Tag: lifestyle

Burnout or Laziness?

A few weeks ago I wrote that I was taking a break from writing to let myself spend time working on clutter.

And that time has been successful in that I have done no writing at all. I have worked on some Magic decks, and sorted cards, but basically I have taken a break from anything. In truth, I have been feeling creatively drained — I have taken time to actually read a whole book rather than vomitting out words.

I needed this break, just like I needed the break over Christmas.

However it was beginning to feel like laziness.

Then on Monday I got up at my usual time and had my usual breakfast and I mooched around as I usually do — it always takes me a while to wake up, so the mooching is necessary. But even after a cup of tea and all the other routines I found that I was still basically asleep.

So I went back to bed, and slept for another six hours.

I am feeling better now, I’m glad to say. It seems to have been a minor fever based on how other members of my family have suffered the same way, but I am still pretty flattened. I would usually run from the office but I deliberately left my gear at home.

More significant is that I can feel the flickering flames of the creative urge. The burnout was real, but it was not just laziness that led to my not writing.

Time to get back on the horse. Probably just a trot, just yet. Let’s keep the cantering in all directions for when the flames are burning hotter.

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Mental Weight and Misdirected Energy

When I wrote about Marie Kondo and her method I thought I would be able to wait. I thought then that I could fit the decluttering in around other projects.

But I was wrong. I am having enormous trouble focussing on my writing work because the mental weight of the tidying work is blocking me from thinking about it.

There are practical considerations about this block. When I have time I am so distracted by the febrile energy of the clutter that I cannot enter the right mind set to write. There is a card table that I took into my office as a temporary work space but it’s been in there most of the year now; it’s taking up half the space on its own.

But even when I am away from my usual workspace I cannot separate myself from the drag of the need for tidying.

And so, with that, I am going to officially Not Write for the next week or so — maybe the rest of January — to allow me the mental space to approach the tidying wholeheartedly.

If I am not going to write I would rather make that a deliberate choice. What I am doing now is close to hell.

I won’t be finished in a week, but I believe I will have cleared enough space (physically and mentally) to work again.

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Clutter Conflict

Marie Kondo is the originator of the Konmari method, a tidying and decluttering system which has many adherents. She is also the host of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo on Netflix, where she and her team go to the houses of people with poorly organised stuff and helps them see their floors again.

She also makes some people lose their minds on Twitter over her edicts about getting rid of books.

My Cluttered Life

I am not now, nor have I ever been, any kind of minimalist. I accrete hobbies and collections like a caddis fly larva making its shell: I like my stuff. My stuff is my memory.

But my stuff drives me crazy because there’s piles of it everywhere and I can’t always find what I need. It drives my wife crazy because it’s in her way and presses down on her psyche.

My stuff is both a protection and a weight; an anchor and a barrier.

A Respectful Process

I have yet to read Marie Kondo’s book, but her Netflix show is notable to me for the level of respect it shows to its participants. The people on the show are ready to clear stuff out or to move on with their lives in some important way, and their problem is that they do not know how to work through all of their possessions.

They are overwhelmed and Konmari is a set of tools they can use to approach the task.

But Marie Kondo herself does not order or hector; she is flexible in applying the method. When someone is not ready to work on a class of items because they are stuck on another then she will relent. There is no overt blaming or shaming for having a pile of clothes that actually reaches the ceiling, nor a wall of baseball card boxes that obscures the sun.

Some Areas of Concern

The most effective criticism of Konmari that I’ve seen is that it is a system born of privilege: those who can afford to apply it are those who can afford to buy the thing that was discarded when they need it later.

I agree entirely with this criticism. I hang onto things because they might be useful later all the time, and sometimes they are useful later. But there is also an implicit assumption about any hoarding, that there is space to live in amongst the stored necessities* — if you have a smaller home then Konmari might be helpful in learning to make better use of that space.

And then there are the books.

Most of the harshest criticisms I have seen are about Konmari’s requirement that you only keep things that spark joy, including books, but that books are better in volume: to borrow Napoleon’s phrase, quantity has a quality of its own.

My reaction to that is: maybe don’t do that then.

I see Konmari as a set of tools, and you don’t have to use all of those tools all of the time. I have a table saw in my workshop. It terrifies me whenever I use it, but sometimes it is the right tool for the job. Most of the time it is another assembly table, though, because not every job needs it.

The same applies with particular areas of your possessions which you do not want to be rigorous with: you choose not to apply the tools. I mean, for me, books and comics and games fall more into the “sentimental items” category anyway, and maybe that’s the key here — books are more than just things; they are cultural and personal memory.

Personally, I like to know what I have so that sorting through the books has survey value**, but if the search is part of your process then who am I to judge.

Where I Am

I am not in a place where I am ready to go full Konmari on my life, but there are elements of it where I need to winnow.

There are also aspects of the tools that I like a lot, such as the vertical folding of T shirts to make them visible and more effectively use drawer space (or luggage space). So at some point I will be going through my clothes to dispose of stale and no longer wanted items.

But books and games and comics… That is both a daunting and deeply unsettling prospect. I will need to be sure of my goals going in.

[*] this is also a fundamental cruelty of being poor: you only get good prices on things bought in bulk, but that requires both that you have the money to spend on large quantities and that you have a place to store what you don’t need immediately.

[**] I do not currently know all that I have.

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Late Diagnoses and Me

Like most people, I get ill sometimes.

Acute illnesses are really easy to spot, like the stomach flu I had a few years ago that meant I couldn’t run my half marathon. Taking the time to recover from those kinds of maladies is not hard because they are so crushing that there is little choice.

However, I’m not always good at spotting things with a more gradual onset, or which look like things I get anyway, or… well, here are a few examples.

It’s Not That Bad Really

I wrote the other day about getting treatment for strep throat. This came after weeks and weeks of colds and runny noses, minor fevers and occasional muscle pain. In retrospect, I should have gone in to see someone in November. I might have got treatment for symptoms and had a less awful close to 2017, but in the moment it was always just a cold and I would be fine in a week, then I would feel better for a day or two before symptoms would recur.

Lesson 1: go to the doctor when you are ill for more than a couple of weeks. They might be able to help.

I was Fine Last Week

We used to have cats. I like cats, and I get on with cats, but it turns out that I am debilitatingly allergic to their charming fuzziness.

There’s form in my family for this. Some of my close relatives are acutely allergic, starting up with the sneezing and runny noses almost immediately, but I never was. Living with cats during the early years of my marriage was nice (mostly). I did seem to be tired a lot, though, and I spent a lot of time congested.

One weekend we went away cabin camping and I suddenly realised that there was a problem. It was February and we all had colds, but I felt better than I had done in weeks. Could it be because I wasn’t breathing cat fuzz?

It was. Turns out I have been getting more chemically sensitive as I have aged, including intolerance for oil-based paints and an intense reaction to oranges. But cats — cats are my nemesis.

Lesson 2: things that you used to be tolerant of can become a problem later. These can be hard to spot because it might be a gradual onset.

Lesson 3: being congested makes me stupid.

I Don’t Know About You, But I’m Depressed

I am not neurotypical, but I have not always known that.

I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, but I am fortunate in that my depression is mostly a consequence of my ADD. Since I learned about my having ADD, so much of my early life and early career makes sense.

The funny thing is that this is a case where I probably couldn’t have got help much earlier than I did. ADD is recognised now in Britain, but it still doesn’t seem to be taken as seriously as in the US and when I was living there it was really only just being talked about.

However, getting a diagnosis has helped me enormously because it has been a new lens to view my mental quirks through. Does ADD explain everything? Of course not, nor is it an excuse when things go awry, but it offers explanatory power and sign posts to work around situations where my brain just won’t do that. And knowing that not accommodating my ADD is what triggered my depression has helped enormously in not falling into that hole again.

Lesson 4: get help, and if it doesn’t fit you then try again.

What’s It Supposed To Look Like?

I’ve been wearing glasses* since I was 4½. I have a complicated prescription in both eyes, and I also have a squint.

I also do not have stereoscopic vision, a condition I share with around 10% of the population. I learned this at a museum (probably OMSI, although I don’t remember exactly) where there was a collection of optical illusions. Most of them worked for me, but none of the ones that required stereoscopic vision did.

When I realised that, I suddenly understood why I could only erratically hit the ball in tennis or volleyball…

Actually, if you will excuse the digression, I want to talk about volleyball.

I really like volleyball. It’s the only team sport I fully enjoy. I started playing at school because (no joke) the ball was big and I could see it without wearing my specs. Later I joined the volleyball club at one of my jobs in Britain, and was lucky enough to play with a county-level player who taught me a huge amount. But then she tried teaching us to spike the ball.

This is a skill where the setter places the ball close to the net right where the spiker is going to be. Then the spiker smashes the ball down, hopefully avoiding any of those pesky blockers. And I just couldn’t do it – I might hit the ball sometimes, but rarely and never with a clean contact. I was frustrated, the coach was frustrated, and I had no idea why I couldn’t hit the ball. This inability only made sense when I understood that I didn’t have stereoscopic vision.

There have been many other incidents over the years, from pouring acid on my thumb instead of into a test tube to lunging the wrong distance in fencing, but they all come down to one thing: I can’t tell where things are in space to the level of accuracy needed to do these things.

I don’t get eyestrain, though. I often hear people complain about having to take a break from their screen every now and then, but I’ve never had that need.

Lesson 5: sometimes, your body just doesn’t do that.

Our Bodies Are Complicated

These are the lessons I draw from these incidents

  1. go to the doctor when you are ill for more than a couple of weeks. They might be able to help.
  2. things that you used to be tolerant of can become a problem later. These can be hard to spot because it might be a gradual onset.
  3. being congested makes me stupid.
  4. get help, and if it doesn’t fit then try again.
  5. sometimes, your body just doesn’t do that.

I hope they help you too.

[*] some people say “corrective lenses” in this kind of remark, but I have always worn spectacles. I can’t do contacts. Just no.

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