Thursday, March 24, 2016 9:23 AM
Golly, what a week. You have no idea how busy I can be, doing nothing. In between manically surfing my cable-box’s channels, shuttling new-release movies in and out of my On-Demand cart, reading books on my Kindle, doing the daily NY Times crossword, setting up my camera to video my piano-playing, editing and posting piano videos, and writing blog-posts like this one—I’m also trading comments and thread-posts on Facebook, WordPress, YouTube, and Medium—sometimes for hours at a time.
There was an especially tricky crossword today—it involved a phrase being written in a circle—with no clues except that it was of a part with the theme of the puzzle. Once I finally completed the puzzle I felt a great wave of futility—and I realized why I only like the easy crosswords. A tough crossword is just as difficult as figuring out what I’m going to say when I write—but when I’m done, all I’ve done is figure out what someone else was saying—what a waste.
I feel a similar futility when I get drawn into protracted threads of debate—or even discussion—online. I’m typing messages to a stranger (or a group of strangers) then they type something in response—and what do you get out of it? Nothing. It’s pitiful what a person will do for distraction when there are no useful alternatives.
Most days are interrupted by pills, and again by a cigarette-rolling session (and maybe another rolling session, IYKWIM). And there are countless times in a day when I make myself a cup of tea. But that still leaves an entire day without responsibilities or tasks of any kind—hours that desperately need filling.
I remember a time when everything was the reverse—I once dreamed of the thousand and one things I would do if I wasn’t chained to a nine-to-five job that left me with barely enough energy to watch a little TV, go to bed, and do it all again the next day. That’s where most people live—so I don’t expect a lot of sympathy for having too much free time—I must sound like those people who try to explain how ‘hard’ it is being rich or famous or something.
Still, when I used to dream of free time, I assumed I’d be healthy and of sound mind—which is not entirely the case here in reality. Think of me as crippled, if that helps—I do—worse yet, I think of myself as someone who is invisibly crippled—I get to be disabled, but I have to explain that to anyone I meet (because it doesn’t show) and I don’t convince everyone—there are still plenty of people who think I’m just lazy and rude—a quitter. Some things just can’t be absorbed by people who haven’t experienced it themselves. And if I thought it was frustrating being kept from my dreams of accomplishment by a steady job, it was nothing compared to this maddening inability to do anything requiring stamina, deftness, focus, or memory.
That does bring a certain amount of variety to my blog-posts, though. Since I can’t work on anything for days on end, I start each day as a blank slate—this past week I’ve done posts about piano-playing, music, copyright disputes, banking, terrorism, politics, literature, poetry, autobiography, history, and science fiction. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was fascinating. But here I sit in an empty room (and on a beautiful day—really beautiful) just typing away whatever comes into my head—hardly fascinating.
My most continual ‘effort’ lately has been my CD-rippings to my new hard drive—I have a huge CD collection; my old hard drive died weeks ago; and I’m only about one hundred CDs in (about 5 Gbytes worth) right now. I forget that I’m doing it some days—but these last three days I’ve been going at it pretty steadily, and there’re still months of ripping ahead. Nowadays, with everything being downloaded, a shelf full of CDs just seems like a waste—no one will ever listen to any of it unless it’s stored digitally.
Conversely, when I’m done, I’ll be able to buy another $40 hard drive and copy the whole collection for a friend or relative—that’s the equivalent of thousands of dollars’ worth of music that I can just give somebody—that’ll be nice. It’s about half classical and half the popular music of my generation—it would take weeks of 24-7 playing to listen to all of it—so there’s bound to be one or two people that would enjoy that.
The thing that takes the most effort in ripping CDs is when you hit a CD that doesn’t load all the info automatically—you who don’t listen to classical music may have never experienced that—but there are many obscure and ancient recordings on CD, and typing in the track-title, artist, and composer for every track on the CD can be painfully tedious—especially wearing the hi-magnification specs I usually need to decipher most CD printing. Plus, Windows Media Player is ridiculously touchy—and if my palsied fingers brush against the wrong key before I hit ‘Rip CD’, all my typing may disappear and I’ll have to start all over—I’ve learned to be very careful when doing this.
Finally, when I just despair of being productive, I play Snood or Candy Crush or my favorite, Candy Crush Soda. I play way too much of this foolishness—not every day, but more days than I’m proud of. That’s when I realize that people don’t need to accomplish anything much more than keeping busy at something that amuses them. In “The Matrix” the ‘nightmare’ scenario was that everyone was plugged into a virtual reality that wasn’t real—but let’s face it—the only thing wrong with that world was that the virtual reality they were trapped in wasn’t any fun. If the evil aliens had created a seductive virtual reality, then the humans would have told their hero, Neo, to get lost.
Oh dear, I hope you don’t mind me writing you. I feel like I wrote pity in a negative way. I hope you didn’t think so for I do not ever want to be mean to you. May I present another way of you looking at “daily doings”? I admire that you get so much accomplished in the situation you have found yourself . I do not want to debate it, but I get very little done. Of course our issues differ. Some days I physically can’t do much. Once I chuckled at how I would have to rest after setting up a camera. I think you are doing something. Maybe if you find crosswords futile you could stop, but finishing the NY Times crossword is no easy task. Would it be futile for me to tell you that you do a lot and maybe you could even feel good about it. Maybe you feel like I feel about not getting things done, I feel badly now for making you feel pitiful when I enjoy you so much. Don’t worry about it. I am an adult.
“Would it be futile for me to tell you that you do a lot and maybe you could even feel good about it. [?]”
No, of course not, Mindy. And I appreciate your comments—I get very few, and even fewer as engaged and lengthy as yours, so please continue.
Remember, I’m measuring myself against my former self, and against the ‘average working person’. If I were to compare myself to your situation, I’d readily admit that I’m a veritable factory of productivity. And if I am frustrated with my lot, I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for you to be even more limited in your activity.
There are many different qualities of disabled—when I was headed for terminal liver cancer, I experienced a toxin-build-up fatigue that made me nearly comatose. Your scoliosis, etc. keeps you inactive in a different way (although I’m sure fatigue plays a part). Now that I have some strength back, I get confused—being better than before, but still not like before-before.
What I miss the most is my former ability to focus on something—without losing the thread or forgetting where I’m at—for an hour or more. That made me a good programmer—and I’ve found that I used focus for drawing too (without being aware of it)—so, on top of the shaky hands, I can’t really ‘picture’ the picture I’m trying to draw. In writing, too—if I could focus I would write something more ambitious than a two-page essay.
I was raised by a Marine—and I’m naturally Calvinist at heart—so I’m only really happy when I’m working my ass off. As I mentioned in the essay, I don’t have any specific goal I need to achieve—I just need to be working. It’s more about filling the empty hours than about getting stuff done.