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19 May 2007 @ 06:06 am
Conundrum? Paradox? Something.  

One evening last week—Monday, I believe it was—I was on my way to work when I had one of those thoughts I believe most of us have from time to time in one way or another. It was late in the evening, already dark, and a fog had settled over the city. Neither a heavy nor a light fog—a medium fog, I guess—it softened the edges of things near and obscured things entirely only at about three or four blocks distance; getting palpably heavier and thicker around the Lake Street/Marshall Avenue bridge, both because of the relative lowness of the area and of the presence of the Mississippi River below. The quaint round-globed streetlights on the bridge were haloed with a lovely pearlescent glow, and the red warning of the traffic light was somehow less unfriendly than usual.

I was struck by the beauty of that view across the bridge and up Marshall as far as Cretin Avenue (where buildings finally faded from sight) and I thought, “I really should phone in to work and tell them I’ll be late, turn around and grab my camera and tripod, and come back here to try to get some photos of this!”

But … well … I didn’t.

I didn’t because at work we were in the midst of another quarterly peak, and because on Sunday and Monday nights I’m the only production support person there; so it’s really rather important that I be there. I wouldn’t have felt right about blowing off even part of that night. It got me thinking, though, about the age-old conundrum (or is it a paradox?) of work versus … versus what? Versus creative endeavors? Versus “what we’d really rather be doing?” … I don’t know—something like that. There is, of course, the most obvious and mundane aspect of that puzzle: we most of us have to work to support ourselves and—for those of us who have them—our families; it’s the rare and business-savvy individual whose creative endeavors pay the rent. In addition, many creative endeavors are themselves costly—photography perhaps more than most—so income at a mere sustenance level would be insufficient to allow me to pursue and engage with my muse.

Less obvious but rather more interesting to me, however, is another aspect of the tension between working a “day job” (which, in my case, is actually a night job, but never mind) and doing creative stuff. I guess you could call that aspect the “showing up” factor or maybe the “being there” factor. This instance is an excellent example, because the unvarnished truth is that had I not been on my way to work, I would not have been driving east on Lake Street toward St. Paul at half-past nine that particular evening and therefore would not have been at that place at that time to observe the beauty of that scene and to want to capture its beauty in a photograph. Pretty darned ironic, eh?

In a larger sense, that “showing up” or “being there” factor really is a fundamental issue for me. Past experience suggests that if I don’t have an obligation to an employer, it is quite likely I will spend a lot of my time sitting around the house, intending to get around to doing something—any number of things—Real Soon Now. Very few of the things I’d like to do actually get done. Furthermore, if the thing(s) I’d like to accomplish involve getting dressed and leaving the house … well … let’s just say that’s harder yet. I don’t believe I’m lazy and I don’t think it’d be quite correct to say I’m “motivationally impaired” either. It’s hard to pin down. Sometimes I joke that I’m a living example of Newton’s first law: when I’m at rest, I tend to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. (In case you’re wondering, the second half appears to apply as well: when I’m in motion I do tend to remain in motion ….)

The fact that I’m clinically depressed probably accounts for some of my lethargy and my rather chronic inability to get things done. Indications are that I have some degree of ADD as well, which probably adds its own special je ne sais quoi to the mix.

Yes, the antidepressants and the ritalin mitigate the worst of it—with their assistance I’m able to wake up and get myself out of bed on workdays and, you know, hold down a regular job. On the mornings I don’t have to work overtime I’m able to go home after work, relax for a few minutes, and then take Gavi to school, which is very pleasant and lets us spend some time together—some mornings we chat and catch up, other mornings we just quietly share the space and time. In the evenings I’m usually out of bed in time to see both her and Susan for a little while. So I do have a wee bit of home life. Come to think of it, I am also able to spend some time reading every day, mostly while laying in bed [although I do rather wish that I could read at least a bit faster (and comprehend more fully too, while we’re on the subject)].

At this point it seems legitimate to take a step back and ask, “What are you complaining about, fredcritter? It sure looks like you’ve got a life.”

Yeah, well. See, one thing to mention is that it’s now been a week since I first started writing this. Which points to (at least) two things: 1) I don’t remember/am no longer sure exactly where I was going with this and 2) that’s too darned long to have had to spend writing up this fairly simple narrative and bunch of thoughts. Which in some ways makes my point. I think. Maybe. Whatever my point is or was.

Why has it taken me so long to write this? Other things came up. I got distracted. I lost focus. I got sleepy. I had to go to work. I ran into times when I couldn’t quite formulate my thoughts and/or write about them coherently. I wrote myself off track and didn’t at the time know how far to back off, where to restart, where to go from there. Shit happened.

So what is the point? Where am I going with this?

The point is that I love taking photographs but I’m not doing that very much/often. That I love sharing photographs, but I’m not following-through on the ones I have taken—I’m not getting them up somewhere for people to see, even if that “somewhere” is merely my photo pages on the web. That I love making music but I haven’t been practicing and I haven’t been making it to many music gatherings. That I love keeping in touch with friends old and new, via LiveJournal if naught else, but I’m not reading and keeping up with everybody to the extent I’d like and I don’t post nearly as often as I’d like. That, in summary, I’m just not doing many of the things that are very important and rewarding to me.

Okay, I’ve now outlined what seems to be the matter and flirted with why. As Theodore Sturgeon would say: Ask the next question. I guess that would have to be: What am I going to do about this?

Well, I need to remember that I can’t do it all at once—that I can’t simply toss it all, cut the soles off my shoes, sit in a tree, and learn to play the flute. I must have patience as I take the time to develop habits that will allow me to do more of the things I want to do. On the other hand, I need not to be so patient as to not actually start doing anything. Perhaps I can break down some of it into smaller pieces that I can easily start doing. Okay, let’s make a list.

  • Carry my camera with me all the time. I did this for quite a long time, but then I quit. Why? Because I bought a new camera backpack that is really too big and too heavy, and because I wasn’t taking out the camera and using it anyway. So …

  • Rather than running out and buying a new backpack, see if I can’t winnow down the stuff I carry in it so as to make it lighter and easier to carry. Then start carrying it. If I really need to get a smaller one, think carefully about it for a while but then go ahead and get it.

  • Take advantage of photo opportunities rather than passing them by.

  • Put the tripod in the car trunk so I’ll have it when I need it.

  • Make some time/opportunities to explore and photograph. Maybe one day a week after I drop Gavi off at school.

  • Music. Discuss with Susan and Gavi when I might be able to practice without disturbing them, since when I most get the urge is when they’re asleep.

  • Hmmm. While I’m at it, I guess I might as well remind myself to start flossing my teeth on a regular basis as well …

Okay. That sounds like some good places to start. Let’s see how it goes.

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Marybraider on May 19th, 2007 12:35 pm (UTC)
This is a really positive step!

I spent several years not....just not doing much, and being miserable. Make sure to come to agreement on times that you can do the things you love. I allowed living with someone to cut down the amount of music I played to a level that contributed to the general depression. I felt like I was a guest, and had to be a good guest, and ... didn't have a place of my own, in my mind. I felt so overwhelmed at the impudence of me, that I might want to *do* something worthwhile of recognition, that...I froze. It's not fun, as well you know.

Best way I found to deal with it is...simply to go do what you want to, and cease to care what impact it will have on others. Not necessarily a healthy outlook in many ways, but it's been freeing me up from the paralysis.
Peter Hentges: ganeshjbru on May 19th, 2007 12:55 pm (UTC)
Many of your thoughts are familiar to me, my friend. As is the process by which you got to them. I look at my own LJ and see that I haven't written anything of substance in quite a while, for example.

I think you have a good plan for getting some of what you enjoy back into your life. I encourage you to experiment and hope you find something that works really well. Some brief tidbits that might help: I've been told it takes 21 days to establish a new habit; if you can get yourself through that period of time by whatever means necessary, you should be in good shape. Personal development guy Steve Pavlina advocates making life changes on a 30-day trial basis, evaluate after that time period and if they aren't working then either go back to what you were doing or try something else.

I wish you luck!
Skylarkerskylarker on May 19th, 2007 01:10 pm (UTC)
The age-old conundrum (or is it a paradox?) of work versus … versus what?

I call it world vs soul. Ideally, it should be: world supports soul, soul inspires world, and round and round like that. But of course it can get so much more complicated and difficult, given the ways of the world and inertia and momentum as they apply to the soul. Both concerns are so important, and I can only imagine how much more difficult it gets when your concerns include a child to support.

What you write strikes a chord with me, as well; I'm very familiar with these kinds of frustration. But it sounds like you've listed a lot of sensible things you can do to improve matters. Go for it!

Skylarker: creativeskylarker on May 19th, 2007 04:04 pm (UTC)
Addendum: Having just returned from yoga class I think it's worth noting that when one gets moving physically it helps work up that momentum for moving on to the creative action.
dd-bdd_b on May 19th, 2007 04:12 pm (UTC)
I've noticed it before, but since photography is almost a topic of the thread I'll comment here -- that's a *great* icon!
Skylarkerskylarker on May 19th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I actually went to a professional photographer to get a portrait. There were many times more shots that captured my closed eyes and goofy looks than there were shots that I thought looked like a normal human being, let alone that I thought captured anything of my personality. :)
the laughing leaping waterminnehaha on May 19th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)
I don't know anyone who doesn't have these same issues with their own life. I have been thinking and talking about this extensively in the past couple of months, trying to find my own ways past it.

One thing that I've read and have both put into practice (some) and thought about (a lot) is Jean-Paul Sartre's technique of scheduling stuff. He'd spend (for example) Wednesdays from 5 to 7:30 with someone whose company he enjoyed, and at 7:30, they'd be shown the door, because their time was up, and he wasn't going to let the time he spent with them just run on and encroach on the rest of his evening, no matter how pleasant a time he was having. So this idea of having discrete blocks of time dedicated to a particular thing and then stopping and moving on to the next activity seems really powerful to me.

Coyote's getting bolderruneshower on May 19th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
I've noticed (and, I think, written in LJ about) the same phenomenon you describe. I am getting a lot more of my "what I'd rather be doing" projects done due to that "showing up" factor. There is a lot of incidental non-working time built into a work day - the commute, breaks, lunch, and occasional down time during actual work hours. The time is already dedicated and there are no (or few) distractions, so stuff is getting done. I listen to audiobooks on the drive, and sometimes carpool with oakdragon, which gives us quality twosome time. I'm getting my cross-stitch done during lunch breaks, while also listening to books. Sometimes I go out geocaching at lunch, or have a long phone call with distant friends. I keep a book in my purse and a crossword magazine in my desk, for breaks.

They say, "You want something done, give it to a busy person". I find it interesting that I'm actually willing to head out geocaching during such a short span of time - barely time to begin before time is up. But it's the Newton's Law thing you mentioned; I'm already on the go, just BEING at work - up, dressed, ready. So it's not so big a stretch to get out and walk or whatever. At home, I get nothing done.

So, taking along your camera sounds like a good plan, and perhaps build in more time into your drive to work so you can stop and capture an interesting photo?
Skylarkerskylarker on May 20th, 2007 01:01 am (UTC)
My last day job had enough down time that I was able to set up my cafepress shop and design most of the stuff in it during that downtime.

I had one job as a help-desk router where I read many books in paragraph-snatches between calls. I wrote a batch of filk songs in the same way. It takes a lot of persistence, but it's doable.

KMSvgqn on May 19th, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
First, I have to say that I'm struck, once again, at what an excellent writer you are. And I think you're too hard on yourself about taking a week to write this. I suspect there was a lot of background processing going on in your brain, not to mention some mental readjustments before you were ready to say in public (and to yourself), "Here are my goals."

I applaud both the self-assessment and the goals you've set. I hope you get into a great creative feedback loop, where the satisfaction of expressing yourself creatively inspires you to do more. Good luck!
dd-bdd_b on May 19th, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC)
*I* would certainly like it if I got to see more of your photos, and if more existed, and if I got to hear you make music more. And I'm quite sure I'm not alone in these. So if outside opinion is of any value to you in this endeavor, go for it!

Energy to get things done is certainly one of the major constraining factors in *my* life.
kip_wkip_w on May 19th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
Yes. Perhaps Fred could, I dunno, put together a show of some sort. "Friendly Fred's Filk & Foto Feature" or something. I'm just blue-skyin' here, understand...
Larry Sandersonlsanderson on May 19th, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC)
At the risk of being mistaken for an idiot...
Have you considered a decent digital camera? I know it's not film, but they're smaller, easier to cart around, and waay easier to share. The picture you have and share is worth how many that you miss? Too much on that point already...

There's time and then there's time. We tend to make time for things that are important, although we all think we should make time for things we feel are important (but don't). My example is my NetFlix queue, which is filled with movies that I intellectually think I oughta see. When half of them arrive, it's to a "Meh" and they then sit around for the rest of the summer.

On the other hand, planning good. As long as it works for you. And we'd all like to see and hear you play more.
retoonedretooned on May 20th, 2007 02:32 am (UTC)
This post has vitamins. (That builds correct action 12 or more ways.)
Lydy Nickersonlydy on May 20th, 2007 06:54 am (UTC)
Thank you for clarifying a number of things that have been battling around in my brain but hadn't yet figured out who was winning the war of the words.
aszanoni on May 22nd, 2007 07:45 am (UTC)
Thank you, Fred
In a larger sense, that “showing up” or “being there” factor really is a fundamental issue for me. Past experience suggests that if I don’t have an obligation to an employer, it is quite likely I will spend a lot of my time sitting around the house, intending to get around to doing something—any number of things—Real Soon Now. [...] I don’t believe I’m lazy and I don’t think it’d be quite correct to say I’m “motivationally impaired” either. It’s hard to pin down. Sometimes I joke that I’m a living example of Newton’s first law: when I’m at rest, I tend to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. (In case you’re wondering, the second half appears to apply as well: when I’m in motion I do tend to remain in motion ….)

I am exactly like this. It is why I work best with an employer; I need that outside voice of authority. Having a deadline about to bite me WORKS.

I can sometime get lists to work, but it depends on what the list is meant to focus me on.

It may well be a factor of depression. I am bipolar/manic depressive. And I have observed that about myself as a living example of Newton's first law. In pause or play mode...

- Chica