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Kelly J. Cooper

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A Question of Leisure [Nov. 25th, 2006|02:11 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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I offered to answer questions and hammercock asked:
If you could take, say, one month, and have it be free of responsibilities or worries, and do whatever you want with it, what would you most like to do with it that you don't/can't do now?
This is an interesting question, because many MANY people would absolutely love to have a whole month to luxuriate in without having to go to work or what-have-you.

Thing is, I've done this. Since I got laid off, minus various blocked-off periods for injury, illness, and travel, I've spent a LOT of time just fuckin' around.

The amazing thing is how LITTLE I actually get done given a large quantity of unstructured time.

I have containers FULL of beading materials, but did I make any necklaces? Not really.

I have hundreds, if not over a 1,000 CDs, but did I rip any of them to my computer? Nope.

I have laundry in the bottom of my baskets that's been there for years, but did I do ALL my laundry and completely clear my baskets? No!

I love making art and sculpting, but did I take any classes or sign up with a studio? Nope!

I have boxes I haven't unpacked for... um... a long, LONG time (and no, I'm not going to just throw them away, please don't mention it). Did I unpack 'em? Not a one.

Did I read books? Oh HELL yeah. Lots and LOTS of books. Primarily science fiction and fantasy, plus some personal growth stuff. But did I catch up on my comics? No.

Perhaps part of the problem is that I always feel like I'm supposed to be doing something else, no matter what I'm doing. During a lot of this time off, I was supposed to be doing something to get money or continue skill-building and I resented it, so I ended up doing nothing, neither the fun things NOR the work things. That made recovery from burn-out a long, tedious road.

Books and TV are exceptions because I can let myself get utterly aborbed in them and that supercedes the conscious worrying. (Comics are too short and you have to stop after each monthly issue to get the next one. Too much time for feeling bad.)

Now, part of the problem with having a month free of responsibilities or worries is that my regular responsibilities and worries would need to be buttoned up before taking the break. That would require me to get my shit sufficiently together as to make enough money to pay all my bills AND have enough money left over to pay next month's bills (because I would not be working during my hypothetical month off).

But since these questions and answers are somewhat rooted in the world of fantasy, make believe, let's pretend, and hypothetical scenarios, let us slip the clutch of reality into neutral and idle the engine of my world while I consider the possibilities.

First, I would make a list of things I want to accomplish. The list should be just structured enough to Get Stuff Done (like having one thing to do every day or a project to accomplish each week or even some combination). If I manage to get all the things I want to get done actually DONE, then there will be room for pulling things from other weeks or adding stuff in.

Now, for the THINGS on that list, I'll refer back to a list I made in a Cambridge Center for Adult Education class called "100 Things To Do Before You Turn 100." It's a goofy list, but it's got the kernels of many things I want to accomplish in this life-time. Some of them are long-term goals, but some of them are applicable.

In the realm of FUN, I'd want to...
  • Make some jewelry
  • Pull out my sewing machine and play with it
  • Read from the piles and PILES of unread books
  • Catch up on all my comics AND plough through the huge stacks of trade paperback collected comics
  • Write a really crappy novel
  • Have a meal or a sit-down or even just a two-hour one-on-one conversation with each and every friend I have within the New England area
  • Throw some dinner parties
  • Maybe visit NJ and hang out with some friends there whom I've utterly neglected to the point of not knowing whether they're still my friends
  • Take a hot air balloon ride
  • Go to the Salvador Dali museum in Spain
  • Learn to dance
What's stopping me from just DOING those things when I have time? Especially given that my work life is unstructured?

Well, space is the main consideration. We only have one big work table and that's the dining room table. It's constantly covered with stuff (mostly mine, but about a third of it is the BF's and another pile is shared stuff) because that's the only space we have to process bills and things like that.

There's also that constant (and paralyzing) feeling I mentioned above that, no matter what I'm doing, I should be doing something else.

The sense that if I'm doing something fun, I'm goofing off when I should be working.

The lure, the addiction of television.

The fact that I'm broke.

In the realm of GETTING SHIT DONE, I'd like to...
  • Clean the first floor
  • Sort all my damn mail (again)
  • Finish the boards I bought - one for beading, one for macramé
  • Unpack all the boxes that still linger in corners, under tables, and in the attic
  • Do all my damn laundry
  • Get the information on every book I own into some sort of management database (then sell off duplicates)
  • Sell a bunch of junk through Craig's List & eBay
  • Revamp my office to turn the shallow closet into desk and work space with a proper keyboard tray, a bulletin board on the wall, and a filing/organizational system that I could easily maintain
  • Hang my CD shelves ON the wall on the second floor so that I could bring my music closer to where I tend to listen to it (in the bathroom stereo while showering and on my computer while logged on)
  • Build the paperback book shelves I planned and bought wood for (very narrow profile) for the bedroom
  • Hang some of the art I've got sitting around
  • Frame the rest of the art I've got sitting around
  • Hang the white board covered with various magnetic poetry kits on the hallway wall on the first floor
  • Hang a second white board (for writing on) next to it
  • Read some of the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of magazines I haven't opened or have only flipped through, but can't bear to chuck
  • Hang a bulletin board to help me remember chores and projects
Why don't I get these things done? Many of them are seriously boring if I'm doing them on my own. I run out of motivation FAST. Even with someone else keeping me company, they're tough to sustain for more than an hour or two.

Some are intimidating. I have a thing about being convinced that, if I try to hang anything, I'll damage my walls. Too many years spent renting, I guess.

I'm a packrat.

I have serious motivation issues.

The fact that I'm broke.

In the realm of stuff that would be INTERESTING, I'd like to...
  • Take an immersion class in Cantonese
  • Make food from new (to me) recipes several times a week (if not every day)
  • Spend a few days going through the MFA (actually, find and make plans to visit all the little museums in the area)
  • Learn glass blowing and manipulation
  • Write, practice, then perform a stand-up comedy routine
  • Create a memory book about my deceased uncle
  • Learn to ride a motorcycle, a horse, and a camel (not necessarily at the same time or in the same place)
That last list - they are really the things, along with the fun stuff, that I'd like to do with a month all to myself. Obviously, I wouldn't be able to do all of them, but I'd be able to do some combinations of fun and interesting, with a few Get Shit Done things to feel better about myself and my little corner of the world, given enough money and time.

Most of what's here are things that I keep meaning to do, but they slide to the bottom of the BIG TO DO list because they're dreams, they require space to work that I don't have (and don't have the energy to make), they're not things that I have on hand, they don't contribute to my ability to support myself, etc. Some are challenging, or just plain hard, several have big learning curves that require other support structures, and many of them cost money. And I just have a tough time letting myself have fun.

I also suffer from a huge lack of motivation for getting things cleaned up, organized or tossed, in a sustainable system, and all put away. I just want to skip over the DOING THAT part and go from mess to clean. (Which I suppose I could do if I hired someone, but I don't have the money and I wouldn't necessarily understand the system and know where shit is, and I'd need to be there to make the "keep or toss" decisions, cuz I don't feel like I can delegate those to someone else. Plus I just can't deal with other people's judgement.)

If there's something on this list that you, gentle reader, would also like to learn or do, drop me a note about it and maybe together we'll manage it. I would especially love to do more crafting stuff with other people.

[User Picture]From: rmd
2006-11-25 10:15 am (UTC)
hey, i was fine with hanging out and helping you deal with mail. want to do that again some time next week?
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[User Picture]From: rmd
2006-11-25 10:17 am (UTC)
also, man, i have a hard time motivating to get anything done when i'm in that kind of situation. consider how much i got done (or, rather, not done) on my house in terms of renovation while i was unemployed for more than half a year. and that was without any immediate bill issues.

*flail* *flail*

i need some structure, definitely, or i get nothing done.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2006-11-27 03:14 am (UTC)
Yeah. Plans are good. Plans help. Except when you forget you made a plan, or write it down and then can't find it in the mess. Then it's just embarassing.
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[User Picture]From: istemi
2006-11-25 12:05 pm (UTC)
Learn to ride a motorcycle, a horse, and a camel

First thought: you'd be all set for a chase scene in a Bond movie.

DUN dunna-dun DUN dun dun dun DUN dunna-dun DUN da DUN...
Boo-doot de dooooo da DOOO DOOOO! ma-na-na-NAAAAAA na NAH

Or an Indiana Jones movie.

( I don't remember the theme for Indy movies, you'll have to supply that one yourself.)

Hmmm, I should find my 100 things list, brace myself, and review it. Expect it's substantially the same as when I wrote it. I should have taken my own advice with quarterly check-ins.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2006-11-27 03:17 am (UTC)
First thought: you'd be all set for a chase scene in a Bond movie.

Exactly! If I ever wake up in a Bond movie - or a fantasy milieu, or even an alien kidnapping - I want to be prepared.

Hmmm, I should find my 100 things list, brace myself, and review it. Expect it's substantially the same as when I wrote it. I should have taken my own advice with quarterly check-ins.

Wanna compare notes sometime soonish?

I've actually found that my brain has been chewing on what I want to do since I made the list. It's definitely been part of the underlying motivation to figure out how to be happy, what makes me happy, and what kind of job I want to have for the next arbitrary time period.

So while I can't say I've gotten more than one thing done on the list (I DID in fact set up a worm bin), it's helped with the honing in on urges, desires, and plans.

I'd love the excuse to work on it again.
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[User Picture]From: lionsburg
2006-11-25 01:42 pm (UTC)
Doing nothing is more painful than doing something.

You've written an entire (several) essay about how you don't get stuff done, why you don't get it done, and how you love to get something done. Then do something. Even if that something is just picking up one paper out of the hundreds that need to be sorted through. Picking up and dealing with that one page is doing something. You made a first step, and you can't complain that nothing was done.

And if you do something, don't go off about how much more that needs to be done. Its only going to demotivate you from doing more. You did one thing, that's something. By doing that one thing, even if just 5 seconds worth of work, you broke the cycle of, even for a moment, "I need to get something done! Oh my god, there's all these things that need to get done! I don't want to do them! I'm going to slack off.. (5 minutes later) I need to get something done! Oh my god, there's all these things.. " (rinse. lather. repeat.)

Don't tear yourself apart about the things you aren't doing -- how does this help you?

And here's the question, do you really have to do ALL of it? Why about only do a little bit of it and screw the rest?
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2006-11-27 03:13 am (UTC)
You sound kinda impatient. Or maybe I'm projecting, I'm not sure.

On this journal, I might be sounding all whiny and wasting time on the typing, but writing these posts has actually helped me work through a bunch of my unexamined processes. And, in terms of time/effort, it's a drop in the bucket compared to a lifetime of sloppiness and slob behavior. I was a messy kid. I come from messy parents. They straightened their lives out. I can too. I just need to figure out how, a bit at a time. If that's going to frustrate you, you probably won't enjoy my journal.

But it's not like I haven't tried the things you suggest. I have a dozen magazine holders scattered around the living room and I think, every time I get up out of my chair, "I should put another magazine in a box." And I do. And it might break the cycle, but it's insufficiently rewarding to sustain a new cycle. And I can always find something to complain about. That's another thing I'm working on.

As for the bad cycle...

"I need to get something done! Oh my god, there's all these things that need to get done! I don't want to do them! I'm going to slack off.. (5 minutes later) I need to get something done! Oh my god, there's all these things.. "

...it's not really that automatic or angsty. It's just a kind of "fuck it" and eventually I stop seeing the mess. Or "fuck it" and I ignore my laundry until I'm out of underwear. There's a bad feeling or the need to remember to get something done that takes up space in my head, and that's a problem. If I could really just be blasé about it, life would be easier.

The trick is to convince myself that by doing something NOW, I get it done and don't have to think about it later. Plus, the end result will be pleasing to me. That's pretty hard. The immediate gratification of slacking is tough to overcome with the promise of future goodness. I'm practicing that, which makes it easier, but it's tough to apply in a consistent and wide-spread fashion.

And here's the question, do you really have to do ALL of it? Why about only do a little bit of it and screw the rest?

Because that's what I usually do. It's a kind of stop gap measure that doesn't address the core of the issue and still leaves me feeling like a slacker. Doing just enough to get by isn't enough for me anymore.
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[User Picture]From: rmd
2006-11-27 12:11 am (UTC)
btw, just came across this and thought of you:
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2006-11-27 01:19 am (UTC)
Cool! That's one of the exercises in Learn to Be an Optimist by Lucy MacDonald (except it's one thing a day).
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