At this juncture, I think it’s fair to call my first attempt at “regular” blogging a complete and irrevocable failure.
Which is OK, really. I never expected to get it right on the first shot, and I did manage a couple of solid months of fairly frequent and substantial entries. I got to try some things, get some less-than-stellar ideas out of my system, and start to re-hone my surprisingly dull skills on some unsurprisingly dull subject matter. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I’m not going to beat myself up (any more) over this.
My only job now is to glean any possible lessons from the ultimate collapse…
Lesson One: Any distraction, no matter how helpful or pressing it may seem, is still a distraction and is still keeping me from something I had intended to be doing. Yes, the dishes need to get done, and the garage needs reorganizing, and I need to keep up on the news and do a fair amount of research, but those things will still be there waiting for me after I’ve finished my planned writing. The other things generally feel more pressing most of the time, but doing the unintuitive seems to be the key to making this work. On a related note:
Lesson Two: Taking steps to separate the time I spend writing from other parts of my life appears to make focusing on it much easier. As odd as it sounds, simple physical changes can do a lot more to channel my psychological processes than I’m happy to admit. Having a variety of locations and situations reserved for writing has been immensely helpful in keeping myself on task, but getting out of the house isn’t always an option. In those cases, I’ve found something like a simple change of clothes can be almost as good. I couldn’t really believe it at first, but just swapping my usual t-shirt and jeans for a nice, fitted button-down can adjust my intellectual framework enough to make an absolute chore of an article practically write itself. Very strange, but also very effective, and worth remembering.
Lesson 3: Externalize the expectations. This is a weird concept to put succinctly into words, but I’ll do my best. Basically, I can’t just write things for myself or my own satisfaction, because I’ve learned to deal far too well with failure and the compromised self-image that comes with it. However, if I pretend (or acknowledge?) that someone else in the universe is expecting/hoping to read more, and try to imagine their disappointment when new posts don’t materialize frequently enough, it has the motivational effect I need. It feels a bit childish, and a bit conceited, but it’s what works. I’ve disappointed myself so often and so completely over the years, I’ve basically lost the ability to expect anything but failure. Letting other people down, on the other hand, I’ve never really gotten used to, if only because they’ve never gotten good at accepting it from me.
You know, on reflection, I’m enjoying how many of these “lessons” are just excuses for rote self-deception. I’ve always thought there was a certain virtue in being totally honest with yourself (which, astute readers will note, is not the same as successfully being honest with myself), but now I’m starting to question whether such a thing is possible at all. Total honesty seems to imply both perfect knowledge and perfect objectivity, two things humanity has never exactly been associated with. In that harsh light, total honesty, with yourself of anyone else, becomes an idyllic fantasy, and the best you can ever hope for is probably just a bit of conscious control over the matter on which you will allow yourself to be deceived, by whom, and to what purpose.
The conventional wisdom in most political/financial circles is that someone my age and in my position needs to be working and saving as much as possible, and that a time-consuming distraction like writing non-professionally is something I should have grown out of by now. And for a while, I really bought it. That said, I’m here, 33 years old, I’m married, we own our home and have a (psychotic) dog. I’ve spent the better part of the last decade working my ass off at various jobs, going to school, racking up student loan debt and logging thousands of miles on my car and bike, and for what? My current job pays significantly less and asks significantly more than the temp gig I had as a shipping carpenter back before the crisis really hit high gear, and anything I’ve done in the interim has been worse yet.
I’m sure I’m tempting labels like ‘cynic’ or ‘socialist’ or ‘conspiracy nut,’ but I really can’t avoid the feeling that the aforementioned conventional wisdom is only in place to keep my mouth shut and my mind too busy to notice the patterns of decline in terms of real (inflation-adjusted) wages and benefits, middle- and lower-class living standards, and workers’ share of productivity growth. The stock markets may have missed a couple of beats, but those at the top of the food chain stopped feeling the effects of the crisis a couple of years ago, at least. When, exactly, is that condition supposed to start trickling down, again? If the people benefiting from across-the-board cuts to wages and benefits are the same ones who make that call, I’m pretty sure I already know the answer. You’re not going to like it.
So, maybe I do feel a bit stupid, or childish, or irresponsible for spending as much time as I need to on writing this blog, and maybe there are things in my life that feel like a better use of my time. So the fuck what? I’m sure most people feel this way about something they do, something that is important to them. But I’m almost equally sure those feelings are the result of a barrage of political and social messaging designed and deployed to put them there, in service of groups with something other than the interests of the public at heart.
Or, to put it another way: If a terminal fuckface like Jamie Dimon can guiltlessly call private audience with the Attorney General to negotiate his way out of criminal charges on the company dime, and if Lloyd Blankfein can maintain his signature turd-sandwich smirk while pretending cuts in Social Security benefits are any kind of good for anyone other than himself and his hyper-wealthy ilk, then I can definitely disregard some of the engineered guilt I’m supposed to be feeling over spending any fraction of my own time or thought on activity that doesn’t generate sufficient Wall Street profits.
In fact, that might be all the motivation I need…