Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tricked my Perfectionism with Some Procrastination

Points to the wife for having the patience to deal with me over the last 24 hours. My behavior had befit an artistế. And sadly, my behavior had its benefits.

Last week, I posted a great article about procrastination. It addressed how perfectionism can lead to procrastination. I easily fit into that category of procrastination even if I work all the darn time on my project. Maybe it’s my way of procrastinating on emotional issues.

I have these big goals, but getting to them requires a lot of steps. I’m a dreamer who has trouble mapping out the route to the final destination. Or I was when I got out college ten or more years ago. Crap, has it been that long?

The above article made a great point about reality in terms of the perfectionist procrastinator. They’ll set their goals so high that they can’t be reached or takes superhuman effort to reach. Respectable enough to muster that much strength, but is it really worth it?

A lot of the times, no, it’s not. The perfectionist may feel like a cop out or failure by settling for a lesser goal. That smaller goal, a lot of people would probably find respectable enough or possibly just as superhuman as the huge goal.

And it’s not really worth your while to work the rest of your life on something you can’t finish in one big leap. Better to take smaller steps, get more rewards that will probably have a sum of more staying power than just accomplishing one big thing and even. . .oh, I don’t know. . .enjoy life.

I did some serious thinking after reading that article. Maybe I should just screw that project and go back to school. Thought about it. I bargained it down to maybe taking a class that might help the project, then I bartered the idea down further to finishing up some books that I was reading at the time. The one I had started reading soon before seeing the procrastination article felt like it had some potential.

Finished the book, Money, Morals and Politics: Massachusetts in the Age of the Boston Associates by William Hartford, last night. It provided some good information in an easy read.

I found it so gripping that I read ¾ of the book last night. Accidently stayed up until about 2 AM reading it. That, in itself, signals a hyperfocused moment.

The information still felt lacking, though, so I skimmed it, looking for something I missed. Realized that I didn’t miss anything in the book, even though a lot of the political quotes and back and forth went in one eye then out an ear. Still have a hard time remembering any of the details at the end.

I still had gaps in my knowledge about the topic of my project. Figured I should stick to the bargain I made with myself. The books filled in some bit of information but not enough to let me plow through the paper writing process.

Went to bed telling myself that I’m done with it. I’ll start looking into options for taking a class or going back to school. The thought continued from the moment I fell asleep to the second I awoke, almost like time didn’t pass. One moment, dark with the floodlight from our neighbors blinding us in bed then the sun blinded me.

Looked at a couple college Websites. Costs scared me. Decided not to worry about that part yet. Figured I needed to find somewhere to address the course of study that I want to follow. Don’t even really know what course of study to follow. Realize that I need to chop things down into smaller steps and take them one at a time. It would prove difficult, but I had to learn humbleness and patience.

Ran into an article this morning about our unconsciousness making decisions better than our conscious, especially during sleep. I kinda knew the jist of this article, having read about something similar in Rollo May’s The Courage to Create. Never had it work as well as it did for me today. . .well, kinda work, I guess.

Spent the morning brainstorming my interests and likes for fields and subjects, not censoring myself for practicality, whether I really like it or not, whether I was good at it or not or whatever. I just wrote down whatever came to mind. Came up with so many ideas that the wife had to tell me to calm down, and I had to remind her it was a brainstorming exercise.

At lunchtime came the game changers. The case in my current paper is actually fairly arbitrary. Yeah, it’s a utopian community, but there’s tons of them that have existed from the beginning of civilization. Even better, a huge explosion of them occurred at the same time as the one I’m writing about existed.

I could just stop researching and writing about the one community then move to one more local. I wouldn’t have to go back to Massachusetts or have friends go to the Boston Public Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society or wherever else to get primary sources.

I could just pick a community in Illinois and go to places in Illinois for primary sources. Oh heck, I could probably do just as well picking a community in Wisconsin, Michigan or Indiana.

So all is well. I’m all happy and feeling care free. Then I get an idea. Why don’t I put a couple search terms about the holes in my knowledge after reading Mr. Hartford’s book into Google? At the very least, it’ll provide me a couple minutes of entertainment and enlightenment.

Then oh crap, guess what I find? The fill for the holes in my knowledge.

Back to the research and writing desks, I guess. This damned albatross around my neck. . .it just abuses me to no end, and I keep coming back, begging for more. Why do I do it?


Links of Interest: article about procrastination, Money, Morals and Politics: Massachusetts in the Age of the Boston Associates by William Hartford, article this morning about our unconsciousness making decisions better than our conscious, especially during sleep, Rollo May’s, The Courage to Create, utopian, Boston Public Library, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

DorkCast

So during the approximately 20 hours of being trapped on a plane during our vacation, I had the opportunity to engage in more enriching leisure activities than usual. Probably the most inspiring of all those activities was listening to the Dorkcast podcast.

Three friends of mine, Jeffery Smith, Paul Schreiber and Shawn McDowell, have set up Dorkcast as a talk show about geek pop culture (comics, video games, tabletop role playing games and SFF TV and movies) and technology. Every once in awhile they invite guests or a huge crowd to join them.

I've listened to five episodes of the podcast thus far. As with blogs that interest me, I'm listening to each episode from the first one up to the most current one, chronologically. Integrating blog entries and apparently podcast episodes into an imagined personality provides me with enjoyment.

I also have an ulterior motive to listening from the beginning: these guys are friends, but I really haven't hung out with them beyond Dungeons & Dragons sessions. Listening to their podcast provides me with a passive way of painting a picture of them at a leisurely pace.

It probably creates an unbalanced dynamic between us. I might gain more knowledge about their opinions and personalities than they will have mine. Such is the dynamic of becoming public personality and associating with one, I guess.

But if they want to level the playing field, they could read this blog from the beginning. Probably still unfair, however, as reading is generally more of an active undertaking.

Personally, I can't have talk radio in the background when doing something that involves conscious focus. When doing something like cooking or brushing my teeth, however, listening to talk radio doesn't distract me from the primary activity.

I only have a couple real complaints about the first five episodes: they don't have the best sound quality. The panelists' voices often get lower than my I-Pod, headphones and possibly than my ears can register. Easy enough to infer what the person said from what their fellow panelists say, but I would rather hear what the original person said.

I mentioned the complaint to Paul. He said the problem comes from two sources. The mics aren't the best, so the panelists have to make up for the mic deficiency by speaking directly and loudly into the mics.

Compensating for mics with speaking technique, however, involves a learning curve. Not necessarily a complicated feat to accomplish, but not intuitive, either. Using the mics can require learning the technique or trial and error.

I also didn’t care for the fifth episode. Just about the whole episode consisted of the panelists choosing a super power they would love to have and a shit power that was useless. They also invited up people from a crowd to do the same. The first ten minutes of it were fun, but it got a little old.

Dorkcast works best when they discuss a topic for about ten minutes or so then move onto another topic. Maybe some discussions could go on for a good amount of time, but the whole cool power/shit power got a little self indulgent. There were some gems in there, though, including: using super speed to steel a drink from a bar and getting away, “I’d like to see you vibrate for 30 seconds” and a super fast person running into a cicada that then bored through their head.

Otherwise, I think Dorkcast could become a great resource. My life generally consists of work, researching and writing for my bachelors project, chores, eating, sleeping, watching some TV, dating the wife and some socializing when I get the chance. Sounds nerdy, but playing tabletop role playing games counts as my main form socializing, and I still consider it experiential research.

I don't have much time to keep up with technology, video games, comic books and other topics that Dorkcast covers. The show sums up some of the latest news in these topics with some thoughtful and amusing debate about them.

I kind of wish that they would cover more topics, but I think there's plenty of other sources for me to get this news if I wanted to do so. If Dorkcast just reported on the news of these fields, they'd just be repeating information that other sources provide.

The debate format works well. They provide food for thought on the topics they cover. I can't say how original their viewpoints get. Like I said, I don't allow myself the time to keep up with this stuff.

For a casual geek like me, though, the show provides enough information and viewpoints to keep up with the ever developing tech and geek cultures. I'm listening to episodes from just about a year ago. A lot of the stuff they bring up is either current events to me or brand new information.

They may even get ahead of the news curve, too, as they were discussing Microsoft Windows 7 last year when the new OS was released to the general public just today.

The podcast does a good job of keeping the dabbler in geek culture informed. For those immersed in geek culture, it might provide some good thought food and entertainment.

Links of interest: Dorkcast, Jeffery Smith, Paul Schreiber, Microsoft Windows 7

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Finding a Little Focus in Leisure

Last week, the wife and I took a real American vacation to Hawaii and visited some friends in LA. None of that holiday vacation travel or travel for a wedding this time!

We took a whole week off, rested a fairly small amount, packed tons of active things to do into each day and got 8 hours of sleep every night (not because we felt the obligation for our health but because we did so much and our bodies needed the sleep).

Only disappointment: We didn't find an ancient tiki doll (and here and here) lying around that could've possibly given us bad luck.

Probably the best part of the vacation was the time to engage in leisure activity. I'm not talking about catching up with friends, exploring Hawaii or taking part in physical activity, as much fun as all that provided.

Rather, I'm referring to leisure activities like speculating about technology and literary/TV/science fiction continuity with friends, reading science fiction for fun, plowing through episodes of Law & Order that I had taking up space on my laptop and even listening to Dorkcast, a podcast produced by a few friends.

Deep down, a life of leisurely consumption while a good amount of people live in poverty and squeak by week-to-week through their labor feels like a vice. Nonetheless, I hold dear those extended moments when I can engage in a variety of leisurely consumption. I feel more engaged and part of the world during those times.

Idealistic as I am, one of my main goals is to help the whole human race be able to have increased leisure without immorality or ill health. After all, immorality and ill health tend to take away from leisure.

On Facebook before the vacation, I mused about losing my focus. Increasing leisure for each and every human being is part of that focus. I'd like to explore the topic more before I get sucked back into the tedium of everyday life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Musings on Lack of Clarity in Primary Documents

I've complained aplenty over the years about the lack of clarity in the primary documents written by George Ripley, the founder of Brook Farm.

Big issue I've had with Ripley has been his failure to define terms.

I guess it's the usual issue with human communication, though. Everyone in a conversation or argument believes all the participating parties share the same definitions and communication conventions. Then once argument or conversation devolves into semantics, people don't want to continue the interchange unless they're the more clever party or extremely committed to their cause.

I've gotten into reading one of Ripley's inspirations, William Ellery Channing, to try understanding more the intentions of Ripley and Brook Farm. People may not recognize Channing's name these days, but he has influenced a few people with sermons and some of his writings.

Channing's more well known sermons and writings include: “Self Culture” (probably one of the prime influences on Ralph Waldo Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists) and “Slavery”, which argued for the equality of all man and provided an allegedly well thought out argument against slavery based on humans being created in the image of God (even though Channing didn't like disruptive activism). I say allegedly because I haven't read the whole of “Slavery” yet.

Suffice to say, Channing fails to define things clearly through all his sermons and writings that I've had the fortune to read. Channing argues for teaching people a religious and moral education. He doesn't provide a definition for these kinds of education or even what form a religious and moral education should take.

As for the benefit these types of education, they lead to a more stable society and someone less likely to indulge in vice: like excessive drinking, beating family members, sexual licentiousness and so on and so forth. These forms of education also will help the individuals get into heaven and on the good side of God.

The last benefit probably creates the clincher for Channing and his associates. Easy enough to argue that the upper classes could attach themselves to this type of argument because (a) they weren't expected to need the moral and religious educations as much since they had other "social pressures" to worry about, according to the people espousing the need for religious and moral education among some classes of people (see the 7th screen [“screen” meaning number of times scrolled down from the top of the Webpage] in the Preface of Andrews Norton’s A Statement of Reasons for Not Believing the Doctrines of the Trinitarians, Concerning the Nature of God and the Person of Christ (1819, 1833, 1859) and (b) if the middling and lower classes bought into the education, they would likely regulate themselves individually or by the family and work hard.

It didn't appeal to the middling and lower classes that much, though. I've tried finding information on why it didn't. I can't find a good argument against this approach by the people championing these middling and lower classes that practiced "infidelity." They either devolved into name calling their enemies aristocrats, citing past scholars for their own stance without any substantial criticism of the opposition, or they spent their energies trying to just open the ears of their opposition to reach enough of an understanding for a substantial debate.

At the same time, though, Channing didn't, in my opinion, make a compelling argument for buying into the moral and religious education. I say this as someone who agrees with him, too, on some level.

Maybe not necessarily the religious side, but I believe that receiving a moral education, learning to regulate and control yourself and trying to enrich the self leads to more fulfillment in life, whether you be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, New Age, atheist, agnostic or whatever belief system you subscribe to.

Part of my ambivalence about Channing's arguments for people getting these types of education and fitting into an undefined category for unclear benefits probably comes from my ambivalence about the supposed accepted religious beliefs of the time and also of trying to REALLY understand late 18th-century to early 19th-century America/New England/Boston area.

I generally follow a fairly humanistic empirical scientific theory approach to the world, the universe and metaphysics. There are things that I, as an individual, and the human race knows and understands about existence.

Existence holds a lot that the human race has built understanding around. It also holds a lot that the human race doesn't have an inkling about.

The existence of God, to me, is beyond the understanding of the human race right now. . .or, at least, to me. How do we go about arguing the nature of God, the big issue between the Unitarians of Channing of his time and the Calvinistic Congregationalists at the time, when we can't provide irrefutable proof of God's existence? And how do we know that we are seeing irrefutable proof of God unless we know the nature of God? Creates something of an epistemological catch-22.

These questions, in themselves, beg a whole lot more questions, and those will most certainly beg for even more bigger questions. The number of questions on this topic force my rationality to remain open and wait to see where the facts and human understanding lead us for an answer. Even then, human understanding remains ever fallible and worth questioning to make sure we haven't misunderstood those things that we hold most dear.

Some might call me a skeptic.

So yeah, my ambivalence of the benefit of Channing's argument for unity among people and getting a religious and moral education may stem from my near-instinctual skepticism about nearly all knowledge and understanding, especially anecdotal and subjective knowledge about non-social information.

Social fact deserves skepticism, too. Social existence and relationships among people, however, have a slipperier aspect to them because of their bases in numerous perspectives and behaviors.

Not only that, but us human beings have something of an instinct to rebel against other people categorizing ourselves with social labels. If someone does the categorizing, it will be the person doing it to themselves.

My skeptical ambivalence of Christianity and supernatural rationalism creates a gap the blocks me from seeing the full "story" and "reaching an understanding." Channing, in my opinion, doesn't provide an explanation or purpose to satisfy someone with this kind of ambivalence.

Did this kind of ambivalence exist anywhere in Boston, Massachusetts, New England or the United States at the time? The Deists, including Jefferson and possibly even other founding fathers ((even Washington pretty much went to church more for social graces than anything), held a fair amount of skepticism of the understandings of Christianity previously.

More-orthodox Christians attacked the Unitarianism of the time that they got doctrines wrong, which included Christ not being part of the Holy Trinity. Nonetheless, the Unitarians at that time still believed Christ was on the level of savior.

The Transcendentalists received insults calling them pantheists and un-Christian. The Transcendentalists simply saw Christ as the highest example of man connecting with the Divine, not as being Divine. The majority of the Transcendentalists, however, still had some degree of monotheistic belief, even if somewhat influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism.

But what did the middle and lowering classes think? They didn't all believe the same thing, obviously. According to George Ripley, , Orestes Brownson along with probably others I don't know believed that Unitarianism didn't appeal to the lower and middling classes because of a complicated theology. I also think that the religion didn't address the concerns of the middle and lowering classes, which I don't even have a clue about.

From my all too brief understanding of those times, the more orthodox Congregationalists of the Massachusetts area appealed more to the lower and middling classes. The orthodox had made a concerted effort, however, by working more often with the Democratic-Republican party.

The business class in Boston practically used the Unitarian movement to get the orthodox Christians out of town. Giving some of the most powerful chairs at Harvard to Unitarians pissed off the orthodox Congregationalists.

A big lawsuit in Dedham that established that the property of a church/parish (a parish was a political/civic district in Boston at the time) was the property of the parish, not the church made things even worse, sending the orthodox out of the city and looking for support elsewhere.

I'll admit: I haven't looked incredibly deep into ALL the different perspectives in the matter. I've been just trying to understand the matter as it directly applies to the guy, George Ripley, and the community, Brook Farm.

Trying to fully understand the matter by looking at all the perspectives scares me. I wouldn't want even more crazy questions to pop up. I'm a bachelor student, not a professional historian!

Nonetheless, I’m pushing through the fear. I’m having to check out other secondary sources. Those sources are easy. . .they tell you practically everything. At the same time, though, they can leave out details that may not support their stance and hypothesis.

Primary sources scare me. I have yet to find an organized way to go through them to find useful information. Maybe I haven’t found the most useful way to look through secondary sources, but at least secondary sources make it clear where they’re going and possibly how they’re connected to each other. Primary sources, though, they don’t always map things out usefully, the author makes a lot of assumptions that I can’t understand immediately and, as I’ve been complaining in this entry, don’t always provide useful context.

And don’t even let me get into primary sources that are handwritten. It’s like translating a foreign language!

I wrote this entry mostly months ago. It’s pretty much a primary source, itself. I fear for a person in the future who might use it to try figuring out me, my personality, my psychology and the context of things around me. As with most primary resources, skepticism must be used and then it probably has to be cross referenced with other primary sources.

It’s a lot of work. . .and, unfortunately, I’m having to teach myself the skills required to use primary sources efficiently. How quaint and precious, eh?
Links of interest: by George Ripley, Brook Farm, William Ellery Channing, “Self Culture”, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Slavery”, Andrews Norton’s, A Statement of Reasons for Not Believing the Doctrines of the Trinitarians, Concerning the Nature of God and the Person of Christ (1819, 1833, 1859), supernatural rationalism, Deists, Thomas Jefferson, deist tendencies, even Washington pretty much went to church more for social graces than anything, Transcendentalists, Democratic-Republican party