Tag Archives: wasting time

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Short of Time

I’m tired.

This is the part of the year where everything seems to converge and my time and energy run low, the gas tank puttering on fumes, the next gas station a couple of impossible miles ahead. Soccer is getting into full swing, which means I’m losing out on a couple entire evenings every week, and several hours on the average weeknight. School tends to pick up during this time as well, as we start to look forward toward the end of the year: conferences, scheduling for next year, graduation, all of which says nothing about the old refrain of grades, grades, grades. It’s colder out, which makes it harder to get out for my runs, which makes me more likely to miss them, which has its own sapping effect. And, of course, the days are shorter, so there is literally less daylight in which to get done the things that need doing.

Again: I’m tired.

The inclination is to just let a few things slide. Miss a run here and there. Let a day’s worth of writing get away from me. Shell out for some fast food instead of cooking a proper meal.

But momentum matters, and it cuts both ways.

I’ve worked really hard to establish a momentum which has me writing every day, exercising almost every day, waking up early, doing a decent job balancing work with family. And I know that that momentum will survive a skipped workout, a slipped writing session, a meal of junk food. But just like the slow orbit of the moon is slowly disrupting the earth’s rotation, little things add up over time. Skipping a workout on Monday makes it easy to skip the one on Tuesday as well. Leaving out the writing time on Thursday makes me realize just how nice it would be to have that extra time on Friday, too.

Hourglass, Duration, Temporal Distance, Egg Timer

It’s why we have the recognizable, lamentable stereotype of the person who retires and develops Alzheimer’s or dementia in just a few short years. The routine goes away, there’s not nearly so much to occupy their time, and suddenly, they’re no longer able to accomplish a fraction of what they once could.

Writer types know how hard it is to protect their writing time, especially when the routine is disrupted. It only gets worse when nature itself is conspiring against you by literally removing minutes and hours from the day. The truth is, I know it won’t be that big a deal if I let the project breathe for a few days while I catch up on some other work, and it certainly won’t hurt me to catch up on a little sleep instead of rising at 5 to go for a run. But I think it becomes even more important to be true to our goals when it’s hard to follow through on them.

It’s like a placekicker who never misses a goal in practice but shanks his kicks during the game. Well and good to deliver when it’s easy, but it doesn’t help much if you can’t get the work done when it matters. Which is not to say that the work matters more at this time of year than at any other — unless you’re lucky enough to have a deadline looming — but I just come back to knowing that the momentum matters. My momentum will survive a day or two of slippage, but an entire week? A month?

No chance.

Winter has its hooks in. I’m tired. We’re all tired.

But there is still work to do.

As a great American once said, we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

So I guess I’ll find a way to lace up for my run later this afternoon, even though I missed it this morning. And I’ll find a way to carve out a few more minutes for my writing, too.

Luckily, the kids are out of town for the night. Maybe this is why god invented grandparents.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

Climb the Trope Ladder

I fell into a TVtropes rabbit hole today.

If you’re a writer, and you don’t know about TVtropes.org yet, you should.

I don’t know if there’s a better resource for teaching you that there really and truly is nothing original left in the world for artists to create. A wholly humbling browsing experience. Yet, by the same token, it’s encouraging to click through its wealth of pages to see all the stories that use the same old tired tricks and do just fine.

If you haven’t seen TVtropes yet, it works like this:

You land there for whatever reason. Maybe a fellow writer or critically-minded movie buff refers you to it. Maybe you’re looking for the name of that one guy who was in that one movie and you stumble upon the site. Maybe somebody who secretly hates you and wants to destroy your productivity sends you a link.

You click around a little bit, maybe trying the “random trope” or “random text” functions to have the site spoon up a tasty helping of trope-centric technobabble to your face. Want to write your story with a hero who unwittingly unleashes even greater evil upon the world? There’s a trope for that. How about the twist where a loved one is left dead for the hero to find? Yeah, it’s been done. Maybe you want to see a bunch of examples of the ways heroes have sacrificed themselves in stories. TVTropes has you covered. Whatever your device, whatever the circumstance, whatever unique idea you think you have, it’s been done before and TVtropes has it on record.

Hours later, you’ve got twenty-four browser tabs open compiling all the different sins of all the movies and books you love and all of the tropes with cool names like Toxic Phlebotinum and you forgot to eat lunch and they turned the lights off in the building and you’re wondering, finally, how you can weave all these things into your next story.

The cycle will repeat as long as you leave even one tab open. One thing leads you to the next, and then the next, until you’re miles deep in the forest and everything looks the same. The only way out is for the power to fail on your computer, and even then, you have to have the resolve not to click on that bright, shiny “restore tabs” button when you get booted back up, lest you find yourself falling once more into the black hole…

In all seriousness, while the site sounds like it’s a great way to depress yourself at the prospect of seeing exactly how much and how often a certain device has been done (to death), it’s fascinating nonetheless to see all the different permutations of plot and character which can be perfectly successful. In addition, I’m not sure if there’s a better tool for thinking of ways to carry on a stuck project; simply look up a beloved story, identify some of its defining tropes, explore those tropes, and then bend them to your will.

What felt like endless, zombie-like wandering through the dark alleyways of the site has filled my head with all kinds of ways to expand my current story.

I think that means I can qualify all that mindless clicking as research.

So, I’m off to do more studying…

Toddler Life, Chapter 171 – Bathroom Steak

It’s come to this.

This picture isn't symbolic.  It's exactly what it looks like.

This picture isn’t symbolic. It’s exactly what it looks like.  And yeah, my shower curtain has penguins on it.  Represent.

That, indeed, is a picture of my two-year-old in the bathtub and my steak sitting on the counter.  Never mind the clusterfargo of bottles and shampoos and towels on the counter, that’s called sharing a bathroom with a toddler.  I’ll come back to the picture in a moment.

I want to talk right now to those of you reading this blarg who don’t have kids, who are planning to have kids, who don’t have kids yet, or who occupy any other spot on the spectrum between definitely-not-having-kids-ever and having-kids-tomorrow.  I know you’ve read the blogs and websites and books about having a child and the way it will change your life.  It’s all true.   Continue reading

Questions Not To Ask Your Teacher: “Is My Grade Going Up?”

Another teacher post, here.  I try to keep them from coming too often because I know that I have readers of all walks and I don’t want to alienate by writing too much about any one thing.  That said, sometimes it just has to be done, and the first day back from spring break brought with it an incident that my inner Id-Writer won’t turn loose of until I purge it.

Kids are lazy.  I get it.  I see it in my own two-year-old, and he doesn’t even know how to be lazy.  I shouldn’t say lazy.  I should say they are efficiency seekers.  Nature abhors wasted energy.  A tree grows only as high as it must in order to harvest the sunlight it needs to reproduce.  A pride of lions hunts only when they are hungry, otherwise they are basically enormous housecats looking for a patch of sunlight or shade to lie in, depending on the season.  So, too, do humans, and by extension human children, have a biological imperative to get as much for as little as they can.  I understand this.    It makes perfect sense.  The problem is, we are no longer driven by survival.  A child does not risk starvation if it does not complete its homework.  It will not die of exposure if it does not get its room clean on time.

The energy that would once have been devoted to survival is now (in a perfect world) devoted to making a child the best future human it can be, and that means enriching the mind.  The yachts and mansions and shiny red convertibles don’t, as a rule, go to the dunces.  They go to the smartest and then to the bankers and then to the politicians (the rest of us are just BORROWING their money).  So while academic achievement doesn’t benefit a kid in the immediate, (working hard & getting good grades would be “wasted energy” in a survivalist sense) it benefits them in the long term.

This leads us to selective laziness.  A clever future human quickly does the math and realizes that there is a balance to be struck between doing the best that you can (applying all of your energy) and doing only what you need to do in order to survive.  Of course, the risk-assessment portions of our brains don’t fully form until we are, I dunno, thirty or so, so it’s even harder for a kid (and let me clarify that I’m talking about any kid in government-sanctioned school age, which is to say, any 5- to 18-year-old) to grasp that “doing your best” in school might be a wise course of action.  Mom and Dad can push you in that direction, of course, but you can only fight nature to a point, depending on how big your stick is (anybody else out there get punished for bad grades?  Yeah, you can spot us pretty easily, we’re the ones not dropping out of high school in droves).  Incidentally, this is why a student’s grade in a class is not a good indicator of their intelligence.  Any teacher will tell you that the smartest kids in the class are rarely the ones with the highest grades.  The smartest ones are usually the ones barely passing.  (NOTE THAT I DID NOT SAY ALL THE ONES BARELY PASSING ARE THE SMARTEST.  WE’LL GET TO THEM.)  They’ve figured out exactly how hard they need to work to pass (and by virtue of passing, get their parents off their backs, and by virtue of getting their parents off their backs, how to do what they want to do, which is be a teenager, sleep in, eat pop-tarts, and play Call of Duty).  Selective laziness allows them to do this. I have a host of students — very nearly half — in my English class whose grades have hovered within a handful of points of 75 for most of the year.  They could do better.  Easily.  But they don’t.  They haven’t made the connection.  One day they will.  Maybe there will be regret, and maybe not, but the best I can do is to try and help them to see this situation for what it is.  A waste of energy, and a waste of potential.

Whew.  This brings us to the fun part, which is pointing out how dumb some of my students are.  I shouldn’t say dumb.  I should say lazy.  And this time I mean lazy, which is to say, they don’t want to do ANYTHING they’re not interested in, whether they pass or not.  That’s not selective.  That’s just, well, a failure of evolution.

I’ve got a handful of kids who are not passing.  It’s unfortunate, but in the majority of their cases, it’s what needs to happen.  They haven’t yet learned what they need to (and I’m talking about the ability to read, analyze, and make sense of what they’re reading — you know, the things you, dear reader, can do without really pausing to think about it) and they need to go back and try it again.

It doesn’t stop them, bless their hearts, from trying, in whatever ways are available to them.  Of course, hand-in-hand with this extreme aversion to work is an aversion to common sense.  Which brings me, finally, to the comment that set in motion my ramble for today.

The child in question has been failing since about the second week of the year, which is to say, since the time I put in the first grades.  His grade has been no secret to anybody, least of all him, and he has, since the end of the year is suddenly upon us and he has realized that he will be a senior again next year, finally taken an interest.  We talked briefly prior to Spring Break about his grade and what he needed to do to have a chance at passing for the year.

So he comes to me today (first day back) and asks me, “Is my grade going up?”

I teach over 100 kids.  It’s virtually impossible for me to know offhand what an individual student’s grade is off the top of my head.  Thankfully, there are apps for that, and we have wonderful technology at our disposal to garner this information at a moment’s notice.  Which I do.  I start logging in to systems and pulling files.  Then it dawns on me.  He hasn’t turned in anything since we spoke.

This I tell him.  He nods and says, “yeah, I just wanted to see if my grade’s going up.”  I look at him oddly, in much the way I imagine God must have looked at Adam (if you believe in that sort of thing) when Adam told God that, yeah, he had actually had some of the fruit from that one tree God had specifically told him not to touch, you weren’t serious about that, right, God?  (Did I just analogize myself with God?  I think I did.)

I ask him how he expects his grade to have changed when he has not in fact done any work, and he just sort of looks at me like I’m speaking in Latin.  They do this a lot when I move my modifiers around or use big words like “appropriate requirements” or “requisite amount of work”, which I do for the purpose of seeing them look at me like I’m speaking in Latin.

I am torn between feeling badly for him and his parents and the teachers that will teach him again next year, and being abjectly horrified at the amount of taxpayer dollars and man-hours that have gone into this child’s education only to bounce aside, as impactful as spitballs to a Panzer.  Dribbles from a spigot in his ocean of academic indifference.

Sidenote: Thanks to this post, I’m going to be calling all my students “future humans” from now on.

%d bloggers like this: