Because I have sleep apnea and spend my nights strapped to a C-PAP machine, I don’t dream very often. If I remember to take my melatonin before bed, I’ll sometimes have dreams, but mostly my nights are a blank slate. (I’m sure I’m actually dreaming, of course, but I just don’t remember the dreams upon waking.) A couple of weeks ago, though, I had a fine pair of dreams. Very vivid.
Kris and I were joining Chris and Jolie to see a movie in northwest Portland. For some reason, we were meeting them at the Mini dealership in southwest Portland. When we met, there was an hour before the movie began, so I suggested we walk over to the theater. We did. As we were leaving the dealership, we passed through a coffeeshop attached to it (which doesn’t exist in reality), and I accidentally knocked a newspaper from some lady’s hands. Chris caught it as it fell, and I was all apologetic.
The four of us walked to the (imaginary) theater in northwest Portland, but we were way early (which wouldn’t be true in real life — the walk would have been just the right amount of time). Fortunately, the theater was attached to a large used bookstore (not Powell’s). Also fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), the bookstore contained a huge stash of comics-as-books that I’ve been hunting for. And for cover price (instead of marked up at collectors prices). I was ecstatic, and set aside a stack of them to purchase.
Then I saw that my brother Jeff was there. He and I began to talk. Jolie came to tell me that it was time for the movie to start, so I went to find my stack of books, but they were gone! I was frantic! I didn’t want to let these bargains slip away. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I looked under a bed (why was there a bed in the middle of a bookstore?) but they weren’t there. (There were, however, other comics-as-books that I wanted, so I grabbed them.) Ultimately, I had to leave without my books, and I was very sad. I did not enjoy the movie.
The four of us are coming out of a building (the theater in dream #1?) and we see a puzzling sight. We’re in southeast Portland now, over by Woodstock and 39th. All of the buildings are shifted off their foundations. In fact, most of them are collapsed and demolished. “Was there an earthquake?” we keep asking the people, but they’re wandering around in a daze and not answering us.
Chris and Jolie go their own way while Kris and I ride the bus (?!?!?) home, looking at the devastation as we ride. “I wonder if our house has collapsed,” I say, but we decide that it probably hasn’t because the foundation is embedded deep in the earth (not true). When we get home, the house is fine, but all of the houses around it have collapsed.
Tags: Daily Life · Psychology
It’s one o’clock when we reach the house. Neither Mom nor I have eaten all day. She took her meds sometime before I picked her up at nine; I ate half a bag of peanut M&Ms on the drive to Salem. When we walk into the kitchen, she sets her purse down and says, “I’m hungry.”
“What would you like to eat?” I ask.
“Peanut butter,” she says.
“Just peanut butter?” I ask.
“And bread,” she says.
“A peanut butter sandwich?” I ask.
She thinks about it. “Yes,” she says. She shuffles her feet and looks down.
“Would you like me to make the sandwich?” I ask, pulling the bread and peanut butter from the fridge.
“No,” she says. “I can make it.” I watch as she slathers the bread with thick gobs of peanut butter. “And milk,” she says. I pour her a glass of milk.
While she works, I prepare a place for her at the kitchen table. “Why don’t you sit down,” I say.
“I’m fine,” she says. She stands at the counter and devours the sandwich in great gulps. She chases it with the milk.
When she’s finished, I show Mom the computer at the kitchen table. She sits down and types in a URL. She clicks the button. She clicks the button. She clicks the button. “It’s not working,” she says. I look. She’s not actually clicking the button.
“You’re pressing the space bar,” I say. “You need to click the button.” She presses the space bar again. And again. She looks at me, and I know that I’m making her uncomfortable, so I leave.
Moments later, she’s up again. I can see her pacing. She’s pacing, as if she can’t make up her mind where to go or what to do. I hear her walk into the next room and begin rummaging on the bookshelf. She comes in to my room. “You said I could borrow books,” she says.
“Yes,” I say. “What would you like to read?”
“How long will I be gone?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. “A few days.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she says. “Anything.”
I giver her My Antonia by Willa Cather, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and a couple of others. She sits down at the kitchen table again, in front of the computer. She opens her e-mail program. I go back to my chair.
Moments later, she’s up again, pacing. “I don’t like it here,” she says. “Can’t we just go someplace and drive around?”
“Yes,” I say. “I have to go upstairs for a minute first.”
“Is the car unlocked?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. I go up upstairs to send e-mail so the family knows where we are. When I get in the car, Mom is sitting at attention in the passenger seat. She has everything with her: her purse, the pile of books. I start driving.
Tony and Kamie pass us going the other way. They turn their truck around to follow. Tony calls me on my cell phone. “We’re behind you,” he says.
“I’m scared,” Mom says. Her hands are fidgeting uncontrollably. She’s sweating.
“Yes,” I say. “I am too. But it will be okay. It will be fine.” We drive in silence for a few minutes. Mom fidgets.
“Can we go to the hospital now?” she asks at last.
“Yes,” I say. “We’re almost there.”
Tags: FS Important · Friends and Family · Personal History · Psychology · Stories
Strange. I haven’t written anything since last Wednesday or Thursday. Now that it’s time to get some stuff ready for the morning, I find that I don’t have it in me. My writing muscles won’t flex. They’ve atrophied. It’s great to take time off, but I find that this is sometimes the result — I forget how to write.
The solution? I spend an hour or two “freewriting”, simply jotting whatever is on the top of my head. Like this. Most of what I produce during this time will be unusable, but that’s okay. The point is to get the writing muscles working again.
The real trouble tonight, however, is I’d really rather be watching a movie. Turns out we don’t own Raiders of the Lost Ark — which is what I’m craving — so I guess I’ll get back to work instead.
Tags: Introspection · Psychology · Writing
From Study Hacks comes The Einstein Principle: Accomplish More by Doing Less.
Einstein’s push for general relativity highlights an important reality about accomplishment. We are most productive when we focus on a very small number of projects on which we can devote a large amount of attention. Achievements worth achieving require hard work. There is no shortcut here. Be it starting up a new college club or starting a new business, eventually, effort, sustained over a long amount of time, is required.
In a perfect world, we would all be Einsteins. We would each have only one, or at most two, projects in the three major spheres of our lives: professional, extracurricular, and personal. And we would be allowed to focus on this specialized set, in exclusion, as we push the projects to impressive conclusions.
But this doesn’t happen…
Our problem is that we don’t know in advance which project might turn out to be our theory of relativity and which are duds. Because of this, most ambitious people I know, myself included, follow a different strategy. We sow lots of project seeds. We e-mail a lot of people, join a lot of clubs, commit to a lot of minor projects, set up lots of meetings, constantly send out feelers to friends and connections regarding our latest brainstorm. We don’t know which seed will ultimately take root and grow, so, by planting many, we expose ourselves to enough randomness, over time, to maximize our chance of a big deal, interesting, life-changing success eventually happening.
These numerous seeds, however, have a tendency to transform into weeds. While some of them clearly grow into pursuits worth continuing, and others die off quickly, many, instead, exist in a shadowy in-between state where they demand our time but offer little promise of reward in the end.
These weed projects violate the Einstein principle.
We can no longer focus on a small number of important project, but find ourselves, instead, rushing between an increasingly overwhelming slate full of a variety of obligations. This time fracture can prevent real accomplishment. Imagine if Einstein maintained a blog, wrote a book, joined a bunch of clubs at ETH, and tried to master rowing at the same time he was working on General Relativity? We’d still be living in the age of Newton.
Filed for future reference.
Tags: Flotch · Psychology
After reading Penelope Trunk’s recent post about eating disorders, I ordered the book Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth. I figured it was cheaper than paying Lauren for another batch of wellness coaching sessions. I’m willing to give it a shot.
The first chapter of the book is fairly straight-forward: “only eat when you’re hungry”. I’ve heard that advice before. It’s good advice. I’m just not good at following it.
But the second chapter was startling. In “Deciding What You Want to Eat”, Roth offers advice similar to that which GRS-reader Sally gave me last spring: Tell yourself that you can eat what you want, and you’ll eventually find that you don’t want to eat junk food. This is Roth’s story:
For two weeks I ate chocolate chip cookies in varies shapes and consistencies for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in-between. On the fourth day of the second week, I ate an egg for lunch. For dinner on the fourteenth day, I ate some lasagna that [a friend] had made. And a ball of dough for variety. On the fifteenth day, I never wanted to see a chocolate chip cookie again.
I tell this story at the beginning of every workshop because it’s absurd and because it’s true. I tell it because almost everyone there has fantasized about eating as much as she wants of whatever she wants without feeling guilty, and few people will allow themselves this freedom (or this madness).
One of the reasons it’s terrifying for compulsive eaters to believe we can eat what we want and not become obese is that we think we want so much…We feel bottomless, as if we could never get enough. We try to make up for years of dieting in two weeks of chocolate chip cookies or a month-long binge. Until we realize we are grown-ups. When I looked at the package of Hostess Sno-Balls and told myself that I really could have them if I wanted them, I realized I did want them…when I was ten years old.
For the past week, I’ve been heeding this advice. Whatever I want to eat, I eat. The very first night, I wanted chocolate chip cookies. Kris baked them, and I ate them. The next day I wanted an ice cream cone. I’ve eaten three pickled sausages. I’ve had plent of Sno-balls. I’ve eaten a lot of candy and drank a lot of Mexican Coke. Tonight I will probably have Gino’s clams.
But you know what? Eating like this has made me even more miserable. My stomach is a mass of percolating gas. My bowels are like a giant nuclear furnace. I find that I’m actually craving salad — spinach salad.
The truth is that the chocolate chip cookies and the ice cream and the pickled sausages don’t hold as much appeal when they’re not “off-limits”. I don’t feel guilty about eating them, it’s true, but I also find that I don’t really want to eat them. Right now, at this very moment, I want nothing more in this world than a tuna fish sandwich. (I’m going to lunch with Mac this afternoon — maybe we can find a place where I can get one…)
My friend Sally told me that when she craves cake, for example, she tells herself that she could have the best cake in Atlanta if she wanted. And sometimes she goes and gets it. But most of the time, the thought that she could have a very fine piece of cake is enough. She’s learned to trust herself, to trust that she can indulge herself in the future, and that she can make smart choices now. In her book, Roth writes that trust is the key:
Trust develops and builds when I am given a choice (and not, as in dieting, denied it). Trust develops when I choose to make myself comfortable, not miserable, to take care of myself rather than hurt myself. Trust develops when you learn from actual experience that you can decide which desires to act upon and which you will leave to fantasy.
I haven’t reached the end of the tunnel yet, but I believe I see a pin-prick of light…
Tags: Food & Drink · Psychology
One of the benefits of having a popular weblog (not this one, obviously) is that your readers send you lots of interesting reading material. Here are a couple of blog posts that are actually closely related to each other:
First up, at Brazen Careerist, Penelope writes about four weight-loss tips from her month in the mental ward. This is raw stuff:
- Understand that any weight problem is an emotional problem.
- Take time off so you can change bad patterns.
- Don’t be a snob. (In other words: know thyself.)
- Stop using your life as an excuse.
I’m telling anyone with an eating problem — if you are overweight or underweight — [life] can wait. Stop kidding yourself that [other stuff] is more important. People are always worrying that they will mess up their career by stopping their work to fix themselves. But the worst job is the job that you use to avoid your personal life.
I immediately ordered Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, which somebody recommneded to me long ago, but which I’ve conveniently ignored. Emotional eating is what I do. I need to stop it.
Meanwhile, here’s a related article on creating a habit of self-regulation. The author writes:
If you do ANYTHING that requires self-regulation, then that makes it EASIER for you to have self-regulation in EVERYTHING.
Self-discipline is one of my weak spots. It always has been. I don’t know how to change it, how to improve. This article claims that even practicing good posture on a regular basis can improve self-regulation in other areas of life. I’m skeptical, but I’m willing to give it a try (especially since my posture is poor to begin with).
Someday I will be a whole, complete person. I just wish it were today.
(P.S. On a related note, Dave sent me this story about mindless eating.)
Tags: Food & Drink · Introspection · Psychology