Or: Why you should blame Dirk Flinthart for having to read my angst.
First off, this post is going to be where I experiment with this “more” feature to put some of it under a cut, since it’ll probably get long. Those of you who didn’t sign up for hand-wringing introspection can skip this one; I’ll try and make the next post a little more interesting.
I: A short history of me trying to get my shit in gear
I remarked in an earlier post that I’m not very good at pushing myself to get up and do things. I have what you might call hindsight ambition: my desire to do things in and with the world, to get something in exchange for my days, tends to manifest less as the energy to spring out of my chair and go forth to seize the moment, and more as a quiet alarm every so often as I look back and see weeks or months of the simple evaporation of my time. Routine days, nondescript nights and unseized moments.
I have tried various antidotes for this. A friend gave me a pitch on goal-setting, and cited a study to me in which groups of graduates were taught a system of preparing goals, regularly reviewing progress toward them, updating them to reflect life changes, and celebrating them when they were reached. Apparently there was a very high correlation between how much attention these people paid to that method and how happy they reported being with their lives down the track. Not conclusive, of course, but not meaningless. Well, I tried the goal checklist thing a couple of times: I did a big decade-covering one when I turned thirty, put a big flourishy signature under it and everything, and had a good chuckle over it when I found it in a drawer a couple of months ago.
More recently I had a little more success with a slightly different approach: letters. Simple to-do lists seemed to fall by the wayside, but for a while last year I would sit down on the first day of each month, good stationery and fountain pen in hand, and write myself a letter. I’d be as honest as I could manage about what I’d succeeded and failed at over the previous month, and lay out what I thought I needed to do between now and the next letter if I wanted to feel like I was progressing. That worked better. It was less chilly and detached than a simple list of to-do boxes to check off, and it allowed a bit more nuance in what I was assessing and demanding of myself: more scope for things like attitude shifts or dealing with personal things.
Still, it was nowhere near perfect. Partly because I was doing the damn things in longhand (for some reason longhand in fountain pen has become the medium of choice for Serious Stuff for whichever little circuit runs that bit of my brain) and so each letter could take so long to finish that the month would be almost over by the time I had it done. And partly because, paradoxically, once I got regular at doing them the letters got routine, and being routine they became easier to dismiss. It was tougher to hold myself accountable at the end of the month to what I said I’d do at the beginning.
This is where it starts to be Flinthart’s fault. Because earlier this month as the prospect of the March/April letter loomed, I got to thinking about his remarks on how he was trying to document his life with his family so that his kids would have some way of knowing their father when they were older. Apparently his early attempts to do this in a straight sort of journal format just sank like an anvil – but when he tried it on a blog, with an audience, somehow some different chemistry came into play and it took off. He’s over on the right there in my blogroll, so you can read the results for yourself.
It was this thinking that finally nudged me into starting the Nocturnalist. I had an abortive attempt at blogging several years ago, when I was travelling in the UK and kept a travel LJ that lasted all of about a fortnight, and I’d thought about it every so often when other writers would talk about what a great tool it was to establish a “presence” (or when I simply went and watched that happen at first hand, as with people like Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi). That wasn’t quite enough to convince me, though, since I still wasn’t at the point where I could work out what I could blog that wasn’t already being done better elsewhere. I’ve already done quite a bit of hawking on this site but it still seemed to me that a blog started solely as a commercial exercise wasn’t going to work. Even if I updated regularly (and a lot don’t, I’ve seen quite a few actors’ and musicians’ blogs that I’m pretty sure they were talked into by their agents, the updates are a year apart and it’s just depressing) it would have felt superficial in a way I’m pretty sure would have registered with readers.
This, though, this strikes me as something that might work. If having to produce to an audience, even a hypothetical one, worked for Dirk in producing the journals he wants to leave to his family, then maybe it’ll work for me in trying to push myself to get done what I want to get done each month, and to be accountable to myself on how I fare.
If this does work out, then be warned that you’ll probably want to avoid this blog for two days each month: the first day, where I put up the proposal for what I want out of the next four weeks, and the last day, where I acquit myself against the proposal list from the first. I’ll put them under cuts so you don’t need to be subjected to any more of my personal spillage than you strictly want to be, but I do need to put them up there, sorry. Like I said, this is the main reason I finally took the step and fed my name into WordPress.
II: To Business – the March Acquittal.
If I ask myself how I feel about what use I’ve made of the past four weeks, the overall feel is pretty positive, with one glaring exception. Let’s itemise.
With regard to my actual person: My fitness has plateaued a bit since the start of the year. I handled fitness training and martial arts OK when I last did solid training at both, but two months of a twice-weekly jujitsu class stacked on top of a twice-weekly bootcamp was a sharp lesson in the difference between what a twenty-eight-year-old body was capable of and what a thirty-eight-year-old body is capable of. I hit a wall earlier in the month and had to stop completely for a week or two, just to try and build up reserves that I’d run down to nothing. Both have started again now, although I still have to work out what pace I can go at to benefit from both without simply messing myself up. Too much junk in my diet, too, I’ve been complimented on losing weight and have become complacent the way I always do when that happens. My jujitsu technique has started flooding back, though, and I’m falling in love with the art all over again.
On the day job: yes, I’m concerned enough about how good I am at the day job to record it. There’s probably a blog post brewing on my thoughts on writing and day jobs and how they balance, and this will probably have the sparsest detail of what I put up here, but anyway. I’m generally broadly satisfied that my employer gets my salary’s worth out of me, and the past month is no different, but I do need to work on my perpetual nemesis: mornings. I’m not so off the rails as to be in actual trouble, but it’s a pain in the arse to have to work short lunchtimes and late afternoons every day to avoid bleeding off all my hours.
Finances, housekeeping and the general getting together of shit: pretty average. The clutterbusting in the flat that I was so proud of early in the year has ground to a halt, and the austerity measures – actually that overdramatises, the simplicity measures I’d promised myself so as to be able to amass a bit of cash for various purposes didn’t eventuate. Still frittering far too much income away.
It probably seems a bit grim and chilly to track my social interactions in this way, but I’m enough of a hermit by temperament to know that friendships I value will slide if I don’t occasionally prod myself to make sure I renew them. And since prodding myself is the explicit purpose of the acquittal I can record that I’ve established a couple of new social routines and re-established contact with an old friend I hadn’t seen for far too many months.
Okay, the writing, the big one. As of April I’m going to start tracking actual word output again, but since March has been a bit flakier I’ll give myself some slack and say that it was satisfactorily productive. “Molting” and “Blood Machines” both got to first-draft-complete status, I got a practice script up at the OzTaku forums for feedback, I got several T-stories written down (more on these later, but it’s a good outcome), I put more work into the novel, was involved in the Masques launch and sent out a query for “Fitness Freaks”. Relatively heavy on the writing, and light on the submissions, but that’s a fixable trend. That’s cool.
Two downsides for the month are on my mind, one more so than the other. I’ve been too weak-willed to save much money, which means that my various big-bucks objectives – paint repair on the car, quicker payment of said car, and a new PC – are no closer than they were late last year when I was promising myself I’d have made inroads on this. That’s fixable.
The other blight on March, which doesn’t fit comfortably into a to-do format but which needs to be accounted for if I’m honest, is that I think I broke a friendship. I directed some nasty, creepy behaviour at someone and kept it up until they had to gut-check me in an email and point out exactly what I was doing. Whether it’s repairable or not I don’t know at this stage. I’ll see.
And that’s March, more or less. Tomorrow I draw on this for the April Proposal. After that, I promise I’ll move on to something more interesting.