A Composition on Composition

A Composition is a thing composed of various elements.

This post is a thing composed of definition and memory and an attempt to find balance.

First – definition:

See first sentence.

Second – memory:

Seventh grade english class: I am wearing my glasses because they are new. Before the week is out, I will lose them through a combination of negligence and embarrassment. ‘Four-Eyes’ is a commonly used phrase. Nerds are not cool yet.

While I can still see the board, I absorb the teacher’s lessons like a sponge. She is and always will be my favorite teacher. The repetitive boredom of summer sluffs off my sun-soaked brain and I leap into learning grammar and poetry and composition with the thrill of a diver on the high board.

The first composition assignment is written in purple ink at the top of my brand new homework notebook. The title of the composition is written in blue ink on the top of the first page of my brand new composition book. Over the weekend, the book bag containing both items sits ignored in the back-hall, while September skies pull me, briefly, back into summer.

Sunday night, at the dining room table, its varnished surface covered in the pressed pen-marks of two generations of homework-doers, my siblings and I struggle to finish what should have been done by now. The composition fails to live up to anyone’s expectations, including my own. On Monday the first C  is given and received, establishing the pattern of the year to follow.

Third – balance:

The word ‘composition’ always felt the way sour milk smells. Bad – off – wrong.  Back when writing was a chore, back when I didn’t know how to move thoughts from mind to paper. So hard back then, not so hard now. I’ve had a lot of practice since then.

The word ‘composition’ always related to words, a softer sort of essay, an alternative for the old-fashioned theme. But now it is reorienting itself in my brain. Expanding into new territory the way an amoeba moves a pseudopod to the next place it wants to go.

The word ‘composition’ now relates to art, my newest skill. Composition is what makes art interesting. A drawn banana is just as boring to look at on paper as it is to look at in real life. No matter how perfect the execution, a banana is a banana is a banana.

There are, as I am currently learning, eight elements of composition in art. One of which is balance. I learn that the balance of the elements of a piece can affect the mood. As in real life, when things are balanced, I am calm; when things are out of whack, I am a stressed out wacko.

Last – the composition:

At this moment, I am wearing my glasses. Perhaps the twentieth or so pair of my life. I can’t think of the last time I heard the phrase ‘four-eyes’ and nerds are cool now. Composition doesn’t turn my stomach any more. Composition takes the pieces of my abilities, my old skills and new skills, and sparks potential creative recombinations. The trick is finding the balance, holding on to the things that let me see what’s on the board, and not getting sucked into dull boredom of repetitivity.

My Personal Demon

“My nemesis is dead. Now what?” – Michael Cunningham

The intriguing part of that six word story is the second sentence. But I couldn’t get past the first.

What is my nemesis? My own, personal demon that trips me up at every turn. That haunts my days and nights, threatening always, never resting. What is it that defines my existence by virtue of my constant struggle against it?

I’m thinking about this as I sit curled up in my comfy chair, notebook in my lap, pen in one hand and a mug of hot chocolate in the other, staring up at the ceiling. The latest manuscript attempt sits open on the computer, untouched for days. Laundry looms in a teetering pile next to the bed. Paper and scissors and glue lie scattered across the floor, detritus of a half-finished christmas gift.

Perhaps laziness is my nemesis.

And guess what, there’s a demon for that.

In Zoroastrian mythology, Bushyasta is the Demon of Sloth. The wikipedia entry describes her as ‘long-handed’ and ‘yellow, golden and green.’ There are hints, woven through the words of the entry, to hitting the snooze button in the early morning, and to the unproductive hours of the late afternoon that drag into days and weeks and years. “She is the cause of procrastination as she strives to keep the righteous from performing productive tasks.” She is also said to ‘weaken the breath,’ apropos for a person like myself with crappy lungs and no stamina.

Can Bushyasta help define me? Can a mythological invention add depth and shadow to the image I have of myself? A nemesis should be inescapable, implacable, and worthy of a lifetime of struggle against. Bushyasta could be that for me.

In an episode of RadioLab, Elizabeth Gilbert spoke of the benefits of having a muse, something external to oneself to blame for the successes and failures of any creative endeavor. I don’t feel the need for the muse, the inspiration part anyway. I don’t lack for ideas. I just lack the will to do anything with them. But maybe by anthropomorphizing and externalizing the obstacle, I can do something about it.

be-gone-demon
Be Gone Demon! Can’t you see I’m working here?

Thing is, I know exactly how to banish my demon, I’ve done it before. It’s simple: all I need is a deadline. The laundry will get done very soon because I am leaving in a few days and need clean clothes for the trip. The christmas present will be done by the 25th because it must be done by then. I’ve never missed a deadline imposed on me by another person or event.

But I can’t seem to set a deadline for personal projects that I will take seriously.

In that same episode of RadioLab, Oliver Sacks tells of setting a deadline to finish his first book. He said to himself, “You have ten days to write it and if you’re not finished by ten days, you’ll commit suicide.” Harsh and scary, but it worked. He finished the book in nine days and survived to tell the tale.

For me that would be an empty threat. I’d laugh at my own brain for even suggesting it.

And for the same reason, Bushyasta isn’t going to work either. It is all me. I don’t want to do the thing that I want done. And I’m not talking about the laundry or the christmas gift anymore – there are tangible consequences for not doing those things, so they will get done. But when I am the only one who wants it done, who needs it done, when there are no consequences for inaction, I find my wants are not important enough to motivate me.

My nemesis is not laziness or sloth, it’s something I can’t externalize. It’s just me, just my strange, little brain. I can’t fight that nemesis, all my weapons are tricks and fakery. As the source of those tricks, I see right through them. Bushyasta dissipates into nothingness, and the manuscript remains untouched.

I remain in my chair, sipping at hot chocolate, ignoring the computer. I wonder if, in some sort of masochistic way, I enjoy the anguish of the uncompleted task. I must be deriving some sort of pleasure from this moment, a pleasure that outweighs the assumed pain of the work.

And this is where I derail my own train of thought. Because there is nothing painful or difficult about my self-initiated tasks. I like working on my book. Once I get started that is.

Imagine a beautiful park with lovely, manicured paths, trees and flowers where the weather is always perfect. There is a babbling brook with a comfortable bench near by, and the wildlife isn’t wild at all. But to get to this place you have to climb a long, steep, rocky, dusty hill. That is what working on my long-term projects feels like to me.

Perhaps I can take that analogy one step further. What if the park had seasons? What if the trees and the brook and the non-threatening squirrels all represent the elements, (the plot, the characters, etc.) of my story?

Like Oliver Sacks, I can use the threat of death as a deadline. The death of the story’s season. If I don’t finish writing down the story, all the elements will shrivel up and die in the winter cold. (I’m not going to complicate this with the possibility of hibernation – it’s insane enough already.)

It is still just a trick, and I can still see right through it, but it is a new trick. A novelty, a new idea-toy to play with. My nemesis is the wintery, frozen death of uncaptured ideas. And when that nemesis is beaten, when the story is written, maybe then I can move on to the last two words of that six word story, ‘Now what?’

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun.

You might notice I have the comments turned off – I’ve been getting some strange, spammy comments lately – easy to delete, but still very annoying… If you feel the urge to tell me something, send an email…  jaschmehl at gmail dot com

Instant Gratification

Clementines citrus are very sweet, easy to pee...

I bought a box of those clementines at the store the other day.  All orange-like products taste better when the weather is gray. They taste like luxury. Like civilization and progress and modern instant gratification. Like all the good things our global connectedness can provide.  I know nothing about how they arrive at my grocery store, and I refuse to google it.  I don’t want to learn that they were actually picked a year ago, via the tiny tortured hands of malnourished infants, then flash frozen and stuck in a shipping container for six months only to sit in the back of the grocery store’s warehouse until the temperature outside dropped enough that suckers like myself will drool over these tiny, pulpy, juiceless, dyed-orange balls and think they are worth buying.

No, I already feel enough guilt over the fact that half the box will end up in the trash. Why do they have to sell them in such large quantities for so little money?  If they were more expensive I might resist the temptation.   This is the problem I have with shopping altogether.  I don’t like buying things in bulk.  I have a small kitchen and a small budget and a small appetite. I don’t have the family that the ‘family size’ is meant to feed.

What I really want is a machine in my kitchen that will store, frozen I suppose, all the things I like to eat, and then with the push of a big red button, portion out and thaw exactly what I want when I want it.  No waste, no shopping, no need to plan ahead. Now that I think about it, the ‘planning ahead’ is the part I struggle with the most.  Oh, I like making plans, I make them all the time. My house is full of bits of paper covered in lists and plans. I always leave a bit of space to the left of each item, just enough room for a checkmark.  But the checkmarks never appear. There is no follow through.

I’m interested in using the reward system found in video games as motivation in my own life. When I play a game, I get constant bursts of happy neurotransmitters exploding in my brain whenever I do even the smallest thing right. Defeat a bad guy, pop! Find a rare object, pop! Move up to the next level, pop!  This blog does that for me as well.  Every time I log on I look at my stats, and there – a new view, pop! A new follower, pop! A new like, pop!

My brain is awash in serotonin, or adrenalin or whatever. Which makes it really hard to do anything else other than blog or play video games. Nothing else in my life provides the same sort of happiness.  I have two different book ideas I’m working on right now, and neither of them get the attention they deserve.  I’m not motivated by word count, I don’t care about the length of the story, I care about how I tell it.  But because they can’t be typed up, posted and viewed (pop!) in a day, I don’t feel like working on them. I want the pleasure they can provide right now.

I just (finally) finished reading Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own,’ after at least two decades of picking it up and putting it down again. (Not constantly for all that time, of course, where is the IG in that?)  It was, by far, one of the most brilliant things I ever read.  My wonderment of it might have a bit to do with the pride I feel in finally getting through it, but I’ll only know if it wears off in a few days, right now, I am in awe. BUT – she makes all the good points, ties together all the wandering bits of story threaded throughout, at the very end of the essay.  It is not until the END that you get the gratification.  This is why it took me so long to finish.

I know, I know, it is a sad sign of the times that our attention spans are so short that we can’t stick around for the payoff of a very short book.  But wait, doesn’t the word ‘span’ speak of length?  Isn’t the whole Harry Potter series somewhere around a million words long?  If you can read about 200 words a minute, that means 83 hours straight of reading. I think that is a decent span. It doesn’t feel like I’m forcing myself to get through them, because there are little payoffs all along the way. If reading those books doesn’t define constant IG, I don’t know what does.

Yesterday, I read this year’s Pulitzer prize winner for Feature Writing.  “Awarded to John Branch of The New York Times for his evocative narrative about skiers killed in an avalanche and the science that explains such disasters, a project enhanced by its deft integration of multimedia elements.” (the description from the Pulitzer website) It is called Snow Fall, and if you have the span of time required (90 minutes) to read it, I suggest you do. You will not notice the time go by and you will not mind reading it on a computer screen.  It is chock full of bits of instant gratification: gif’s and sound clips and short videos. It fully embraces our ‘short’ attention spans and all the modern tools available to tell a compelling tale.

I strive to do the same for you, dear reader.  As much as I admire Virginia Woolf’s writing, her clever prose and strange twists that all make sense in the end, I don’t want to make you wait that long.  I want every sentence and paragraph to be its own reward.  And I want, mostly for myself, to think, type and post as quickly as possible.  But am I stifling my own potential?

It took John Branch more than half a year to create Snow Fall. And you can tell, its depth is astounding. I would love to have the impact on you that he had on me. But that means six months of work with no steady drip of serotonin to keep me going towards that ultimate pay off.

I want the clementine – a sweet piece of fruit, easily peeled, easily popped into the mouth and eaten. No work, just pleasure, right now.

Writing in the Negative

If she’d said, “I love Desperate Housewives,” or “I love Twilight” with the same amount of feeling it wouldn’t have registered, despite the loud, nerve-grating voice.  I would have walked on by, navigating the crowded street corner with my hands full of heavy grocery bags as I’ve done a hundred times before. I would have continued mentally berating myself for, again, shopping at happy hour when I know the path between the store and my apartment is full of bars, and not noticed her at all.  I hear that voice all over Philly, that nasal, screechy sort of female voice that pierces my ear drum exactly the way a soft, southern drawl would not. You could hear this girl talking a block away.

But it wasn’t her voice, it was the words she said, and the way she said them that caught my attention.  She said, with passionate intensity: “I love not drinking.” Then, when the circle of expelled smokers around her questioned the absurd statement, she insisted, “Really, I love drinking too, but I love not drinking, it is so much fun.”

Negative
Negative (Photo credit: Caro’s Lines)

Huh?  My brain twisted into knots in its attempt to sort out words and meaning.  I missed anything else she or her companions said as I coped with my befuddlement.  Like the way I have to struggle through a double negative.  For example, “There wasn’t nothing in the bag, mom,” from a conversation I overheard in the grocery store. (“was-not-no-thing,”  not and no cancel each other out, so the result is, “was-thing”)  So there was something, then?

How does one love the ‘not’ doing of something?  Would she say, “I love not listening to silence,” to indicate her enjoyment of music?  Or, perhaps, “I love not standing still,” to say she loved walking?  The possibilities of this sort of statement kept popping in my mind, each one more ridiculous than the last.

“I love not being awake.” (sleeping)
“I love not standing still when music is playing.” (dancing)
“I love not starving.” (eating)

Ok, to be fair, I think what she meant was: “I don’t mind being the designated driver, because I enjoy being sober around a bunch of drunks.”  Which still doesn’t make any sense.  To me anyway.  The only way I can enjoy the company of drunks is to be drunk myself.  The worst part about walking around that corner at happy hour is dealing with the stupidity of drunk people.   It is hard enough to navigate through a crowd of sober people, but drunks are like babies just learning to walk, they bounce off other objects to keep themselves upright.  When that other object is little me, loaded with down with bags, (contents including, but not limited to, a gallon of milk, a pound of coffee beans and that big ham that was on sale) the ‘bounce’ will not end well.

Who loves being a designated driver?   Maybe someone who loves talking care of toddlers.  Maybe she is a nursery school teacher.

And this is what I love about not living in the suburbs1.  I don’t have to worry about designated drivers, I can walk to any of the half-dozen bars nearby and drink or not-drink as much as I want.  I can walk to my grocery store and not steal2 food. And I can overhear delightfully strange statements from the delightfully strange people I pass in the streets and amuse myself for hours by not hand-writing3 it all down.

1,2,3 – Translation: city-life, buy, typing, respectively.

Memory

I don’t trust memory.

I am nine or ten, and I am sleeping over at my friend Holly’s house. (Holly is not her real name.  It shouldn’t matter, since she is dead now, but I feel the need to protect her.)  I know Holly doesn’t have a dad, which isn’t too strange.  This is the early eighties and divorce has become an epidemic in my upper middle class town, and it is always the dad that leaves. Actually, I have no idea if her parents are divorced, or if they ever married.  Maybe her father is dead. Strange thing is, I don’t remember seeing her mother that night either.

I don’t remember arriving at her house, or what we ate for dinner but now it is really, really late, hours past my bedtime and Holly and I jump up and down on her bed, loud music is pouring from her cool robot-shaped cassette tape player and we eat candy necklaces. Lots of them.  She has an endless supply and there was no one around telling us, you’ve had enough. She has so many cool electric toys, everything I ever wanted from the toys-r-us catalog is lying there on Holly’s bedroom floor.

We are doing every thing I always imagined I would do if my parents disappeared.  And it is fun!  We are giggling and dancing, being loud and silly and nobody is getting hurt. Well, my tummy is hurting just a little bit.  I blame the jumping.

Her room feels small and cluttered and dark.  I don’t remember seeing a desk.  Just the bed, the toy and candy strewn floor and a closet full of more toys and lots of clothing.

I guess we slept eventually, but no one ever told us to go to bed.  The next scene is in Holly’s backyard.  It is daytime. A huge tree dominates the square, fenced-in space.  There is a dog roaming around, its dried piles of feces litter the patchy grass. There is a man sitting at the picnic table with us and he is shoving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into Holly’s mouth.  Holly is sobbing and choking.  Snot and tears and jelly smeared all over her face.  The man is angry, I made you the damn sandwich and now you’re gonna eat it.

I don’t know who the man is.  Her mother’s boyfriend?  The concept of a ‘mother’ having a ‘boyfriend’ is too foreign for my sheltered mind.  The sandwich this man made for me is disgusting. He slopped the peanut butter and jelly an inch thick over the bread.  It isn’t cut up into child sized squares or triangles, I have a hard time holding it, and the excess jelly oozes over my hands as I eat it, fast, bite after terrified bite.

The memory ends there.  My mother told me later that she was furious to learn Holly’s mother had left us alone with a stranger. I never went back to her house.  I switched schools after that year and that was the end of our friendship.

I have two more memories of Holly. The first is passing by her in the stairwell of the high school.  She wore all black, a long black skirt, black blouse, black nail polish, even her eyes were circled in black.  The word ‘goth’ wasn’t in my vocabulary at the time, but it fits now.  Did we speak?  I know she smiled at me.  Her teeth were crooked, but the smile was sweet.  The moment feels kind in my head.  We walked completely different paths through that building, weaving among two thousand other students, and I don’t remember seeing her again.

If I stopped the story here – you might predict drug use, dropping out of school, maybe a few unwanted pregnancy’s, and eventually death by overdose.  I already hinted at an early death, no one would be surprised if the story continued on this trajectory.  Unfair, true, but that is what we do.  We take the bits and pieces of memories and fill in the gaps.

I don’t know what the truth is.

My last memory is of her memorial Facebook page, just after she died of breast cancer.  I was not connected to her, but a friend of a friend wrote a note of sympathy and it popped up in my feed.  I know that people like to speak well of the recently departed, but I’ve never seen such a list of specific positive memories written by so many people. I think she was married and had a good job, much of the grief came from her co-workers and boss. Her mother and sister do breast cancer walks in her honor. Years later, the page is still updated with variations of the phrase: I miss you.

That memory of that strange and horrible sleep-over, of a neglected and abused child, is the only real memory I have of her.  But the evidence of other people’s memories, and the pictures of a smiling, happy woman, belie my singular experience.  An individual life is a complicated, many faceted thing.  Memory lies and omits.

Perhaps I am the only person with this memory. Perhaps I made the whole thing up.

The things I don’t know

I never read Animal Farm.  I know what it is about. I understand its social significance. I read the Cliff Notes. I am an excellent reader, and I got more out of that summary than other teenagers got out of the real book. Animal Farm, and The Lord of the Flies, and The Catcher in the Rye… all books I failed to read in high school.  I spent those four years doing the bare minimum to survive.  I gobbled up books by Margret Wise and Tracy Hickman, by David Eddings, Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey and Terry Brooks.  Hundreds of pages a day sucked in though my eyes to nourish my imaginative soul.  So it wasn’t that I didn’t like to read.

Pissarro – 1871 – Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich

I have a vague memory of an art appreciation class I took once…   At one point, my mother decided to decorate the bare walls of my bedroom with a print of a famous painting.  I remember it well, I stared at it for hours when I should have studied or slept. It took not even a minute to find it on Google just now, because my memory of it is so strong.

I took piano lessons on and off for ten years.  I had a few lessons on the violin.  I never learned to read music though.   I find classical music very soothing. But I can’t really tell the difference between Bach or Beethoven.

Regardless of these gaps in my education,  I am a good conversationalist.  I love an interesting discussion with an intelligent person more than any other activity.  If I don’t know something, I am not embarrassed to admit it, and a conversation is only enhanced for me if there is an opportunity to learn something new.

Ten years ago, I would have written the above and then pointed out that none of that missing knowledge harmed me in any way.  I don’t feel that way anymore.  The older I get, the more aware I become of how little I know and the more I feel the lack of that knowledge.

I won’t blame the educational system or my upbringing or any of the usual suspects.  It is my lack of interest that lies at the core of this deficiency.  I had access to excellent teachers and libraries and parents who would have nurtured any passion of mine that lasted more than a week or two.   They bought me all those fantasy novels after all.

And so here I am, a full-fledged adult, aware of this problem and still unwilling to do anything about it.  Why?

I guess I still just don’t find any of those things interesting. That painting by Pissarro is just, well, boring.

But here is an idea:  I just read an essay by William Hazlitt (a writer from the early 1800’s) called, “On The Pleasure of Painting.”  He believed non-artists can’t appreciate art. “No one who has not devoted his life and soul to the pursuit of art can feel the same exultation in its brightest ornaments and loftiest triumphs which an artist does.”  In a way, I agree with him.  I know that I feel a deeper appreciation for the amount of effort required to compose an essay or a manuscript than non-writers, because, well, to put it crudely,  “been there-done that.”  I know good writing (and bad writing) when I see it, because I have written it myself.

I have a feeling that the reason I don’t find the painting of a blurry train traveling through a grassy field on the way to a station interesting is that I’ve never painted a picture.  I can’t tell the difference between Bach and Beethoven because I’ve never written a concerto.

This is what I imagine my ‘retirement’ will be like.  (If such a thing still exists when I’m old)  I will learn to do these things that I have never done before.  I will learn to paint.  I will learn to create music.  I will learn to write poetry and to sculpt and sing. So that I can finally fill all those gaps in my head where an appreciation for art should be.

Of course none of that explains why I haven’t read Animal Farm.

Power to Connect

“The things that make us feel the most alone have the greatest power to connect us.” – Ze Frank

This story will connect you to me:

Many years ago, early on a September morning, I walked towards the side entrance of my high school. Crowded near the door, the ‘cool’ kids smoked their cool cigarettes and held their cool bodies in cool poses. A flash of white drew my attention away from the wall of cool and down to my shoe.  There, just now slipping into recognizable shape, yesterday’s underwear crept from the leg of my acid-wash jeans onto the top of my purple keds. So many thoughts flashed through my mind in that horrific millisecond of realisation, that I’m surprised my head didn’t explode.  In fact, if my head could have exploded at that moment, I would have died happy, saved from shame, and somehow pleased by the mystery I created when the forensic team discovered not one, but two pairs of underwear, one with a pretty pattern of purple flowers on a white background and the other with purple and gray stripes.

Ladies' underwear advertisement, 1913
“Oh my, is your slip showing?”

My head did not explode, nor did I freeze with shock, instead, my brain went into overdrive, speeding through my limited options. I could pretend it wasn’t mine, let it fall onto the sidewalk and ignore it. Of course, the chances were high that the cool kids would see and know it was mine, which would lead to my early death by mortification. Or, I could turn around and start walking away, hoping the underwear would not slip out completely before I could hide behind a bush. Again, high chance for the mortification death thing here, and a chance of me being covered in equally embarrassing and inexplicable scratches, since the nearest bushes happened to be of the thorny variety.

In a flash of brilliance, I chose option number three: I stopped walking, swung my backpack off my back and onto the ground in front of the contaminated foot then knelt as if to tie my shoe. As fast as lightning, I unzipped the front pocket of my back pack, grabbed the horror and shoved it in. Perfect. No one noticed.  I walked into the school and the cool kids ignored me as thoroughly as usual.

End of story….

Sort of…

The problem is, the story never really ended. It still haunts me, on endless repeat, to this day.

In that moment, I felt separate, alone, utterly unconnected to the people by the door. Everything about me, about who I was, what I wanted, what I loved or liked, what I feared or hated, was alien to everyone else.  I was an alien in that moment. Totally disconnected from humanity.  That disconnect hurts.

Oh, I laugh when I tell the story now, of course I do.  But it is only funny because it still hurts.  

You laugh at the story because you have felt that pain.  All those cool kids knew that pain as well. Everyone knows that pain.  The crazy part is, it is that pain that connects us. That shared pain of being totally alone in a shameful moment binds us together.  It helps us see that we’re not so different after all.

“The things that make us feel the most alone have the greatest power to connect us.” 

Isn’t life weird?

I Want To Know

brains!
brains! (Photo credit: cloois)

I want to know why salt makes me feel smarter.

I want to know if there are any unbiased (not financed by someone with an agenda) studies of brain activity during video gaming, and if anyone really understands the results of those studies.

I want to know what happens in my brain when I go from utter confusion to sudden understanding.  In my imagination I see the tendrils of neurons or synapses or whatever, reaching, straining, trying to find something, and then… an electrical spark when they connect, forming a complete idea.

I want to know why I can’t concentrate in a silent room.

I want to know why I switch compound words.  (In my head belldoor sounds perfectly reasonable – it takes concentration to say it aloud as doorbell.)

I want to know why being the center of attention makes me feel good, but being in the center of a crowd makes me panic.

I want to know how the emotional and logical sides of my brain communicate with each other and why they can hold such opposing thoughts at the same time.  (I only like songs with good lyrics because I don’t care about music / I am moved to tears by a beautiful solo guitar piece / I hate reading poetry.  Ok – that was three opposing thoughts.)

If I had unlimited money – I wouldn’t buy a new car or a big house or lots of clothes, I would buy knowledge.  I would pay experts in neuroscience to figure out the way my brain learns, and to then adapt all the information in the world to that format so that I could absorb it as easily as possible.

Then I would package all of that information, in that easy-to-learn format, and give it away free on the internet so that people like me who Want to Know, but who suck at school, can learn, Everything.

Confessions of a Consumed Mind

I love it when this happens.  I am working on some ‘thing’ and it takes over my whole mind.  Nothing else matters, not food, not sleep.  There is only the THING.  And it is a good thing, a worthy thing.  It is one of those things that when I finish it, people will say, “wow” and comment on how much time it must have taken to finish it and how they wish they could do the same.

I have said those things myself, you know.  Thinking that some one is half-crazy / half-genius for the dedication they give to their own THING.

I know you want to know what the thing is, but I am not going to tell you.  Studies have shown that your brain gets the same sort of sense of accomplishment from talking about an idea as it does from executing the idea.
So as soon as you talk about it, much of the reward is gone.  Gone is the motivation to finish.

I’ll tell you all about it when I’m done.  Should be about three weeks from now…

(No, it has nothing to do with writing.) On a side note –  I’ve completely ditched the idea of ever writing a novel.  The idea of the traditional novel doesn’t really fit into our culture anymore.  I’m going to write a blog post about this someday – got the draft started…  oh no… I’ve just ruined now, haven’t I?  I’ve talked about it, now I’ll never do it.

Well, either way, it will have to wait…  gotta go work on the THING!

My Unrequited Love of Collaboration

That is not the Clone we are looking for [Boin...
That is not the Clone we are looking for (Photo credit: Kalexanderson)
Ah, Collaboration – The dream team working together towards a common goal.  Minds meld and a beautiful ‘something’ is created. A ‘thing’ that is better than anything the collaborators could have achieved on their own.

The reality is that the word ‘together’ is a lie. As is the word ‘common.’ And the ‘goal’ is never quite defined to anyone’s satisfaction.

I crave collaboration, but I can’t find anyone to collaborate with me. I want someone with my exact priorities. Someone I can respect and admire.  Someone to believe in me and encourage me.  Someone who is willing to work hard on things I think are worth working hard on.   Maybe I need a clone. A clone that is less lazy. A clone that will do the parts I don’t want to do. Or the parts that I think I suck at.  So not a clone – an equal-opposite.  A mirror image.

When my boyfriend and I were still ‘just friends’ we wrote the first three chapters of a novel together.  That book will never be finished.  Turns out we are not good collaborators.  I am constantly disappointed by that fact.

I want to blame him. If only he would take it as seriously as I do.  If only he had the same passion / enthusiasm / dedication as I do.  If only he would be more like me.  Again, the clone thing.

Does collaboration ever actually work? When we worked on those chapters, there was strong desire to please each other.  We were in love but unable to express those feelings, so we wrote love letters to each other in the form of chapters of a book.  One time, after we’d exchanged a few emails about the ‘disaster’ that starts the story, he stayed up all night and wrote a 7000 word prologue. I found it in my email the next morning and cried in relief at finally finding a true collaborator.  But it was all a lie.

He we are, years later, living together and still in love, but no collaboration is happening.  I write and he reads what I write, but the love is now expressed in affectionate caresses. He doesn’t need to write thousands of words to tell me he loves me, he just has to cross the room and kiss me.

The common goal, as it turned out, was not writing a book together.  The common goal was to get into each others pants.  Once we achieved that goal , the book became unnecessary.

The book is still a goal.  It just isn’t common.  It is still important to me.  I want to finish it.  I want him to want to finish it. (He isn’t interested and I’m too lazy to do all the work needed to encourage him to do his part while doing my own.)

Collaboration requires a well-defined goal, and an equal desire to accomplish that goal.  Is that possible? Can two people really have the same goal and maintain the same level of enthusiasm for all the time needed to achieve said goal?  Isn’t history littered with the detritus of failed collaboration? (Lennon/McCartney, Jobs/Wozniak,  Jefferson/Adams)  Together these collaborators made beautiful things, but eventually they split. If only they had worked together just a little bit longer…

What happened?  People change. Priorities shift. Interests wax and wane. People get into other people’s pants.

Those three chapters haunt me.  They are good. Really good.  Better than anything thing I have written on my own. Those three chapters keep my dream of collaboration alive, despite all this proof of its inherent instability.

Someday I’ll find it, the perfect collaboration.  I just hope that next time there wont be any pants involved and it will last longer than three chapters.  (Um…Is that really the best way to say that?)