Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Last Workshop Before the Wedding

Tomorrow night, I get to reap the benefits of the Chicago-SF writing workshop without having to put any selfless work into preparation. I get to bring a book with writing exercises, but I don't have the fairly demanding responsibility of criticizing other people's work. They certainly provide some entertaining stuff to read, but providing constructive reactions and advice can get somewhat strenuous. It requires a good deal of attention while reading and dedicating some time to read pieces more than once.

I've submitted a total re-working of the piece revolving around the high school kid who has some powers, some angst and a bit of growing up to do. It only amounts to a page and half, but it takes a scene from the middle, puts it in the beginning and provides a little more of an introspective viewpoint from the main character's viewpoint. I hope it provides something more compelling and original. The last workshop really did a constructive number on both my ego and writing skill, creating quite a challenge for me by someone saying that one character came off as stereotypical and both "colleagues" telling me that they wanted more detail about the main character. Has it really only been a month since the last meeting?

The workshop meeting also marks a turning point, being the last writing workshop I attend as a legally single man. Our first out of town wedding guest arrives this Friday. My wedding "vacation" from work starts next week, on Wednesday. I have a bachelor party Thursday night, the rehearsal dinner on Friday and the wedding happens on Saturday. The future wife (let's toss the whole fiancee thing) and I have practiced our foxtrot Sunday and Monday. After doing some errands and meeting with the photographer, we were too tired to practice tonight, and tomorrow, I'll have the writing workshop. After that, though, we plan on practicing more every night that we have the chance. And, of course, tons of stuff to be done to prepare for the big day.

My first real gut feeling of getting married hit me this morning. It's really pretty hard to describe. Things just felt grounded, and my gut felt a little droopy, not in a sad kind of way. . .more like a "things will be changing and this is realization setting in." It didn't feel bad or good, just real and focusing. Up to now, I've just been thinking, "It's going to happen. Maybe it won't be perfect, but we're going to get married. Things will change but how much can they really change? We've been dating each other for so long, been living together for awhile, we've worked through some difficulties, we realize that we'll go through some tough spots and throw wedding rings at each other and around the room. . .but really, how much will things change?"

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi makes a good point in Flow.

When two people choose to focus their attention on each other, both will have to change their habits; as a result, the pattern of their consciousness will also have to change. Getting married requires a radical and permanent reorientation of attentional habits. (p. 177)

Heavy stuff. Nonetheless, it sounds like a good thing to keep in mind, especially since there will be some big deflation after the wedding. Our attentional energies will be changing. Tonight, I said I'm looking forward to the wedding to get done with, so I can focus my attention on finishing my bachelor's project. The future wife looks forward for the wedding to end so that she can focus more attention on classes and hopefully longer work hours. The strange thing, really, is the realization that we don't just work to do these things to just realize ourselves and our goals, we do them also to make our relationship stronger and push the existence of our marriage and relationship stronger, further and onward. This is just the beginning of the journey, and I think tomorrow's workshop makes for a good "final" marker. . .the death of single writing The_Lex to the married writing The_Lex.

I could probably go on forever about this whole thing, and it probably could be beneficial for me to do so. It's getting late, though. Besides, I probably have plenty of gut feelings to experience as the wedding grows closer. Here's to the gut, truthiness and getting married.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Trying to Create Flow

I'm trying to get back into the Flow, especially after reading most of Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Some people, especially athletes, refer to the Flow as being in "the zone." I guess we could probably consider it the "groove," too.

In the book, Csikszentmihalyi explains that the Flow is essentially a time when our attention facilities are honed and at an optimum point. It can happen spontaneously, but more often than not, though, we engage Flow through the practice of a skill and/or activity that focuses our attention a ton. Meditation, ritual, habits and other things that help organize our attention can help us get into the Flow.

As a warning, though, we can get addicted to the Flow. One semester, I had got really into enter It. It involved a lot of dance classes, a yoga class, a martial arts class and playing 4-square after meals (which reminds me, I've really got to check out the 4-square games just down the street on Sundays. . .). All these disciplines gave me a good excuse to get away from my writing and classes that weren't going so well. Where once I found Flow, I couldn't find it again. Not necessarily the best time of my life for productivity. . .but I've gotten over it and have moved on.

I also found Flow pretty good when I had worked a state park in Vermont for about a month or so. Early in the morning, I would wake up, do some stretches then meditate a little. Throughout the day, the team would do work around the Park, have meals together, have some interesting discussions and do a lot of chilling. Lots of writing got done then, too. I really enjoyed the Flow I experienced there and wish I hadn't messed it up. Once again, though, that's in the past, and I've come to a good place again.

Back in September and October, when I worked at Fannie Mae, I had a good groove going on. It switched around a little, but it basically went: get home from work, empty litter box, clean dishes, make food for the next day then write, write and write some more until I couldn't write anymore. Unfortunately, I neglected the job search at the time but everything has turned out well, for now, and I really enjoyed the experience of doing all that writing while in the Flow.

A couple months ago, when the Chicago-SF writing workshop started, I wrote A LOT. Every day I would come home from work at the insurance agency, get my pen and paper out then start writing like a fiend. While in the Flow then, I could write something like 2 or 3 pages without even trying. The experience just carried me away and sucked me into it. I lost myself.

Now I may have some factors against me: wedding, tons of people coming to stay with us and help do tons of wedding errands, the wedding errands, family, work at the insurance agency has started hitting a rough spot (because I need to use my empathy and imagination more, apparently, and find Flow there, too), practicing the fox trot for the wedding, attempting to have a social life, trying to keep the TiVo from getting cluttered and making sure that shows don't conflict now (especially since Comcast in Chicago has digitized most of the channels, so they end up going through the cable box rather than direct to the TV), playing with kitties, etc. etc. I doubt I'll have a great routine set up until after the wedding, but I'm OK with that. Then. . .then I'll get my Flow going.

One thing I always wonder, though, about creating Flow. As much as it's good to enter, things will happen that will throw off routines. A long while ago, I brought up a conversation I had with someone where they criticized my large amounts of organization and routine as not normal. Well, it gets me into Flow, but there's a point there: What happens when that routine gets thrown off? Making that routine and creating Flow is hard work. Does it take a special person to shrug off the routine getting thrown off on a regular basis? How much work does it take to get back into that routine? How possible is it to enter the Flow without routine? How does one acquire the sense of calm and flexibility to adapt to different situations and create Flow even as things change?

On some level, I'd like to make Flow an important goal and topic of my life. I think I'm doing that even now with my bachelor's project, focusing on utopianism. Utopia and Flow could be synonymous, for all we know. At least, I'm following that path for my project.

Here's to Flow.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Some Things to Understand About My Intensity

I don't think people truly appreciate the level of intensity at which I live. Only last night did the fiancee come close to understanding my mindset when it comes to my bachelor's project and other herculean tasks.

Rollo May, in his book Psychology and the Human Dilemma, probably touches upon my intensity best. In the book, May differentiates between normal anxiety and neurotic anxiety. Normal anxiety acts to our bodies response to a fearful situation, and if we resolve that situation, the anxiety level goes down again. Neurotic anxiety, on the other hand, is unresolved anxiety that we have ignored or repressed to the point that comes back again and annoy us until we've resolved the root source of that anxiety. People sometimes try to lower their anxiety level by taking drugs, watching TV and engaging in other relaxing or pleasurable activities, but unless they resolve root causes, that anxiety will continue to haunt a person.

As many of you know, I've been working on my bachelor's project for a long while. The labor on it has somewhat reached a point where I'm annoyed with it and wouldn't mind just finishing it and moving on with my life. Someone from work the other day said that age 47, I'd look back to the present day and feel like I had wasted it away because I didn't have the right priorities. Now, she didn't say that because she thought I had the wrong ones but just because it's the way of life. She had even told me that I should just enjoy the journey instead of worrying so much about finishing it. I told her that I already look back anytime between 6 or 10 years ago and feel like my priorities were out of place. Frankly, this journey has gotten frustrating to the point of boredom at times.

The fiancee, at some point in the past, mentioned that she worried about me because of how agitated I got when the project frustrated me. She wanted to just take my mind off of it. Well, she also worried that working on the project wasn't getting anywhere and would lead to nothing in the end, but that's another story. Only the other night, when I explained to her that even though I could work a white- or pink-collar day job and have the capacity for success in them if I put my mind to it, they pretty much eat at my soul. Except for maybe certain specialized, creative fields that hold my attention, I get extremely bored, distracted, anxious and pretty much just work for the money.

When I find myself engrossed in the project, I love life and feel invigorated. I feel free. More than likely, other writing and research projects would do the same thing for me. I see finishing this project and getting my degree as the ticket to freedom, where I can spend 9-5 doing work that invigorates and feels significant to me, including even writing an essay on a TV tray.

Given this situation, not working on the project fills me with anxiety. The only way to permanently get rid of this anxiety will be to get the project done, so I can work on moving onto the next step of my life, which I hope will be many of these projects. The core of my current anxiety is this project, not having a degree and being forced to work in an industry that doesn't interest me.

Addressing and fixing this anxiety will involved working on the project, in which I get to face another anxiety, but a more positive and shorter term one. All these anxieties, if approached correctly, make for very positive growth and happiness on my part.

My co-worker probably does make a good point, that I should enjoy the journey while it lasts. I guess, when it comes down to it, though, I enjoy the journey of working on the project. As for enjoying the distractions from my journey that are supposed to help alleviate the anxiety and stress of it, I generally don't do it well unless it's something that engrosses my attention. Even then, I feel a strange guilt that I didn't find pleasure in the distraction, as most people do, but that's just because, for some reason, my mind and body don't want to be distracted. They simply want to engross themselves in the things they enjoy, which includes this project and the other projects it can lead to.

So, yeah, I'm a pretty intense person. I don't necessarily want to skydive, bungee jump, go on roller coasters, get dropped in the middle of nowhere with no money to my name or anything like that. Instead, I want to engross myself into projects that will feel significant to me and hopefully do the same to other people who encounter them. Maybe I'll be able to relax more after finishing the project and having the freedom to work on projects from 9-5, 5 days of week. For now, though, I feel anxiety when not working on this project.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Office on a Budget

Ever since moving to Chicago and setting up my home office in the room between our foyer and galley kitchen, I've had problems with having enough space. Whether it comes down to just placing a random object somewhere to get it out of my hands, have a piece of paper easily available to transcribe from or simply somewhere to put a pen to paper, I simply haven't had a convenient place to put anything (at least not at eye level and not where the cats like to perch).

So imagine how elated I was when the fiancee said something like "Why don't you just use one of the TV trays?" Admittedly, she said that in response to a complaint I made about not having anywhere to put a bowl or plate while working at the computer. I have used my lap or any small available space amongst all the clutter that you see in the picture. Unfortunately, when eating food this way, I more than likely would spill something on my lap, my shirt or the floor. Having tomato on a shirt really doesn't smack of fun.

This idea doesn't work amazingly just for food, either. I've mentioned plenty of good uses for it in the first paragraph, liking using it to write on, to put more clutter on, to put reference material on, to lean on, so many things to put on the thing!

Two other aspects make this arrangement the coup-d'etat: the low cost and the spatial convenience. OK, maybe I don't know how much we spent on the tray but since we had it already, it feels inexpensive to me. Combine the serendipitous cost savings of this product as compared to more specialized products of this kind with its versatility and ease of movement, and this piece of furniture provides so much more value than that product just for the office. You can switch which side of the chair you want it on for writing ease, transcribing comfort and variety and whatever other uses you may have for it. On top of that, you can take it into the other room to eat food on it while watching TV or to do work somewhere you may not usually, including outside.

Something like this probably doesn't fit in with the rest of the office or the random location in your home, but the ease of movement provides some of the best value in this situation. You can just fold it up and put it away. Its design won't clash with the rest of the room, so you don't fear the judgment of any guests. Neither will it take up valuable space, so you can move around freely, getting some exercise, practice those dance steps or do some project on the floor. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. This aspect will also most certainly work to the advantage of people who live in tight living spaces like a studio apartment or even their bedroom.

For those looking for more workspace or workspace that you can move around the home but are on a financial or spatial budget, this TV tray will work really well for you. This idea could also make for a great modular aesthetic to your home. Maybe you like change, don't necessarily feel comfortable settling down with a furniture arrangement or simply do a variety of things in your home or maybe your studio/office outside the home. The easily movable TV tray could make for a great beginning to the interior design of your imagination. Just think of the possibilities.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Ruminating and Trying to Resolve Friendships Gone Sour

I sent an apologetic e-mail to someone I haven't spoken to in a couple years. Unlike at least a couple people who have dropped out of my life over the last decade or so, this person's ending communication doesn't come as much of a surprise. They revealed an insecurity to me, then I essentially told them I didn't want to hear it. Haven't heard anything from them since.

These types of things stick with me. For awhile, I made huge deals about them because my mind would unconsciously ruminate upon them while letting my conscious brain eavesdrop. It was something of an obsessive thing. After learning more about ADHD and that I have a minor case of it, I had an easier time just letting my mind chatter and telling myself that it didn't really matter.

Nonetheless, there's something about me that really likes the idea of being close friends with people and connecting with them and networking and making more friends. I'm not necessarily the best at all that stuff, but I just keep trying. I kind of hope that my recent humbling will open this door to a pretty damn interesting, if very quirky person and could possibly help improve both our lives.