A NaNo Pep Talk for My Pal: The Joys of Willful Distraction

I would like to propose that there is a difference between being getting distracted and willingly interrupting your work.

Before I sit down to write, I prefer to know that nothing and nobody has any reason to interrupt me. This isn’t because I don’t want to be interrupted, but because I would rather interrupt myself. I will inevitably toddle away from my work, and I’d rather go willingly than be forcibly yanked away.

To better understand what I mean by ‘willingly interrupting your work,’ recall the last time you woke up. Did you wake up naturally as a result of your sleep cycle coming to an end, or were you jarred out of REM sleep by the grating WANK WANK WANK of an alarm? Did you feel rested after the wank alarm? No. You felt disoriented, confused, and annoyed. The wank alarm effect is what happens when you’re interrupted once you’ve gotten into the swing of your work. When some schlub wanders into your workspace and asks something of you it interrupts your train of thought and finding your stride again can be difficult.

When you choose to be distracted, though, you’re the one in control of when the break in thought occurs. Your focus will always peter out at some point and staring blankly at a blinking cursor for fifteen minutes won’t help you. Sometimes the words stop or your brain pan overheats. This isn’t a problem unique to you. In fact, it’s not even a problem. It can put a dent in your projected output, but it’s a natural occurrence.

My advice, as someone who’s absurdly far behind on his word count and satisfied with every word so far? Let it happen. Let your brain drift away a bit. It’s what it does.

Go for a walk. Take a long shower. Hell, play a video game. Pick up your favorite book and re-read your favorite parts. Maybe just space out. Go out for a drink and a bite, and no, don’t go to a coffee shop to get a mocha and sit in the corner. Go someplace with a counter and eat there, get a sandwich or a salad and just chat with people.

One of the hardest things about trying to finish a project is focusing on your output volume while at the same time retaining your grasp on the world outside your work. Forcing yourself through the pauses your brain wants so badly to take can keep your output level high, but you run the risk of exhausting your creative resources through over-extension and losing sight of the world beyond the page.

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Can we afford to lose our lost generation?

I am not important. An unusual claim for a writer and more so for a blogger, I know, but let’s all accept the statement at face value when I say that my personal experience is not worthy of being added to the thousands of stories collected at wearethe99percent. Instead, I offer a bleak revelation: Educated, driven young people are finding themselves jobless, hungry, homeless, and hopeless at an incredible rate. And winter is coming. In record numbers, America’s next great leaders are faced with the very real possibility of freezing to death. Artists, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers, politicians, poets, homeowners, mothers, fathers.

Somewhere, on the mean streets of some no-name strip mall town with no shelter, the next Martin Luther King Jr. could be gradually wasting away. Sleeping behind the dumpster at Sears, malnourished with no healthcare to combat the complications this creates, her heart will quietly stop one early morning in mid-November. The opening shift manager, who’s been on a pay-freeze since 2006, will find her when he steps out at 9am for a smoke break. Good grades, played by all of society’s rules for success, dead behind a dumpster.

This is, of course, a hyperbolic story written to tug the heart strings of people who couldn’t otherwise see the danger in creating a generation of distrusting, disillusioned debt slaves who were educated to succeed and got nothing for their efforts. We stand to lose the drive, the innovation, the spark and fire of millions of young minds. The boomers can’t carry this country forever, and we can’t afford to break the backs of those next in line.

The Lost Have Less to Lose: Creative comfort for a lost generation

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

-Janis Joplin

The media has taken to calling American young adults like myself The Lost Generation, left in the lurch by the recession and saddled with crippling loans from predatory institutions. High unemployment, high underemployment, no healthcare, no government assistance. Our degrees, vocational or not, have become liabilities. They scare off employers afraid of paying for educated workers and lock us into endless cycles of debt. Our trust in a system we were raised to revere is shaken and shattered. We have the lowest rate of upward social mobility in generations. We are a generation ruled by uncertainty, disillusionment, and despair.

On the other hand, a certain freedom can be found in acknowledging that you’re most likely to fail regardless of your actions. Being financially and socially boned is especially freeing, since we’re taught from childhood that hard work brings lots of money and lots of money brings all you could ever want. What we’re being taught as young adults is that hard work gets you absolutely jack, and having jack to show for your hard work gets you labeled as lazy and stupid. Before now the only people who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into trying to sell their talent only to be called lazy and stupid for it were artists. Ah, and that’s where this is going.

I have been more productive as a writer, three times as productive, since I came to the realization that at this point I will never secure a lucrative career programming computers or doing field studies for advertising firms. I will never sit quietly at a desk compiling data for exactly eight hours and drive home in a car newer than I am to a home that I own. A little soul-crushing considering I was raised to attain these things and see anything less as failure, but oddly freeing at the same time. While I will never have these things, I will also never be limited by the fear of losing them. I am no longer locked into a career that would pervade my life in a field I’ve learned to resent.

I write more because the realization has given me the freedom to say “Screw it. If I’m doomed anyway, I might as well be telling stories when I’m not throwing resumes into the void.” There’s comfort in coming home from a long day of being turned away from even the simplest of jobs and knowing that you can create something. And if by some fluke you keep at it and wind up with something long enough/good enough/pretty enough to try and sell, the worst that could happen is that it won’t be bought. When you’re already doomed and have created something for its own sake, this prospect isn’t so terrifying. You’ve already tried to sell every other talent you have and been shot down, so why fret over it?

If you like me are a part of this supposed lost generation, I implore you to create. Write stories, write your memoir, write songs, draw, paint a landscape, take up a cheap instrument, something. Once you’re creating, put yourself out there. On the market, in the net, wherever.

No one can deny that these are difficult times, but it is not a time we should allow to pass us by. We are the fresh young voices being shut out of American society by hiring freezes, downsizes, and overqualification. Our experience is a unique one that imparts a unique change in perspective. Keep throwing your resumes into the void – I do, at least five times per week – but create when you allow yourself a break from that. Write instead of watching TV, paint instead of playing video games, write a folk punk tune for your $7 harmonica instead of staring out the window wondering what the Hell happened.

The modern American job search will destroy your soul

To search for a job in America’s current economic climate is to be met again and again with failure, indifference, and derision. Failure because unemployment is high and jobs are scarce, indifference due to employers’ dedication to their own survival, and derision due to the prevailing American belief that the unemployed are simply lazy or otherwise intrinsically flawed. You are lazy, or you failed to educate yourself thoroughly enough, or you are unforgivably stupid, or you dress poorly, or you need to pluck your eyebrows. The one unifying factor in the thousands of reasons the average person will tell you you’ve had no luck finding a job (and tell you they must) is that each and every reason is laser-focused on a choice you must have made, and made poorly. No one is ever laid off or refused a job due to circumstances they themselves could not control. To admit that the individual is not in complete and utter lucid, knowing control of his fate is to dismiss one of the most fundamental aspects of modern American (and, increasingly, Western) thought: That we are the masters of our own destiny. If you happen to be a fortunate person with numerous contacts and a fulfilling life, this can be a very comforting and fortifying notion. It can make one feel quite puffed up and important to have gotten to a comfortable place all on one’s own.

A woman in a comfortable office job is not taught by our culture to think first of the friend who recommended her for the position, but to focus instead on the qualities she must have possessed to be recommended in the first place. A man who, at 35, owns his own profitable business has not been socialized to remember the terrible first six months of the venture, during which his landlord waived two months worth of rent for the sake of keeping the space occupied and livening up the town’s shopping district.

As a corollary, those who are unemployed, underemployed, or even impoverished are bombarded at all times by blame and derision. The poor do not deserve our concern since, after all, they at some point made the conscious decision to be poor. We ascribe to their situation no other contributing factor than personal choices made poorly. We believe that each and every person lives in a vacuum within which their own agency is the only meaningful force. If poor people didn’t want to be poor, if they truly couldn’t stand it, then they could very easily decide to stop being lazy and start being normal and productive members of society.

Searching for a job in this environment when it’s been further corrupted by the economic crisis is a uniquely soul-siphoning experience. the pool of applicants is immense, the jobs scant, and the prevailing attitude toward those seeking employment by turns distrustful and frigid. It is a long trudge through shame and indignity, a continual succession of humiliations and uncomfortable compromises. Perhaps most insultingly and tellingly of all, many Americans are (sometimes willfully) ignorant of the situation.

Our culture raises us to believe that we are the ultimate masters of our own fates, and the fragility of our self esteem prevents us from accepting any other possibility, lest we face the fact that we could easily fall as low as the man we see shuffling from place to place in the rain, his hungry eyes scanning storefronts and bulletin boards for help wanted signs.

Afternoon Reflections on Having a Morning Routine

My first observation, upon completing my morning routine, was that I have no tolerance for ‘breakfast’ foods at any time between 2am and 3pm. I thought that I had grown out of this intolerance somehow. When I was a kid I would eat anything, anything but breakfast foods

for breakfast. I can’t stand to pack a big bowl/slab/dollop of sweet starch into my stomach when I’ve only just woken up. Even oatmeal doesn’t cut it, since even unadorned it carries the sweet undercurrent of oat. When I was a kid my go-to breakfast was a tuna sandwich with lots of lettuce and an apple.

I have no such hangup about, say, a bowl of rice with some veggies or an egg on it. Any neutral grain/savory other food combination works fairly well for me in the mornings. And I do like waffles, and I do like oatmeal, and I do like toast. I just like them in small portions as snacks. Or in huge portions as snacks, consumed with friends at 3 in the morning. My ideal breakfast is sandwiches and salads.

Really, for the first day my only stumbling block with the morning routine is that a breakfast-type breakfast leaves me nauseous until 11am.