s been forever since I was here.

26 days to be exact.

In part because I have been alternating between sick and swamped at work, leaving me neither the time nor the energy to sit down in front of a computer at home. But mostly because in the moments I did find the time to write, I found I didn’t have anything to say. I was spent. You can’t force inspiration. It just doesn’t work that way. You can’t sit down, put on your inspiration cap, and tell yourself “Time to write….now what are we going to say today?” Nothing worth writing or reading comes of that.

But it’s also a balancing act, because there’s the pitfall of falling into thinking that because what I have to say isn’t brilliant or perfect, I have nothing worth saying at all.

There’s all kinds of advice out there about how to break through writer’s block, but, for me, there is no surefire cure, other than carving out some time and space away from the computer, but only while giving myself the permission to take a break, so that I’m coming back to something I enjoy, and not trying to escape something that’s become a burden.

FAM Turns 6!

happy-birthday-candles

Today is the 6th birthday of my little blog. I can’t believe it’s actually been six years. Sure, it came off the tracks a lot during those six years. When Funky-Ass Monkey wasn’t online, it was because I was grappling with being overworked, an all-time low of energy thanks to Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, and all manner of other things. Things like blog identity crisis. All I blogged about early on was how much life in PHX sucked. Well, that, and how museum work is was awful. Things that are still part of my life experience, but not what I wanted my blog to be centered around. So when I brought it back in 2012, I carefully curated and removed posts – not because I’m ashamed of them, but because I’ve learned a lot about what I want my blog to be and where my boundaries lie in terms of what I’m willing to share.

But the most challenging obstacle that prompted me to stop blogging and simultaneously regret that I’d stopped blogging was crushing, debilitating doubt in my writing abilities, an ever-present hypercritical voice inside my head that said that I should quit. Because I didn’t have anything good to say. Because I wasn’t funny enough, distinctive enough. Because I wasn’t good enough. And then beating myself up because 1) I wasn’t good enough to “be” a blogger and 2) quitting my blog made me a quitter, because I was abandoning my dream of being a writer.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that the best therapy for me was that I should write. Because it’s how I unravel my thoughts. It’s how I get what’s in my head out of my own way so I can move on. And it’s how I can move past being hypercritical and way too hard on myself. In fact, blogging in particular helps me to see that my writing doesn’t have to be perfect before I hit “publish.” That I can be okay with letting my writing go and not constantly tweaking and reworking, revisiting my drafts over and over again, only to find new things that need to be “fixed” each and every time. It’s one thing to constantly strive to improve. It’s another to never move forward because you are your own worst critic. I finally decided enough is enough. I could either keep revising and revising in pursuit of elusive perfection…or I could just start to accept my writing for what it is and let good enough go. What I found is that publishing my posts, even or perhaps especially those that weren’t perfect, is the very act that let me carve out the space to find new inspiration. Staring at a draft over and over with a hypercritical eye didn’t help me get any better. Actually writing and hitting publish is what will help me hone my craft and improve. But another important reason I’ve returned to blogging is: It’s what I like to do. It took a long time for me to realize that simply enjoying blogging is reason enough to do it. So I made it my New Year’s resolution this year to blog every day so that I wouldn’t forget to make time for myself and something so small that brings me a lot of pleasure. And while I haven’t quite achieved a post a day, I am proud of all the days that I have managed to post. And I feel my creative mojo trickling back little by little.

Resolution FAIL

My loyal reader might note that it took exactly one day for me to break my New Year’s resolution to blog daily. What was I thinking when I made that resolution?!

Oh, right. That I needed to allow myself a no-rules creative outlet, a space for me to play in. And in order to continuously get better at my creative craft, it’s a well-known fact that you gotta practice, practice, practice. So I’m going to forgive myself for skipping out already and keep plugging away. Every. Day.

Career Counseling Is Changing My Life

So I’m approaching the completion of my career counseling, and it has been an amazing experience. Just like the assessments I did for a job interview about a year ago, I’ve been surprised at how accurately and insightfully the assessments have pinpointed my skills and work style. Mostly, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Let’s review, shall we:

  • I am a highly creative person, who needs to be doing work that is based in creativity. The work has to have variety, be challenging, team-oriented with the ability to direct my own tasks and be flexible.
    • Basically, confirming what I already knew. I should be a writer. But how a writer makes money working for herself, I still haven’t figured out.
  • I have been unhappy & dissatisfied with work thus far because I have been socialized (as many of us are) that a single, “traditional” career is best. That does not fit my personality style nor my talents, and I need to be able to construct work that has many different components, whether that means part-time at two jobs or project-based consulting or whatever. Staying in the same work environment and rising through the ranks doesn’t work for me.
    • This has been a big DUH finding for me. I was brought up with the expectation that you go to college, then you go to graduate or professional school and you embark upon that career. Ta-DAH! Success! But that didn’t give me the opportunity to “play” with my interests and skills and led me to de-value the tasks and kinds of work that I enjoy because they weren’t “demanding” or “high-skilled” enough. Example: my favorite job of all time was when I worked in a bagel shop. I loved everything about it, and was happy as a lark. But because of my socialization, I didn’t question the assumption that of course this is just a part-time gig and why would anyone work in a bagel shop when they have other, more “professional” options available to them? Even if you take the financial argument that realistically, one probably cannot easily work in a low-wage food-service job long-term, let’s compare it to how my bank account has done gangbusters in the nonprofit sector. Ahem.
  • My MBTI Type is INFP. As an INFP, I have to do work I believe in (for projects or casues I care about), I need to work without a great deal of supervision (micromanagement stifles my creative flow), use my creativity to address problems, work among others, have the freedom and time to work on projects with plenty of reflection and quiet time to focus in depth, in a supportive work environment, and have the opportunity to continue to grow personally and professionally.
    • Breaking it down: Unlike what you may think, the I does not mean shy and reserved. The I means that I am focused on theories, ideas, thoughts, concepts. I reqiure the time to reflect and contemplate before I act and become renewed by solo time while social interaction takes energy & drains my focus. The N means I see the forest more than the trees, that I am able to generalize and interpret from facts to larger patterns and that I value insights and analogies. The F means I am empathetic, I seek to find what is most important and prioritize values, and lean towards acceptance and sympathy. The P means that I focus on options and possibilities, I enjoy starting (but not finishing!) projects (ahem), especially because I continually take in and consider new information (to the detriment of getting projects done!).

It explains a lot. I felt like crap about my work and work performance at the history museum becaues my personality type was discounted and not valued as a “legitimate” work style. I’m unhappy at my current job at this private art gallery because I do repretitive tasks that do not tap into my creativity and do not allow me to be balance out my quiet time with social projects and collaboration.

My Strong Interest Inventory indicates that I am best in lines of work that are artistic, social, and investigative. Museums could be a good fit for a work environment for me, but I’ve come out of this recognizing and reaffirming that writing is what I’d like to be doing.  How to get from here to there? I still don’t know. But I’ll start by marketing myself via a portfolio career that highlights my many talents & skills with the intention of creating my own work, either as a consultant or a writer, or balancing part-time work with poverty writing on my own. AKA poverty. At this point, I don’t care how poor we will be, though. I think it’s more important to do what makes you happy than what makes you rich slightly less impoverished.