Marie Kondoizing My Groundhog Day Loop

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, January 10, 2019

Do we ever change? Can we ever stop rolling Sisyphean dreams up a hill? Can we ever escape the hardwiring of our genes? Can we overcome the destiny of our unconscious impulses? My regular readers know I end up whining about the same exact fate over and over again. I feel like Bill Murray stuck in a Groundhog Day loop. It works something like this. I’ll write this essay to find a revelation of how to escape this loop. I’ll then try very hard to follow that insight. Over the next few weeks, I’ll get distracted by a growing number of other ambitions. I’ll get happily lost in frittering away my time in endless pursuits. Eventually, I’ll get exhausted chasing seventeen cats leoparding in twenty-seven directions. My real and virtual desks will overflow with aborted projects. Then the day will come, like today, when I decide I absolutely must Marie Kondo everything in my life. And finally, I’ll write this version of the essay. It will be much like the essays I’ve written before.

The last version I wrote back in June even has a nice mind map of all my diversions. My absolute, positively-no-matter-what conclusion was to always write fiction in the mornings. I diligently tried writing fiction for a while, but eventually, switched back to writing blogs. I told myself, “all you can ever be is a blog writer,” at which point I start working on more ambitious blogging projects that pile up in my drafts folder. Then the realization comes I can never juggle more than 1,500 words before an essay falls apart. I deeply realize the limits of my ability to focus. Then I start blaming all the physical clutter around me for not being able to concentrate.

Of course, in every iteration of the loop, I firmly feel I’ve discovered a new way out. Yet, is that illusory because I can’t remember all the other loops? This time the revelation is: the problem is not the clutter in my house, but the clutter in my mind that keeps me from focusing on my creative ambitions. The old belief was physical clutter caused mental clutter. The new idea is to Marie Kondo the mental clutter and I’ll naturally just start giving away the physical clutter.

When I’m in this phase of the loop I ache for simplicity. That’s why I crave Marie Kondoizing my possessions. I feel owning less will free my mind. I have fantasies of dwelling in one bare white room with no windows, a recliner, a few shelves of books, one desk, and one computer. I picture myself working on one writing project. When I’m tired, I sleep in the recliner. (In this fantasy, I somehow magically don’t need to eat or go to the bathroom.)

This time I feel different. I might have felt that before because my emotions loop too. However, I’ve been intermittent fasting for 100 days, and that has given me a new sense of discipline. Since New Year’s Day, I’ve stopped eating junk food. Giving up junk food was far easier this time. Is it due to the discipline gained from intermittent fasting? It’s even affected my writing. This time I’m going to try to break the loop not by getting rid my junk, but my Marie Kondoizing my thoughts.

If I write this essay again in six months you’ll know this hypothesis was wrong.

The reason why I never break out of my Groundhog Day creative loop is that I can’t stick to my chosen single project. I’ve known for countless loops the solution is to focus on one project. However, for the last many iterations of the loop that I can remember, I pick the same science fiction short story to finish. I’ll commit to that goal, but after several days, I slowly get distracted by a bunch of other desires.

That happens because I begin believing I can chase more than one goal. I’ll slowly rediscover all those hobbies I’ve pursued in the past and start ordering crap from Amazon again (even though I’ve given all that crap away many times before in other loops). For example, I just bought a microscope because I wanted to study biology. I pricked my finger using a gadget for testing blood sugar levels, looked at my blood under the microscope, planned to go get some pond scum next, but got distracted by going bird watching with my wife instead, piddled with about a dozen other projects, and forgot all about the microscope, and my story.

I envy people who can relentlessly stick to doing one thing, even if it’s just watching TV all day. I wake up in the morning with the urge to accomplish a specific goal. This morning I woke up wanting to build a MySQL database to collect and organize all the themes of science fiction. This particular project could take weeks. Instead of writing on my story, I got sidetracked into databases. And before I could finish that project, I started two more.

Usually, while showering, I’ll come up with 2-4 ideas of things I want to do that day. So far today I’ve wanted to listen to “Frost and Fire” by Ray Bradbury and write an essay about it. I also decided to read all I can about bodyweight exercises and develop a set of routines so I can get rid of my Bowflex machine and stationary bicycle. And I wanted to read the four issues of BBC Music I already own to see if I want to subscribe and dedicate myself to learning about classical music.

Getting old is increasing my desire to accomplish something substantial. I guess it’s the fear of not completing the only goal on my bucket list. I might live another 10-20 years if I’m lucky, but if I’m ever going to get any fiction published it better be soon. The odds are already against me now. My guestimate is only one in a million would-be writers sell their first story after 60, and and that goes down to one in a billion by 70. I’m 67. (By the way, if you’re young and reading this, start now!) I began writing classes in my fifties, and I’ve wondered why creative success is usually found only by the young. In my fifties, I didn’t feel that mentally different from my thirties, but all through my sixties, I’ve felt my mental and physical abilities dwindling. I’m beginning to understand how and why aging reduces our chances to succeed with new creative endeavors.

We lose impulse control as we age. It just becomes easier to follow the urge of the moment. The older I get the more I don’t give a damn about how I dress or what the house looks like to friends. And it’s so much easier to give into Ben & Jerry’s than to make a salad. And boy is it getting easier to believe dying fat is better than dieting.

But, the siren call of less is more philosophers keeps enchanting me, and I think I can escape the loop by giving away all my junk.

When it comes down to it, escaping this loop requires discipline. And discipline is hard to come by at age 67. I’ve always known I could break out of the loop by giving up. But I always come to the same conclusion: the only item on my bucket list is to sell a science fiction story. I wrote dozens of them in my fifties and failed to sell any. Should that failure tell me to stop trying or try harder? I keep thinking I should keep trying, but poor impulse control tells me that pursuing little pleasures is far nicer than embracing the delayed gratification for having one extra-large pleasure.

Up until now, the hope of breaking out of the loop was to make myself keep writing science fiction stories. Maybe the real exit strategy is to give up that goal.

Not yet.

JWH

 

Keeping Up With My Routine

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It feels like I’m in a faster rat race now, in retirement than when I worked. I haven’t published anything at this blog for twelve days. I have all my time free, but every night I go to bed wishing I had more. I mostly work at writing essays. I’ve started a couple dozen in January, and they are in various stages of completion.

Four were published at Book Riot this month:

And a couple at Worlds Without End:

I’ve been trying to find time to get back into programming. I have an idea for a little program I want to develop to help me manage book lists, but I just can’t get down to work. I keep thinking I want to embrace Python and dedicate myself to learning it. But it’s not GUI based, so I wonder if I should be more ambitious and aim for C#. But that might be as realistic as wanting to become a rock star this late in life. I keep watching documentaries about computer history and they make me want to play with computers. I sometimes wistfully wonder if that time in my life is over.

I also wanted to start learning how to draw, but I keep putting it off. I did start coloring. Here’s my third effort. Coloring is a pleasant activity to do while listening to an audiobook or visiting with a friend.

3rd

I hope I stick with it and see if I can develop a sense of color. It might inspire me to eventually try drawing. I know my work above is about what a second grader could do, but I sense I have room to progress, even at age 65.

Here’s one from my friend Connell sent me, which I like a lot. He got into coloring and it inspired me to give it a try.

2017-01-24 12.30.39

Of course I’ve been watching a lot of TV. My recent favorites are The Crown, The OA, Victoria, Chance, and The Man in the High Castle season 2. I’ve gotten out of the habit of watching a Perry Mason every night, and I miss that. I went to lunch with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years and found out she watches Perry every night at 10:30. That makes me want to get back into that habit. (Time, time, time…)

Which brings up the topic of routines. Retired life is one of routines. My usual routine is to get up, shower, exercise, eat breakfast, and then start writing. If I’m lucky, I’ll write for hours and exhaust myself. I then eat a late lunch, followed by a nap in the den while listening to loud music (mostly jazz of late). I love listening to music while drifting in and out of sleep.

After I get up, usually around four, I wish I could squeeze in a new hobby around this time. But often this is my social time. Friends come over to watch TV, and sometimes stay for dinner. I like having people over in the afternoon or evening to watch TV, and consider TV watching a wonderful social activity. I would never want to give up social time for another hobby, but I still wish I could squeeze a couple more hobbies into my routine.

However, if I’m not socializing I usually end up reading. I just don’t have the energy to write at night, nor start up a new project like programming. I have discovered I can muster the energy to color and listen to an audiobook, or color and listen to an old favorite movie. The other night I colored while watching an old John Wayne movie. That’s rather a strange contrast, don’t you think? The childlike pleasure of coloring while listening to people violently killing one another.

I bought myself a little mini-MIDI keyboard for Christmas, but I’ve yet to make it work with the software that came with it. I leave myself so little creative energy after I stop writing that I don’t have none left to even figure this out. But that’s what I dream of doing. I know this will sound like a Catch-22, but I want to do something creative that’s not writing, and not give up writing either, but it seems I’d have to give up writing to do it. I hate to think I’m a one hobby person. I’ve wondered about setting aside some days for writing, and dedicate other days when I’m mentally fresh to try something new and different. On the other hand, if I don’t write during the day, I feel like I wasted that day.

In some ways I feel the movie Lifeboat is a great metaphor for getting old. The characters in the lifeboat have limited resources to survive, and must ration them out carefully. But instead of food and water, I have to ration mental energy.

Oh, I have been reading some great essays lately:

JWH