Posted tagged ‘blocks’

More Advice For Blocks – Sugarcoating The Bullet

December 6, 2009

Followers of this blog know that I have devoted a series of posts to blocking writer’s block and other creative blocks.  But the most common blocks don’t concern projects that are creative, but tasks that are onerous.  These are usually tasks that feel extremely uncreative and yet are difficult, daunting, impossible to begin.

I have developed a number of strategies to deal with such onerous projects:

1.  Close your eyes and wish for as long as possible that the project will just go away. You’ll be amazed how often, with enough procrastination,  a  project will simply be mooted, no longer relevant.  (Christmas cards are, of course, a prime example.  Though the worst case I ever had was with a wedding present I delayed sending long enough for the couple to break up.)

This strategy even works with projects that are not time-sensitive.   Take a cluttered closet that houses, in its depths, scads of missing clothes—time doesn’t make the clutter go away, but usually other demands surface, new clothes are purchased, pounds are put on—suddenly the disorder in the closet just doesn’t seem to matter.

2. Involve someone else.  Often you will still be the person who ends up doing the work, but you’ll at least have someone to witness the work, and, hopefully, to listen to you kvetch.  If it’s that cluttered closet you are working on, you can also ask them for permission to throw your things out.  (Generally, if it’s a good, useful, sort of person, they will be quite willing to have you throw your old stuff out.)

3.  Sugarcoat the bullet.  Sometimes you just can’t put a task off any longer; i.e. the tension of procrastination and insecurity has gotten way more uncomfortable than any amount of despairing but determined slogging away.

You have to bite the bullet. And yet you just can’t bear to clamp down.

Some kind of sugarcoating of the bullet may be required.  This should be a pampering that will make the task easier,  but won’t cause further delay.    (Don’t say, for example, I’ll just take a nap first. And don’t spend a couple of hours, shopping for items that will supposedly make your work oh so much easier.)

If your task is relatively mindless, listening to an audiobook or pod cast can make the work palatable.  If the task does demand a lot of your mind, try listening to music or an audiobook that you know too well to find fully distracting.  (Or, for example, the audio, with only occasional glimpses of the visuals, of a Robert Pattinson trailer.)

Remember that the point of all this is to create a distraction, but a mild one–a distraction that does not take you away from the work, but from your resistance to the work.

(Not the TV.)

4.  Just do it.  I hate to paraphrase a corporate slogan.  Still, once you’ve shut your eyes, delayed, given up on involving anyone, and used up all the sugar you have and still haven’t been able to get it to stick to the bullet,  just make yourself begin.  Momentum is a physical reality, but it can only kick into gear when you do.

Person Blocks – “Pretending”

August 17, 2009

Thinking today of blocks other than writer’s block.  A person block is a big one;  the force that keep one from putting one’s true self into the world, that keeps one from being publicly one’s self.

When I say “being publicly” one’s self, I’m not referring to celebrity.  (Although, weirdly, the subject makes me wonder again about my fascination with Robert Pattinson.  If there is anyone who has a hard time being himself in public, it would seem to be him.  See e.g.  screaming girls and clicking paparazzi.)

But I wasn’t really thinking about Robert Pattinson.  I was thinking more about people like me, perhaps you too.  How hard it is for me (us) to take actions that might make us vulnerable to criticism.  How difficult it is to show openly the parts of ourselves which do not fit so well into a mold of other’s expectations.  (Or really, one’s expectations of other’s expectations.)

These kinds of pretenses are deeply ingrained, at least for me.  Even as a little kid—I was not an especially hip one—I felt the need to pretend I knew all kinds of rock bands that I’d never heard of.   For years afterward, a more complex camouflauge seemed to be called for.  I won’t go into the specifics.  I’m sure most of you know the types of things I mean.

What seems strange is that we actually live in a fairly tolerant society.  I compare my situation with my mother’s, for example.  A teacher, she happened to move shortly after I was born to a county where women teachers were only entitled to substitute’s pay (about 50% of the scale) during the full school year following the birth of a child.  It was a rule apparently motivated either by (a) a wish to keep mothers of infants at home; or (b) an assumption that mothers of infants would be at home, whether working full-time or not  (i.e. an assumption that women with young children were inherently unreliable.)

My mom, both reliable and unwilling to take a pay cut, spent the whole first year of my life pretending I didn’t exist.

My mother had a concrete reason for hiding a fairly big part of her life.  But for many people (me at least), the reason for the camouflauge boils down to the simple fear that if others really knew me better,  I would be deemed very very imperfect.  (Not just imperfect, downright faulty.)

Unfortunately, however, a failure to be openly one’s self can doom one to being less than one’s self.    (Even less perfect!  And much less happy.)

My ex- husband, an artist, gave me some good lessons in this area (though I am only beginning to follow them.)  He is a master of carrying out what sometimes seems to border on the silly.  (I admit, carrying out the silly is a whole lot easier in the art world than in the average professional arena.)

In an early performance piece, he played a violin with a loaf of Italian bread.  He does not play the violin.  His lack of expertise with the instrument wasn’t important, however, since the violin he used was broken.   Besides, the bread, though shellacked, wasn’t a great bow.

You can probably immediately intuit the piece’s potential silliness.  In fact, it was truly magical.

I am not extolling performance pieces.  Many are self-indulgent, and full full full of pretense.  (One reason my ex-husband’s violin playing was so powerful, I think, is that it was not a piece about himself, but about Paul Klee during the World War II.)

I’m not extolling confessional art either.  (Remember, you may someday wish to talk to your friends and family again.)

What I’m urging, I guess, is not to be afraid to risk some silliness.  The unabashed showing of ignorance.  (Sure, ignorance isn’t something to be proud of, but pretended knowledge is way worse.)  A lack of hipness.  To be, in short, more openly yourself.

Here’s a sonnet (unfortunately not terribly silly) about the long-term price of protective coloration:


After years, pretending to be what you’re not
becomes a nature;  a second skin
coating you like a heavy make-up, caught
in your pores, nestled in your grooves, a twin
of features, caked, you need not reapply.
But habits, faces, fail; pretense wears thin,
until, worn through, you can hardly try
anymore.  Too wary, weary–the word
“cagey” describes so much of what you’ve been,
the opposite of free-flying bird,
while unheard, and hardly there within,
is all you’ve been saving, what you hid, why
you did this, what wasn’t supposed to die.

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