Second thoughts

Recently I read an article that explained why, when we’re driving, we can sometimes get lost in our rambling thoughts yet still arrive safely at our destination. Apparently the brain can construct some sort of parallel structures so that one process (in this case, driving) can go on in the background while another activity (pondering) seems to rise to the foreground until some action occurs to bring the background function to the fore.

That immediately brought to mind a question that my high school Government teacher asked my class of seniors in 1985: “Did you ever just get in the car and start driving, then suddenly realize that you were at your destination with no memory of how you got there?” At the time, we all laughed and said no, of course not. Who would admit to being such a distracted driver that they didn’t remember the trip? Some of the students teased him and called him a stoner, and he just laughed. In retrospect, and with the perspective of many more years, it was incredibly brave of him to put that question to a room full of irreverent teenagers. These days, it might cost a good teacher their job.

But he was right. Anecdotal evidence and science happen to back him up. I have my own data set, because it’s youth basketball season and I’ve been doing more driving than usual — to practice and back, to games and back, to tournaments and back. And forth. And back. And forth.

I find that driving on familiar roads, which I am wont to do, eventually begins to serve as a sort of Zen activity which permits the wandering thoughts to become firmer and bolder. I have come up with some deep thoughts worthy of Jack Handey, but there seems to be no way to record them while I’m driving. And by the time I arrive safely home, they have faded in contrast to the thoughts of parking the car, unpacking, and starting a new set of urgent tasks. Sometimes they disappear.

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I’ll have to find a way to catch these gossamer thoughts before they drift away. Will it be an app on my phone? Will it be a pen and notebook kept in the car? Will it be my frustrated shout, “I have to remember that! Shut up until I get home!”

Sometimes my thoughts do give me another chance, like a Girl Scout making a second visit with the order sheet if you weren’t at home the first time she was out peddling Thin Mints. At that point they’ve been more than generous, and it’s imperative that I do everything to record them and develop them, to think about their implications. (Thank you, I’ll take two boxes. One for now and two for the freezer.)

I have certainly surrounded myself with enough notebooks, pens, Post-It notes, pencils, writing pads, crayons, backs of envelopes, calligraphy pens, and reams of copy paper with which to take down these mental notes. I also have an incalculable amount of computing power in the house (incalculable for the most part because not all of it still works, but the potential is certainly there).

The hardest things to find are quiet and time. Time is difficult enough to obtain, but I’m not yet skilled enough to block out all distractions in order to develop some of these thoughts. And if I’m punched in on the Parent time clock, I have to stay alert and responsive to the changing needs of the other members of my family. They may not be interrupting my reading and thinking to ask for a cup of juice these days; they might be unable to sleep because they’re wondering about their purpose in life. I’m not saying that I have the answer, but the point of being a parent is to be there when your child asks the question, and let them know that it’s something worth talking about. So, checking out from that responsibility isn’t the way I’m going to get a novel written.

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Yet I still have to write a novel. One of the thoughts that did recently occur to me is that there are many things about me and about my life that my children do not know, in many cases simply because they have not asked me. They are busy navigating their transitions from childhood to young adulthood, and it’s quite possible that it will never occur to them to ask those questions. Maybe someday their own children will ask those questions about me, and my kids will have no idea what the answers could be. But they could know me, a little bit, through the characters, experiences, and thoughts I could weave into a book.

At times, being around finished books is hard to bear. I recently had to leave a bookstore after realizing that I was surrounded by the work of people who had actually finished their books, and I felt inadequate and ashamed. Yet at other times, the same experience is inspiring. Look at how many people have felt the same urge to write, to record, to create! Look at how many times they have been successful! When I read poor, sloppy writing I feel upset, as if that author has taken a place I should have had, as if their printed book has crowded out my unwritten one. (Of course, that’s not true — they have put in the work and I haven’t. Yet.)

But when I read truly great work, it seems to make more work on the bookshelf for whatever I may be inspired — and driven — to write. Literature isn’t a competition between writers, but more of a test that takes place within a single creative mind. How will I perform on that test? Will I work hard enough to succeed? Will I make the time? Will I nourish the thoughts? Will I develop the skills? I sure hope so. I’d love to read the kind of book that I think I could write.

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Published in: on January 16, 2017 at 8:33 am  Comments (1)  

Apparently I am the 90 percent

In the previous post I mentioned that I have occasionally been accused of not finishing what I start. Now, that’s a bit unfair to make as a blanket statement, because I certainly have proof that I have completed some of the things I have started. Including blankets.

Well, most of them, except for the blanket project I just started a year ago, and THAT blanket project I started several years ago, which nobody in my knitting group had better throw in my face — AGAIN — because, after all, I don’t have a bed big enough for that blanket any more. But I will still finish it anyway. Eventually. So there. (I’m not sure that this proves my point.)

The point is that some things I start, I completely finish. That should give the lie to the statement that I never finish anything I start.

And it probably would, except that it turns out that most of the things I start only get mostly done. And by mostly done I mean really, really close to done, like 90 percent done.

90 percent used to be a really good grade. Sigh. Back in the days of junior high school and part of high school, before I had Mrs. Beathard and her math classes and her 93-100 “I have higher expectations for you” grading scale, 90 percent was a solid A. 90 percent was great, and certainly more than good enough.

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I never gave a thought to that other 10 percent. How neglected it must have felt — abandoned after the 90 percent had been bagged and tagged. But after a while it found a companion: another 10 percent. Even side by side, they didn’t look like much, especially next to an 80 percent. Who were they kidding anyway? They weren’t important.

Now, however, they are legion. While my 90 percents are cowering in project bags and storage boxes waiting for free time that will never come, those 10 percents have gotten together, sent petitions around, and freakin’ unionized. You get enough 10 percents hanging around, and eventually they add up to about 2000% of some seriously unfinished business. And if you’re only running at 90 percent efficiency in the first place, you’re never going to finish 2100% in a day. And the next day it will be 2110%.

Those pesky 10 percents.

They are the three missing photos I need to complete my firstborn son’s baby book. (What’s the rush? He’s only seventeen years old…and ten months. Crap.)

They are the five minutes’ work of knitting I need to do to finish a project for a friend who lives on the other side of the planet. (It’s only two years late. I want to get it riiiight.)

They are the books that lie sideways on the shelf because they don’t have a proper place to go because I buy new books faster than I finish reading the old ones. (Maybe I’ll break both my legs and have to stay home in bed for several months and then what will I do if I run out of books to read?)

They are the bills I’m going to pay tomorrow, the clothes I’m going to fold tomorrow, the refrigerator I’m going to clean tomorrow. (Guess what’s going to happen tomorrow?)

I have finally realized that nobody cares about what I plan to do tomorrow. Heck, I’m not even that crazy about it myself. I’ve had plans before, and assumptions, and bought-and-paid-for concert tickets. I know what can happen. I know what has happened. I could have all the best intentions in the world and it doesn’t matter if I put them all off until tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter if I have a great idea for a novel, a series, heck, an entire franchise! It’s just an idea and it’s going to fade away if I don’t tackle it and give it 100, yes, 100 percent. Even worse, it might leave me and go attract the attention of someone who will give it 100 percent on the first go-round.

It doesn’t matter if I’m the kind of person who wanted to take Latin or be a professional baseball player or have a de-scented skunk for a pet. Wishes are wishes, and I didn’t do any of those things. Could’ve, maybe should’ve, but didn’t.

I’m not trying to just dump on myself here. I’ve done some pretty neat stuff, and I don’t think that I’m a failure. But I can’t take credit, even in my mind, for the things I merely wanted to do but didn’t have the courage and strength of character to accomplish.

And tonight, I have some bills to pay.

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 9:03 pm  Comments (2)  

Unfinished Business

I haven’t published a blog post here for a year and a half — but then, you already know that. What you may not know is that, before I started writing this post, Chocolate Sheep had six visitors for all of 2017. Six! After an empty, desolate eighteen months of non-publishing!

Now that’s a faithful audience. But then, I already knew that. (And thank you.)

My last year and a half has been busy and stressful and joyful and sorrowful. Many of the things that happened to me, I can’t write about. But that’s okay. I have been doing a lot of thinking and waiting and writing in my head during that time. I’ve studied my math, written an essay about various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, switched jobs and switched jobs again and then switched back to the previous job, started a new blog (or maybe two) and posted for a while and then didn’t post, started reading a lot of books and finished reading most some of them, knitted (and partially crocheted!) a few things, mourned Alan Rickman and David Bowie (ouch) and Gary Shandling and Prince (ouch) and Leonard Cohen (WTF) and Carrie Fisher (please, no) and Debbie Reynolds (wait, what?) and William Christopher (okay, 2016, I officially give up now, please take all my heroes) and so many others, and started writing here and there — journal entries, embarrassingly bad poetry, grocery lists, song lyrics, the aforementioned (and as yet still unpublished) Sherlock Holmes essay, love letters, parts of short stories and longer stories — and, as I mentioned, done a lot of thinking.

I have done a lot of thinking about who I am. I start a lot of stuff. And I have to admit that I don’t finish everything that I start. I have had that fact thrown at me like a poisoned dart in the last few years. At first it hurt. Maybe after a while, though, I got a bit more acclimated to the poison. Plenty of people start lots of stuff, including knitting projects. Most of it probably isn’t worth finishing and should just be frogged. Are you obligated to hunt down every wild hare and chase every wild goose just from a sense of honor? Or can you walk away from the hunt when you realize you didn’t really want Hasenpfeffer or Duck a l’orange anyway and a good tuna salad on whole wheat sandwich was more to your taste? And if you walk away, how do you deal with other people’s opinions about your change of mind?

You don’t deal with it. They deal with it, if they really care at all. And if they only cared enough to criticize actions they didn’t understand, they probably don’t need to deal with it either. Just move on. Really. Just move on.

So here I am, still thinking and writing, and trying not to beat myself up for all the loose ends I’ve left behind me. These days I’m getting better at not beating myself up unnecessarily. So when I’m able, I will weave in the ends that are important. Until I’m able, I may be casting on for something else that may be profitable. That’s how my brain works and that’s a large part of who I am. I do my best and I keep going. I don’t want to get stuck any more in the morass of guilt over my as-yet unfinished business. Sometimes I don’t keep writing because I don’t know the end of the story yet. I move on to something else until I do. Sometimes I don’t know how to take the next step in a project. I get something else done while I figure out that next step. It may take five years before I pick up that project again, but I did finish other projects in that five years.

A couple of weeks ago I took a new kind of step and applied for a writing fellowship that would provide professional support and structure to my writing. (Clearly, I need structure.) Whether or not I earn/win/receive the fellowship, I need to start writing again. Today is as good a day as any to start. Knowing that six readers were here waiting for me at a virtual blank sheet of paper is one kind of motivation. Even if they turned out to be six Russian spiderbots collecting subversive knitting lingo for Putin, well, it’s still nice to be waited for. (For the comrades: CO 4x+2. k2, k1 tbl, p1 across, end k2. Turn and repeat. For the Motherland!)

Today also happens to be my tenth anniversary of starting this blog. Online writing has changed a lot since I joined WordPress. So has WordPress, which (after I’ve published it) will probably tell me how many posts I’ve published. For what it’s worth, so have I.

I have started many blogs, all on WordPress, since I started this one — one for each particularly interesting-looking-at-the-time wild goose that crossed my field of vision. Most of them are defunct for lack of interest, lack of time, or lack of relevance to my current life. But there are two that I will most likely choose to maintain in addition to Chocolate Sheep, and they relate to my home baking and my movie reviews. If you’re not interested, then by no means should you worry about them (I haven’t seen a movie in the theaters since Interstellar). If I do post something to those blogs, I will link to it from here so you can see what my writing is like on the other side of the tracks. But frankly, it’s quite a bit like my writing on this side of the tracks.

There are so many things I want to do.(Don’t get me started. Seriously, don’t even think about getting me started.) But most of all, I want to be my best self and keep trying. I hate it when I give in to the dark forces — don’t you?

Keep trying, and keep reading. I promise to keep writing.

Published in: on January 2, 2017 at 12:09 am  Comments (3)