Saturday, February 04, 2006

It's All About the Economics

How did I let so many weeks go by without posting? Well it isn’t really that big of a mystery. Not when one has a daily journal to reference to buttress memory of the slipping by of minutes and hours. The bigger mystery and exacerbation of my frustration for me is why does it seem that having my laptop has not made me more productive and seems even to have made me less so? I have been fretting myself over that question for weeks. Leaving aside, for now, all the rmaifications of fresh grief times three, there are a number of factors that interrelate. There is the hassle of moving workstations from the bedroom to the living room and back again by 5AM. A procedure that takes ten to twenty minutes, disturbs my husbands rest both leaving and returning and often seems quite daunting at 10PM when my day has already been eight to eighteen hours long and eventful. Before the laptop, I used to continue hanging out on the computer--sometimes even online--during my husband’s and mother-in-law’s morning routines, fiddling with things that took less concentration and then getting right back to work as soon as they had left for work about 6AM. But their morning routines cannot accommodate me with my laptop and its power cord and phone cable flung across pathways. And since Christmas, my husband doesn’t leave until after 8AM and by then it is too late for me to either begin or continue a work session for if I’ve been working all night I need to be going to bed so there can be hopes of another productive session beginning in fourteen hours and if I have just gotten up along with my husband I am left with only four hours before anticipation of my mother-in-law’s return requires vacating the living room.

Besides all of that, there is the extra time spent reading physical books--novels mostly. And there are the DVDs that I bring home from the library and watch on the laptop-sometimes three times over. Getting lost in story. There is the sleep. Where did all this sleep come from. What happened to my insomnia? I have had intractable insomnia for so long I almost do not recognize myself as this one who sleeps hard for over seven hours per day. The stories from the novels and movies go into that sleep with me and mix with the stories I am composing myself. Their vividness and sense of reality impinge on my waking hours so that, like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Skies, I am never sure where story, dream, memory and reality begin or end.

There was the fact that the workspace in the bedroom was not conducive to serious work. But I resolved that issue two weeks ago when I thoroughly spring cleaned and rearranged our room, spending thirteen hours doing seven loads of laundry while pulling every item smaller than the bed and the entertainment center out so I could dust, vacuum and put it all back together with an eye for a writing workstation that now included a laptop. In the process I nearly killed my laptop when a board loaded with books and notebooks fell on it. A good fifty pounds of weight smashed down on the closed laptop shortly after I set it in its new place of honor and my heart just about smashed my ribcage in the ten minutes it took for me and my husband to move everything off of it so I could open it and wake it up from hibernation. My relief and gratitude when the desktop appeared on the screen was so intense I swore silently to redouble my dedication to the work that I got it for--the work that justified the expense in spite of our current financial situation, that motivated four years of sacrifice to save the money for it penny by penny. I realized at that moment that in less than four months I had already begun to take it for granted. And for several days I did prioritize my writing again. And then once more it began to slip-slide away from me.

I think I have just figured out--and I mean just now in attempting to organize my thoughts to write about it--where the sticking point is, the issue that has caused an imperceptible tug on the steering wheel of my motivation so that I keep drifting off course by increments so small that it takes more than a week to recognize the evidence that the rubber is off the road. And the irony is that it is the very possession of the laptop itself that exerts that tug. It is because all of my files are on my laptop and thus available to me 24/7 that I am actually spending less time with them than when they were on my in-laws’ PC and thus available only when their living room was not otherwise in use, which tended to mean between the hours of ten at night and six in the morning, tho there were occasional exceptions. Because having possession of my files and the tool to work with them has caused me to assume that I can work anytime, I have loosened the fierce grip I kept on the graveyard shift.

For nearly two years, I treated those late-night hours as almost sacred. Nothing else was allowed to preempt my time on the computer. I gave the same respect to those hours as if they were a conventional job tho I had no accountability to anyone but myself and no compensation other than the satisfaction of accomplishment. But lately I have been so laissez-faire about them, I have allowed myself to apportion them out to whatever feels good at the time--sleep, TV, a novel, a DVD, a computer game--because, after all, I can write anytime now right? But I have been failing to take into account that there is no other significant block of time in any 24 hour period that allows for the peace and privacy required to think long and deep, to focus on intricate detail without fear of interruption or observation--which short-circuits creativity with an anxiety producing self-consciousness.

This is a significant insight that I did not have when I began to write this. The fact that the common denominator of all my multitudinous justifications for not writing at any given moment boiled down to a very misplaced assumption that having the laptop meant I could write anytime. Thus every now became a disposable moment. I failed to take into account that time is like money and aspects of economic theory apply to it. The law of supply and demand applies to any finite resource, of which time is the epitome. Spending time, like spending money, implies trade-offs. And because of societal conventions neither every dollar nor every moment are interchangeable. Some dollars earned have more time, sweat, sacrifice or angst invested in them than others. And, as with monetary income, some time is pre-committed making some trade-offs more ’expensive’ than others. Mealtimes, work-schedules, family commitments and television schedules are among the constraining factors. By assuming that I could think and write as easily at noon as at midnight, I was forgetting about ringing phones, the dog needing let out or in, the neighbors screaming obscenities outside the window, the garbage truck making its slow, ponderous way up one side of the narrow lane and down the other every Wednesday, the planned trek to the library every Friday, the washer and dryer buzzers and the vacuum cleaner’s moan, the sound of radio or TV that other’s are engaged with. I was forgetting the factor of my anxiety which makes even the fear of interruption freeze my mental gears.

So tonight, Friday, I fixed a cup of coffee at ten-thirty so that I could apply the next several hours to finishing and then polishing this essay which I began to write around noon Thursday. I hope, no I intend, to get it ready to post and then go online and just do it. And by ready I mean good enough not perfect; for that pesky perfectionism that I constantly fence with has had a great deal to do with this unintended hiatus. I have begun several posts in that time--at least once or even twice a week--but did not get them ready to post before their content became too past tense. There was one that attempted to turn the experience of spring-cleaning my room into a comedy routine with references to bushels of used tissues under the bed, cats weaving figure eights around my ankles with their leashes and jumping on my back when I bent down to pick something up and the half-dozen electrical cords plugged into the power-strip that had woven themselves into a macabre macramé along with a cat toy string and the wires of the boom box’s detachable speakers. There was one about the experience of reading Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird, and then immediately watching the DVD of the movie made of it in the sixties, in which I confess that I began that project believing that I had never encountered either of them, only to discover that I must have read the book in grade school because there were several familiar scenes in it which were not in the movie, but that nothing about the movie was at all familiar. I am assuming grade-school because I had to have read it before I had any concept of either rape or racial discrimination which my sheltered childhood had kept me innocent of until at least sixth grade.

Among the aborted posts was one reflecting on my first encounter with the movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? which I watched three times in less than twelve hours, seeing something new in each encounter. But I had left watching the DVD until the morning it was due and was forced to return it to the library and then found it impossible to write coherently about it without having it handy for reference. The same thing happened with Vanilla Skies. And again with the novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which is probably one of the best novels I’ve read in the last five years. I could probably get either of the movies back again within a handful of weeks but the Zafon novel’s queue at the library is in the double digits with just two copies and each turn allowed up to three weeks. I had waited in that queue twice in the last year. The first time I got my turn last July I did not get to read it because of the eventful nature of late July--see the archives here if you’re curious, especially the posts referencing the beginning of serious promotion of Joystory, kicking the duck, the family retreat and sitting with my husband’s grandma. I got back in queue immediately and my second turn with it came the week before Christmas and there was just no time to set aside for it until after the New Year and I ended up starting it just a couple days before it was due so I rushed through it without taking notes and had to send it back to the library just hours after finishing it.

In fact--and again I just noticed--there is another common thread woven into the web restraining my productivity: added to the perfectionism and procrastination already mentioned is the time-pressure of library due dates. A pressure that is exaggerated by my insistence on checking out waaaay more than I could conceivably read and watch in the allotted time (even if my eyes were not impaired), let alone compose thoughtful responses to them and also write original material, keep up my chores and family commitments, read my online news sources, watch my primetime TV stories, maintain and promote three web sites… Just about every choice of what to read, watch or write is constrained artificially by these due dates. Yet I keep choosing to over-extend my time and space and energy by bringing home more, and more, and more. I just saw a Dr. Phil show about hoarding this week and saw myself in the stories presented. And lest that seem completely off point, let me clarify: it is all economics. Space, time and energy are finite resources and every allocation here implies a sacrifice there. There is always a tradeoff and the trick is becoming conscious of them and making well-considered choices that reflect your truest self. For me that means that I still need to commit a significant number of wee hours to writing and web page maintenance. Maybe not the full eight and maybe not every night, as before, but enough to ensure a dependable, if moderate, productivity. It may take awhile for me to find the best balance but it begins by remembering that anything of value must be invested in--beginning with respect for the raw material, the process and the envisioned end-product. Without that, investment is willy-nilly and the product is chaos.

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