Merry Kitchmas!

First, I would like to riff on last week’s post with a video of Alton Brown reviewing some ridiculous single-purpose kitchen accessories. Shining above the rest in how much it it makes us shout, “Whyyyy?” is rollie, because someone actually thought, “You know what would make my life better? If all my food came in tubular form.”

This year I’m baking a cheesecake, a recipe my mother modified to use dark chocolate making it a hundred times more flavorful than anything I’ve had at the Cheesecake Cafe. (I’ll add the recipe to this post along with pictures later.) The last cheesecake I baked was one of my best, due to the pizza stone I shoved in my crappy old oven to help regulate the temperature, as well as the crust I made from scratch.

I used to use Oreo crumbs, as everyone else does, but when I dug the box out of the back of my cupboard I noticed its best-before date was sometime in 2012. Good thing I tasted before using them, because they no longer tasted like food at all. The desiccated crumbs tasted of nothing but bitter chemicals that made my lips slightly numb. I was damned well not going back to the store, nor giving Nabisco anymore money for that crap, so I spend over a couple hours trying to find a substitute recipe online.

It was ridiculous. Almost every recipe out there calls for pre-made cookie crumbs. I wasn’t about to spend a bunch of time making chocolate wafers only to crumble them up then add extra butter and sugar to bind them together in another form. As I said, it took a couple hours, but finally I found this recipe. It turned out better than any cookie crust I’ve ever made. It’s funny how it’s called a “mock” cookie crust, seeing as cookie crusts probably started out as mock crumbles. But, as I said, cookie crusts are now so ubiquitous it’s difficult to find a recipe for making them from scratch.

As a final note, the complete antithesis to what I’m doing has to be this miniature hamburger kit from Glorious Nippon. It’s another video that makes me go,“Whyyy?” It probably takes twenty minutes to assemble, in meticulous detail, this tiny abomination they dare to call food. I can see a kid enjoying it exactly once and, after tasting the first flavored playdoh hamburger, letting the rest dry out to become proper play food instead of trying to pass it off as something edible.

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Wastefulness: the Eighth Deadly Sin

The movie Bedazzled (the original with Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore) had a scene where the devil complained of his lack of creativity since the old days in coming up with new sins, listing advertising as the only one he’s come up with after the last seven. I can think of one more, and find the absence of wastefulness among the originals disturbing. Besides greed its one of the greatest sins destroying us today.

Wastefulness is so commonly chided, it’s surprising not to see it listed in any religious texts (so far as I know). It’s related to greed or gluttony, but it’s not quite the same thing. Greed means accumulating more due to excessive want, but wastefulness is the lack of want. It’s not giving a shit about the things you have. Gluttony is closer, when it means over-consumption, but again it seems to assume you actually consume all you take rather than acquiring it only to throw it away.

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Taking Out the Trash

I dedicated myself to getting rid of all my useless physical stuff earlier this year. I think now (though this could just be a symptom of general frustration) it’s time to take out the mental trash.

Desperate to come up with a blog post this week (because of course I waited until the last minute in the current state I’m in), I went through my idea bin and found almost all of it crap. Every stray idea I had to write down, yet didn’t feel compelled to elaborate on at the time, has less worth than a penny – that is, it took more resources to generate than it was worth. I took the time to write this crap down. Should I waste more time going through those ideas and deleting most of them? What’s the point?

I suppose writing the dumb ideas down in the first place helped me get them out of my system, so it saved my brain more energy than if I’d let them idle in my mental parking lot. Going through them now has also been enlightening, because I can tally up how many ideas I turned into something worthwhile and how many lingered unformed because they’re utter crap. I could work out a ratio of garbage to good ideas – and I don’t know what the point would be other than making myself feel better.

Going through my idea bin, chucking things out, feels as therapeutic as doing the same thing with physical junk. Maybe this is what the end of the year should be for. Why not? I spend way too much time feeling guilty over such compulsions, telling myself I’m dicking around, when maybe I have this compulsion for a reason. I suppose, for a week (no more), I’ll follow it and see where it goes. If I find my mind lighter after cleaning out my files, I’ll consider it time well spent – and then get on with more constructive things. Stupid brain.

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Pain Brain

I’ve had a terrible time concentrating on writing this past week. In fact, this is the first thing I’ve written in days because I feel I have to. I’ve done no editing, outlining, or even writing about why I haven’t been writing. It’s not that I don’t know what to do next. I have a plan, I just haven’t started doing it yet. So what’s holding me back? Well, I’ve been in pain all bloody week, so it’s probably that.

Last week I got a new computer chair, because my old one is so big I can’t sit properly in it. It’s been killing my back and shoulders for years. The new computer chair actually supports my lower back and forces me to sit upright. I’ve been watching my posture all week. I’ve been stretching and exercising every single day, no flaking out on that. So what’s the problem? I’m not used to sitting properly! It hurts. I ache so much, so constantly right now, that I can hardly think.

And it’s been affecting everything. Today I hastily introduced my nose to a can of tuna by accidentally dropping it on my face. I’m not usually that clumsy. I’ve also been forgetting plans, letting my phone die, forgetting to phone, text, or email people. I’ve been a mess all week, and I finally realized it’s all because my neck and shoulders are killing me. I wake up with burning stiffness all the way from my clavicle to my acromion process – I almost typed “acrimonious” process because boy is it ever. Anyway, I have to stretch every morning just to breathe.

To top it off, I’ve been particularly stupid because my default activity when I feel like crap is to distract myself with computer games. So here I am self-medicating with regular dopamine hits from blingy crap on a screen, where I continually sit at the computer making my shoulder worse, because the stupid monkey in my head keeps saying, “Don’t worry about the pain, the answer is to keep clicking on these shiny pixels. That’ll make you feel better. Woo!”

So, that’s what I’m not up to. Ugh.

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The Zen of Boredom

Boredom has its uses. For one, it can be the perfect way to wind down an uptight brain – if you know what to do with all the nothing stretching in front of you. Last week I mentioned how I used to come home after a long, dreary day brimming with ideas. This month I experienced the opposite: having so much time I couldn’t fill it.

I dedicated this month to writing, getting 25k done on the novel and more. I achieved that writing only 2 – 3 hours a day. Next month I might try to stretch it to four hours, but I’ve realized I can’t stretch it well beyond, into the 8 – 12 hour mark, because its burns out my brain. In all the time I didn’t spend writing I exercised, visited friends, and watched stuff on Netflix. But mostly I read articles, novels, and short stories. I filled my brain with prose.

It proved to be too much for me. I’d get to the end of the night and my brain would be so tired I’d zone out until I decided to say screw it and go to bed early. I spent so much time creating and consuming narrative I could barely daydream about what to write next. I was antsy. I was bored. So I decided I really need a hobby, a different pursuit – one where I can zone out for an hour or two.

I took up modding again – in extreme moderation. I started with the most tedious job sitting on my mod’s to do list. Sitting at the computer clicking on the same menu over and over to replace one object with another. Its particular tedium is similar to data entry. And it felt so good. It was the exact kind of zoning out my brain needed. One where attention is required but it only takes the slightest amount of thought.

I’ve identified a few kinds of boredom, some good and some bad.

Antsy boredom: the bad kind of boredom. You don’t know what to do with yourself. Maybe you just finished something and don’t feel like you have enough time to start something new. Maybe you’re just burnt out. Whatever it is, this kind of boredom is a gaping yawn across an abyss of ARRGH.

The solution is to do something. Plan the next thing, go for a walk, distract yourself with mindless entertainment. If you can’t muster that, maybe nap or go to bed. Do anything but sitting around feeling miserable. I find it easily cure by…

Mindless activity: many people think this kind of boredom is bad as well, but it’s actually rewarding. For one, you get stuff done. It gives your brain a break if you let yourself zone out and concentrate on the task. Even a useless mindless activity can sweep the cobwebs out of your brain.

A friend of mine used to blow up a blank page in MS Paint and color it in one pixel at a time, and while chatting we all used to watch. Does that sound like the most boring thing ever? Well, it is! It’s funny how interesting a boring task can be. Mindless activity also leads to the next effect of boredom…

Daydreaming: what happens when you’ve reached a moment of zen. Even the people who push “mindfulness” as the secret to fully living neglect simple daydreaming. “Stay in the moment,” they say. How about no. If I’m staring at the clear blue sky and a new scene for my novel bursts into my head in full color, I’m sure as hell not pushing it out of my mind. Half the time it’s the reason I let myself zone out.

I’ve fought all my life for the personal space necessary to nurture my inner self. The question, “What are you doing?” when it looks like I’m “doing nothing” infuriates me. I tell people, “I’m thinking,” and they look at me like I’ve grown a second head. Then they wonder why they have all their good ideas in the shower, and the daydreamers say, “Duh.”

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A Scatterbrain’s Guide to Time Management

Some of us don’t work well with schedules. As time constraints go, setting up a block of hours as “work time” and trying to stick to it every day doesn’t happen, no matter how we try to drag ourselves to the desk every day. I used to punish myself for not doing what I was supposed to by not letting myself do what I’d rather be doing. I ended up doing nothing, which is lame and had to stop. So I came up with a few strategies to keep myself honest and help me get work done.

The first step is self-awareness. I figured out how I spent most of my day with retroactive day planning. I’d record everything I did in a day, color coded in a calendar app so I could see how much of what I was doing at a glance. I have different colors for working, house stuff, health stuff, and dicking around. At first “dicking around” time made up the bulk of my time, which was a little depressing.

Next I figured out what kind of dicking around I was doing, and if some of it was needed downtime for my brain. I separated productive relaxation, like reading novels or watching documentaries, into another color called “Filling the Well.” More wasteful dicking around isn’t forbidden, but removing some of that color from the calendar made me feel better.

I also started noticing patterns, such as when I’m most productive and when my focus sucks. This let me aim my productive hours for when I typically have the most energy. When I made my vow to write an hour a day, I added a repeat “writing” block to my best hour for writing. I frequently shift the time around, but having it sit there in my calendar, reminding me of the promise I made to myself, has helped keep me honest.

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Sometimes You Have to Say Screw It

I’ve decided to have another go at getting a proper blog post done today even though, due to sickbrain, I don’t have the focus to edit the post I’d drafted for this week ages ago. So this will be short. As well, I’ve deleted a more ranty replacement post because it was absolutely useless to anyone. With a cooler head, if not clearer one, I just have this to say: saying screw it is sometimes ok.

You can draft and outline, plan everything in advance, and otherwise prepare yourself for failure, but sometimes you crash anyway. Sometimes you miss a deadline, and even under the pressure to get it in anyway, can’t manage because (for example) you’re legitimately ill and there’s not enough energy to get the job done. Sometimes you have to take a sick day, or sick week, or whatever. Sit back and read a book or watch a movie instead. And save that energy to say tomorrow, or next week, or whatever will be better.

So I’m going to check this couple paragraphs off as another blog post done, because short can be useful as long as the words have a point. Also, I’ve almost reached my 20k word count on the novel this month, so I figure I’ve done enough of my writerly duty to not beat myself up about this little thing.

 

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The Power of Habit is Real

We’ve all heard this advice a million different ways: bum in seat, don’t wait for the muse, don’t worry about how bad it is – just get the words down. It’s been six weeks since I vowed to write for an hour every day, and I can tell you one thing: it works. It’s not as simple as writing gurus say it is though, which is of course why people find it so hard to follow (guilty). Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

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Sudden Comprehension of Writing Failure

I once again find myself struggling to get my weekly blog post up in time. The one I had planned is still a mess. I spent way too long trying to rewrite it from scratch, only to delete every single word. My head is also a mess, partly due to me having a sick day. I was going to take that as an excuse, but after putting off working on this post for the past two days, all I’ve done is set myself up to fail on the day the work is due.

I’ve engineered my own failure simply by falling out of the daily habit. My post/week schedule has often led to me only writing once a week, which is not enough if I’m going to write something weekly worth a damn. A weekly blog post has been a good tangible goal. It’s at least kept me honest, as I’ve not completely failed to deliver so far – even if I’ve got a few in a day late.

However, I’m past the point where just getting it done is good enough. I insist what I post be more than merely passable, which means putting in enough time to not just do a first and final draft, but get a second draft in as well. My first drafts are hot garbage, and cobbling them into something reasonable takes more than one edit – always – and too often I let myself forget this and post something sub-par.

Today’s post is an example of sub-par shit. All I’m doing is berating myself, and posting it in public to hammer it into my head with shame. So, in the interest of writing something useful, here is what I must do to avoid this dilemma in the future (apologies for having to break my one-fuck-per-article rule, but this needs to be said in exactly this way):

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Ethics for Dudebros: The Golden Mean

You may think Aristotle was just some boring old Greek philosopher dude, but he taught Alexander the Great how to conquer the world (most of it anyway) so Aristotle totally knew his shit. He was a dude who knew how to live the good life, and he laid down how everyone else could be good dudes too, by following what he called the Golden Mean.

The Golden Mean is our scale for being a Chillbro. It means if you go too far with something, you’re being an Asshole, whereas if you’re not doing enough, you’re being a Douche. Being a Chillbro means sitting comfortably between the two extremes. According to Stotes (Stotes is what I call my main man, Aristotle), there’s 12 ways you can be awesome (Virtues), but 24 ways you can fuck it up (Vices), so there’s two Vices to Each Virtue. Here’s a chart to make it nice and simple:

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