Monday, March 17, 2008

For Thu: Extraneous Scenery Description

Ahh, procrastination. The thing we all claim to hate but we seem to enjoy doing it so much, so much. It’s true though, procrastination often throws us into preposterous situations like starting a 14-page research paper two weeks after it’s due because your professor is starting to put the pieces together and is getting the sneaking suspicion you haven’t actually had mono all this time.

So obviously we need to control our procrastination to some degree. How do we do that? Some people advocate the “Just suck it up and get it done” approach. My response to that is, “Oh! Why thank you! I’ve never thought of that or tried that before because I am both debilitating lazy and stupid.”

These kind of “get it done” people are inclined to quote Abraham Lincoln, who said something about procrastination that I’m going to attempt and paraphrase:

“Don’t put work off until tomorrow, blah blah blah, you have plenty of time to get it done today, some people are convinced I wouldn’t have ended slavery if it weren’t for a specific combination of sociopolitical factors and that makes me feel unappreciated, blah blah, get some stuff done this afternoon so you don’t have to worry about it when you go enjoy a nice night at the theater, blah blah blah, oh no I’ve been shot”

Something like that. Anyway the part that these motivational geniuses seem to leave out is that Abraham Lincoln had the choice of getting stuff done or reading “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens, which is basically 500 pages of the terrible lives of grimy British factory workers with nothing exciting about ghosts or Christmas. Abraham Lincoln did not have three new wall posts on his Facebook profile commenting on those awesome pictures of his Log Cabin Warming Double Kegger, he did not have a Netflix account which required him to finish the disc of Weeds he was watching so he could get Terminator 2 on Blu-Ray, and he didn’t have to deal with the overwhelming temptation to beat that fucking impossible Mario Strikers tournament.

Had we gone back in time and quickly given Abraham Lincoln an original Gameboy with Tetris, he probably would have spent the two months playing it and then, upon the Gameboy not working, used the rest of his live trying to reverse-engineer the double-A battery instead of preserving the union. This would probably have gone for any of those highly motivated historical figures of the past, so they can stop blabbering at us with their pithy quotes.

The key here is we’ve got a lot of amazing distractions in our modern world, and it’s unlikely we’re going to wake up one day and say they’re never again going to keep us from doing that stupid project on research methods we’re not ever going to use. For most of us, that’s just not going to happen.

The key is to build a big pyramid of procrastination. The thing you want to the do the least, like your massive research project, is at the top. Ideally it shouldn’t be due for a long time. Then you can put slightly less unappealing tasks below that, like catching up on notes for a class, or working on a homework assignment, or making sure Colin Jones doesn’t get on your ass for not writing something inane on your blog.

This way, as long as make sure you’re doing something productive everyday, you’ll reap the rewards through the pyramid of procrastination. As long as you do a little something each day, you’ll have the satisfaction of accomplishment and procrastination, and eventually you’ll have nothing good left to do but that damn paper.

This is a lot better than just promising yourself that this time you’ll be able to sit down and just get it done, and then spending two hours sending poorly photoshopped bumper sticker pictures to your friends on Facebook. You don't build a pyramid through poor, unfounded resolutions. You build it through measured, disciplined foundation-building. Or slave labor. But that would be wrong, and if you won't take my word for it, then keep that copy of Tetris the hell away from my time machine.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Senior Years

Waking up in Sacramento at noon, things seemed a bit surreal. I had arrived in a state fatigued by driving through the night yet roused by the chemical remnants of a triple-serving Rock Star that had me debating whether I was developing a heart murmur. Or instead, maybe Type-III diabetes, a hipper, more extreme insulin resistance. But I tried to shake myself in consciousness as best I could, with only thirty-six hours in the place closest to my hometown, a place with no good nicknames. Plus a few that make me not want to speak to those who use them. Macramento? Seriously?

The weekend passed with surprising clarity, yet my condition left me still mostly unable to grasp the idea that the freshmen I knew as a senior in high school were now graduating, and performing in their last Jesuit Drama show. Perhaps this is something no amount of sleep can really allow you to comprehend. Rob, Adam and Ben all fit the part though, with even more confidence and skill to back up the talent they had four years ago. In this way seeing them again didn’t feel like years past, when the wise college kids returned home to impart brief wisdom and a couple pats on the back on younger brethren. This time, they showed us the massiveness of what they’d accomplished for themselves in the years they were more or less off our radar. They had all brimmed under the surface, distant but not forgotten, popping up in occasional reminders, nostalgic conversations, and hometown visits. And now, suddenly, they were graduating.

In a world where my everyday mind is gradually forgetting that I was ever not the legal drinking age, this makes me feel, well, old. The men I will always in some way know as freshmen are seniors, the year with which they will always associate me. Yet senior year of high school could not feel many more worlds away. I have accounted for the classes I still need to take, and found I have a little less than half what I had anticipated. Paperwork, bills, errands appear gradually, occasional drops forewarning a flood in future years. And as the graduating freshmen are being asked what colleges they’ve applied, I am being asked, what are you doing with your life?

Luckily, this doesn’t cause much anxiety. I don’t want it to. One lesson I can take from the time my adolescent self spent observing adult conversation: I do not want to be one of those people who talks about how old they are. From what I’ve seen, no amount of extended discussion or unfunny over-the-hill cards from Spencer’s will make the observation of oldness a non-issue. "Haha! Wang-Awake impotence curing novelty gum! For a problem frequently experienced by old people! The knowledge of my correct functioning of brain neurons, allowing the understanding this connection to geriatric stereotypes, makes me feel young again!" I remain skeptical.

So, the feeling remains not anxious, just weird. I am comforted that I have never been happier with an age more than this one, and I think only part is due to the magic of college. I will always fondly look back at being able to sit down a 3pm on a Thursday with a Hot Pocket and Miller Genuine Draft and watch an entire Blu-Ray disc of Weeds, yet I feel confident that I will do my best to make the most of every age. At least until that Type-III diabetes kicks in.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Qualified Refinement

So I really have no idea exactly what I’m going for here. As a fair warning, I am liable to go on serious tangents, mix up three ideas within one paragraph, or in other ways fail to make my point clear or interesting. It’s been awhile since I’ve tried to keep up with writing on my own terms on a regular basis, probably because when I first started out I didn’t have to try. I was a disenfranchised and bored eighth grader who could wildly exceed the expectations of his audience by insulting middle school authority and spelling most things correctly.

I don’t think I genuinely regret letting writing fall by the wayside as that motivation faded over the years. I just plain didn’t feel like doing it, and there were plenty of other things I didn’t feel like doing that were far determinant of my immediate future than trying to think of something good to put on my Livejournal. But now, though perhaps the unavoidable drive to write hasn’t reemerged, I care enough to force myself to see what’s possible.

My grandfather wrote a novel, probably around five years ago, loosely based on his experiences farming outside Sacramento as a young man. Having heard that I was looking at my mom’s copy, my grandpa got me my own for my 20th birthday. Inside the cover, he wrote, “I wish now that I had kept a diary or semi-diary and urge you to do so. There are some gaps in my life now and it would be wonderful to refine those times.”

His note has been resonating with me, especially after moving into my first real apartment, and finding the whole tone of college life shifting. Even if there will inevitably be countless pictures and artifacts from all these years, there are so many feelings and impressions that aren’t captured in all this evidence of my existence. If anything, I’m back writing again for myself. I don’t really know how you, the reader, fall into this. But I didn’t worry about you that much six or seven years ago when I started mashing the keys about wanting to get out of middle school. So I have a feeling the less I worry about you right now, the better. Fair warning.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Stereotypically Published At 1:21 AM

I only get glances of it sometimes, but every once and awhile, when walking past a drunken group on the streets of the apartments, or seeing a collection of empty snack food bags and beer bottles scattered on the coffee table of my apartment, that I really see for a moment how ridiculous and stereotypical college life can seem. When I get up at noon on the weekend, and watch from the couch as my roommates emerge from their respective bedrooms at three in the afternoon, I encounter that weird, thin layer that tries to wrap the college experience into a package and misses so much.

When these stereotypes do jump out at me, as hilarious and unbelievable as they can be, they still seem thin, seem to be missing the point. When, while parking my car, I hear a keg stand being counted out from the balcony of the building across the street, and can’t help but laugh. But these ridiculous scenes blindside me, these scenes that represent how as high schoolers we saw our future lives, I don’t think it’s because our college lives are truly insane and I don’t usually notice. There is just so much surrounding these brief moments, so many different amazing people, so many responsibilities, accomplishments and experiences, that it takes a certain kind of absurd moment to pull all that aside and provide a glimpse at this false college caricature.

It’s not that I feel that college students aren’t given enough credit. I really don’t care what the rest of society has to say about me considering any class or obligation before 11am unpleasantly early. I was forced to go to school at ungodly hours all during adolescence, and the institutions which mandated this paid for it in me being a dick to them. The problem is solved and anyone can say what they want about my sleep patterns, so long as no one tries to wake up at 6:45 am to get ready and go to Winston Churchill middle school ever again.

What I worry about is not that others can’t see past these stereotypes now, but that as I grow older, in my memory these years will be absorbed into a handful of stories and a variety of mental images. I worry that remembering red beer pong cups and beer bottles, sitting on the top of a folding table, sitting on the top of a foosball table, for days on end until anyone decided to clean it up, will stand out among a fuzzy and indistinct recollection of feelings, thoughts, experiences. It may not be so much that I have anxiety about it, I just think it’s odd that picture could end up being a defining image decades down the road, a picture which said more about circumstances than actual experiences.

I have more to say about this, but I need to get up at eight tomorrow. And hopefully decades down the road I will understand that I’m not excited about this for reasons behind the college ID in my wallet that automatically makes a card-carrying lazyass.