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A Thousand Words

Quote by Hunter S. Thompson

Quote by Hunter S. Thompson

 

You know that saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? Well, I disagree. A picture can convey a lot of meaning but comparing pictures to words is a bit like the old “apples to oranges” idiom. Different people relate to the world in different ways. Some people prefer pictures as a method of communication and interpretation. Some people prefer words. Some people prefer other methods, but I’m not writing about any of those today. Words and pictures together often create a harmony of communication, but if I had to choose only one, I would go with words. I suppose that’s a bit like saying I would prefer to be blind as opposed to deaf. I don’t really want to be either of those things and I feel blessed that all my senses work. It may be open to debate how well I use them, but medically speaking, I am fully operational. I have noticed that some people with functional senses and measurable intelligence don’t favor any method of complex communication. This phenomenon baffles me. The ability to communicate in multiple ways is as essential to being human as having opposable thumbs. Why would anyone choose to remain an enigma of humanity?

I like words. I am a writer.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Well, duh. State the obvious much? I’m reading her blog. I know she’s a writer.”

Yes, sometimes I find it comforting to state the obvious. I also like to state the obscure and absurd. And I like to write. Lots of words and frequently. I love that this form of communication is, to the best of my knowledge, uniquely human. I’ve always thought that if I could write the perfect sentence, crafted in the perfect way, whomever I was trying to communicate with would be able to understand the totality of my intent and therefore, be able to understand the totality of me. Unfortunately, most of the time, I can’t even say I understand the smallest part of myself terribly well. It makes for a bit of a conundrum.

I have always been a writer. That is to say, I have always been partial to communicating by the written word. I grew up in a time before email, and text messages, and before shorthand, terse communication was all the rage. I feel like those things have become an excuse for people to be lazy with not only writing, but with conveying thoughts and intentions completely, in any way. I don’t tend to write short texts with abbreviations in place of words, and I have been known, when emotion prevails, to write long, manifesto-type emails. My penchant for communication via the written word seems to make me a dinosaur of sorts, and I think it annoys some people. Writing, reading and speaking thoughtfully, fully and deliberately, is a lost art and most people are too busy to be bothered. I miss phone conversations, which are also a rare commodity these days, but mostly I miss sending and receiving letters.

When I was a kid there was only one phone company, Ma Bell (colloquial-speak for the Bell Telephone Company, for those of you too young to remember). The entire central and eastern part of Massachusetts, where I grew up,  had the same area code (617). Any call outside that area code was long distance, and long distance was expensive. If I had a friend living outside of 617, we communicated through letters. At the end of first grade, a friend I had known since I was 3 moved out-of-state. I missed her so I wrote to her. We kept writing back and forth until we were both in college. We’ve lost touch over the last 20 odd years but she was my first pen pal. She was far from the last. When friends moved away or went on vacation, I wrote to them and they wrote to me. When we all went to college we wrote to each other. When I made friends at camp or traveling, we wrote. I wrote to cousins I barely knew who lived out of state. We wrote real letters with paper and stamps. We sent each other small, silly gifts and drew pictures on the envelopes. It used to be exciting to go to a stationary store. (Do those still exist?) It used to be exciting to go to the mailbox.

I didn’t just write to people who lived far away though. All through junior high and high school, my friends and I wrote notes. We passed them in the halls or stuck them in each others lockers. My sister and I wrote notes and letters to our next door neighbors. Sometimes we even wrote to each other. I still have boxes in storage that contain a portion of the letters I received during my younger and more prolific days. I go through them every so often, the same way I read old journals every few years. The letters, notes and journals are my history, all written down, like in the olden days. There are very few letters from the last 20 years and almost none from the last decade. How will my personal history be kept, and who will know and understand me for the rest of my life if there are no more letters? How will I understand myself? Email and texts are convenient, and a necessary part of life and business these days but they lack personality. They are disposable and temporary ways to communicate. I am guilty of losing motivation to communicate the long way around too, but it makes me sad that the art and emotion of telling our lives to loved ones through handwritten letters has become virtually (pun intended) defunct.

I suppose I have latched on to this blog-world of writing because it affords me the space to relate my thoughts without assaulting busy and less communication-driven friends with endless emails or texts. I have gotten out of the habit of making sure that I have physical addresses for everyone who lives out-of-state, never mind anyone who lives close by, and I rarely have stamps anyway. I have lots of email addresses and phone numbers (that I almost never call), and I can message people on Facebook, but the contacts made through those mediums almost always lack soul. It’s nice to be able to reach out or catch up almost instantly, but this new sound-bite-communication-world-order depresses me. And I hate sending texts or emails with information or queries and getting thoughtless, incomplete or one-word responses. It makes me feel like I wasn’t worth the time and effort. I can wait for a well-executed response. In fact, a thoughtfully written, longhand response, sent through the United States Postal Service would make for a nostalgic thrill. Of course no one has my home address either . . .

Free Beer Tomorrow

photo

 

I have a disease. It’s called procrastination-itis. It’s chronic and incurable. That’s not to say that there aren’t treatments to help kick its lazy ass into remission but, like alcoholism, it’s something that involves a daily struggle in order not to succumb to its insidious nature.

I have managed to be fairly productive for the past few days but last night I made a dangerous mistake. I made a list. Lists are a procrastination sufferer’s greatest enemy, closest friend, and the ultimate tool. Look at me go! I did something! I made a list! Now I can sit down, have some coffee and contemplate my bellybutton!

It seems I haven’t learned yet that making lists is a surefire way for me to fail at productivity. I don’t make short lists. I make very long lists. I feel like a pathetic underachiever if my list is too short and excusably overwhelmed if it it’s too long.  If I make my list long enough, it’s always a reasonable result if I can’t cross off every last thing. At the end of the day I can just make a fresh list and shred the old one, making it appear as if I always intended to do those things the next day anyway. Which I didn’t. There are certain tasks I don’t have any intention of ever doing (if I can help it) that inevitably end up on every new list I make. They are “filler tasks” to help make my list look impressive, as if I made it for some imaginary “boss”. [Scene: Knock at office door. “Come in.” Boss walks in. “Hey Effie, can you help me with these TPS reports?” “No, Sir. I already have a full agenda. Here, look at this long list of difficult and time-consuming projects I have to complete. I’m just too busy.” Office door closes. Effie goes back to playing Candy Crush.]

When I make my lists I really do make them with all the best intentions. I usually make them at night–for the next day–when I am drunk with ambition and optimism about a fresh start. (And it’s conveniently too late to start anything new.) In the morning though, I avoid eye-contact with my list in the hope that it will get dressed and see itself out, realizing that I brought it home the night before while in an inebriated stupor and can’t even recall its name. In all the years I have been making these lists, I have probably only made one where every last thing got done. If I could find it, I would have it framed. I’ll put “looking for old to-do-list” on tomorrow’s list. If I find it, I can add “get to-do list framed” to the next one.

Beer-goggle ambition and “fat, ugly” lists aside, I also have an ADD-type procrastination disorder. I don’t need a list to procrastinate. Even on good days I imbibe in delay, dilly-dallying, loafing, and frittering my time away. This puttering usually consists of starting one task, getting frustrated, bored, or panicked about what I’m not getting done, taking a cigarette/Candy Crush break before the task is complete, and then moving on to something completely different. It’s a vicious cycle. At the end of the day, I have gotten maybe one or two things completely taken care of, started and abandoned several other projects, and turned myself into a nervous wreck about all the stuff I didn’t work on at all. There’s always more in the last category than the other two combined. Enter the list. Again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I am currently administering my own CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) and experiencing some improvement in my condition. Obviously I still have some obstacles to overcome, but I have set myself a schedule and have managed to mostly stick with it for a while now. (No, I didn’t write it down.) I schedule my lollygagging into my day. For instance, my morning schedule includes time to drink coffee, screw around on Facebook, smoke a cigarette, and play a round or two of Candy Crush. I have been waking up at around 5 recently, so if I am doing something productive by 6:30 or 7, I’ve still gotten an early jump on my day. Some mornings I even wake up and get straight to writing, researching, or job hunting.

Today I woke up with my list. It had stolen the covers and kept me awake most of the night with its snoring. I gave it a cup of coffee before I shoved it out the door, but instead of going on a walk of shame to the nearest bar or trash can, it sat on my front stoop, waiting for me to invite it back in for a shower and some lunch. “Writing a new blog article” was on my list, so now it’s sitting here with me again, throwing me dirty looks and tapping it’s foot with impatience. It wants me to help it get the dishes done and the laundry sorted.

I think I’m going to have a cigarette and read this first:

 

 

Not Your Cup of Tea

Found at Happy Hour Art on pinterest.com  by Anita Vasquez-Centeno

Found at Happy Hour Art on pinterest.com by Anita Vasquez-Centeno

Earlier today I ran into an old flame. He is still a friend of mine on Facebook and, in theory at least, he is still a friend. I knew this blog would not necessarily be his literary “cup of tea” and that I risked criticism from him by posting in a place he could see but I was unprepared for my delayed anger over his response to my new venture.

Our overall exchange was pleasant enough. I don’t see him all that frequently any more. We don’t text or talk much and I have cut back on evenings spent at the local bar where we both hang out. I ran into him by chance and, as we were saying “hello”, another friend of ours drove by and called me Effie. My former flame was confused. I told him I had started a blog and was using a pseudonym. He still seemed confused. I was ready to dismiss it since he is not on Facebook frequently and could very easily have missed the promotional posts I made on my personal page. But then he “remembered” that he had seen the posts and had actually read some of my blog articles. There were no compliments about my writing or congratulations that I was finally doing something constructive but I really hadn’t expected any from him. Non-backhanded compliments are not his style. He did, however, say that he had noticed a very small spelling or grammatical error on one of the posts and had taken pleasure in that fact. At the time I just let the comment go.

There is a degree of intellectual competitiveness to our relationship that has always gotten under my skin even though I am equally responsible. I beat him at Words With Friends about 70% of the time–I know, I paid for the add-on that tells me this–and he will no longer play me in Scramble. He maintains that I may have some marginally greater ability with language but that he is superior in all other areas. It drives me bonkers. To be fair, he used to be a high school history teacher and his knowledge of history, both past and present, far exceeds mine. He also knows more about sports and maybe science (as long as it’s not human health and biology) but I could hardly care less about sports, and a man who doesn’t know what his own prostate is or does has a long way to go before I give him greater scientific props. His absurd and infuriating claims extend from telling me he has read more books than I have (how the heck could he possibly know that?) to informing me that he has more developed interpersonal skills. WTF? My opinion of the latter insult is that anyone running around telling one of their friends that they are the better friend has negated that statement simply by making it.

As you can tell, I am still quite riled up about our recent exchange and it has stirred up a lot of old peeves as well.

Given the fact that, at this point, it’s likely that at least a few of the people who know about and read my blog also know both me and the man I am speaking about (he may even read this as well, hunting for more evidence that I am less-than), I should probably feel some shame at airing this dirty laundry here. I don’t. What I feel ashamed about is the fact that I went home a few hours after our run-in and obsessively re-read all of my posts. I didn’t see any glaring mistakes. I didn’t even see any small mistakes. I could have missed something and I may well make spelling or grammatical mistakes now or in the future but I check what I write pretty thoroughly before I post because even the smallest error makes me cringe. I have always been like that but now I have his voice in my head, gloating over even my tiniest missteps. It makes me angry with him but mostly it makes me angry with myself for allowing him to sap a little joy out of my day, and inject a little more insecurity, for doing something that makes me feel like I won’t always be a failure. Shame on him and shame on me.

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