Strange Animals 11dec2018: Time Has No Meaning

It’s been a while since I sent one of these. In fact, the draft of this in my Ulysses* was titled 26sep2018, when I started writing it on the banks of the Thames and then got distracted by some people I felt like sketching (terribly, because I am quite shit at that).

* Brief digression: I use Ulysses to do all my writing (except for comic scripts, which I write in Highland and paste into Ulysses), and I only just realised that it’s pretty obviously named after the James Joyce book. But for whatever reason, that doesn’t feel nearly as wanky as the fact that this used to be called the HemingWrite.

Months later, here we stand, at the end of this year, and I’m thinking about the significance of landmark dates. We constantly live with a surfeit of information, and our days feel like they have both a lot going on and very little, and reaching the end of a year can make you look back and question the way you’ve spent your time.

One

Here’s Kendra Wright, in an interview with the people at Day One, my journaling app of choice:

Q. When and why did you start journaling?

A. At the end of 2014, after a pretty startling revelation. At a New Years event, I was asked to sum up 2014 in one word. That year I had tackled quite a few incredible memories, like starting my consulting business, buying a one-way ticket to live in a city I had never been to for a month, white water rafting, participating in the “World’s Longest Yoga Chain” world record, riding in a hot air balloon, getting my writing in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and so much more!

However, when asked to wrap the year up in one word in front of a group of people I felt guilty. The word I wanted to use was “underutilized.”

[…] We think life is vacations, trips, and big moments like buying a house or falling in love, but what I discovered is big moments are a small percentage of everyday life. Ten to fifteen percent if you’re lucky. […] When I got to the end of the year, I realized that I only remembered the big moments. All these tiny accomplishments, experiences, lessons and memories were lost.

I’m a reasonably productive person, but I also have a memory like a sieve, so, too many times, I’ve ended a year feeling like I didn’t get much done. I’ve forgotten the books I’ve read and loved, the places I went to, the movies I’ve watched, how much time I got to spend with people whose company I enjoyed. It’s all there somewhere in a tumbleweed-infested part of my brain, but if you asked me to sum stuff up, I couldn’t tell you jack.

On the other hand, I also have a modern problem that a lot of you might relate to. At the end of the day, when I sit down on my couch and I have the option of reading a book that’ll be challenging but fulfilling versus something fluffy but easily enjoyable, I’ll choose the latter—the same with difficult movies vs. sitcoms.

As I get older, this has become annoying. I spent my twenties never getting around to reading the books I told myself I would, and losing touch with friends because I always felt I could talk to them later. I don’t want to spend my thirties the same way. There’s no achieving perfection in this sort of thing, but one can be a little better every day.

To keep myself on track, I’ve started lifelogging. I did this for a month and change back in 2014, but it was time to start up again, and, this time, to focus on the stuff that really mattered.

By ‘lifelogging’, I don’t mean the early noughties trend of streaming your life over the internet, nor do I mean the kind of obsessive cataloguing of every single thing you write, do or think. I mean something simpler. I’m trying to write down the things I think will improve my life if paid attention to.

So: I track my sleep, because I keep odd hours and I want to make sure that doesn’t adversely affect my day. I record what I ate and when—this is important because I’m trying to cook for myself rather than getting takeout all the time. I record Video/Audio/Reading, because I want to feel a little twinge every time I note down Brooklyn Nine-Nine S2E11-18 instead of, say, Ran or Battleship Potemkin (neither of which I have watched yet). The former, obviously, has its place, but I want to live a life that has more of the latter than it currently does. I record work done, because I want to relax a bit more, and I know that I work a lot, but seeing it in written form will hopefully help me let go. And finally, I record what I did for my health (because I want to create a workout habit) and I record the people I spoke to or met, because I don’t want to end up a hermit and I know that, left to my own devices, I might end up the kind of misanthropic grandpa figure my friends already think I am.

I’ve been doing this for two months now, and yesterday, I finally added a ‘Money’ category, after fighting myself about this for a long time. I know I’m terrible about money, and I don’t want to be, but it still took me two months to get to a point where I can just write down how much I spent.

Reading that back, it looks a lot like I see my life as a “project”, which I can’t entirely deny, but more than that, I know it’s not very hard to sustain worthwhile habits—it’s getting started that’s difficult. A good life (at least the kind of life I want for myself) is built with small, repeated tasks rather than big gestures, and it’s easy to sit back and not do them, and it’s difficult to begin, but from my experience of quitting smoking, of managing my freelance career, from learning how to letter by hand, I also know that once begun, your brain will integrate these things as “normal” fairly quickly. It just needs a push.

So I’m trying to make that easier for myself. When I fail (like with not posting this newsletter for too long), I try to be kind on myself, and I move on to the next day. In the long run, it’s about not living my life on autopilot and trying to make the more interesting choice more frequently.

Two

Out with my lettering this week is the Black Crown Omnibus, featuring all the comics from the Black Crown Quarterly, most of which I lettered, plus the first issues of Kid Lobotomy, Assassinistas and Punks Not Dead, which were also lettered by me.

In other news, Isola returns in January 2019, and March will see the release of Little Bird, a very special comic I got to work on that I’ll probably be talking about a bunch more as we get closer to its release date.

Three

I also read this article recently—about how the death of someone close to you can make you realise that desires for the future are less important than what we choose to do in the moment.

As a chronic procrastinator, this has been one of the biggest banes of my life. Everything that’s important but less than entirely convenient is pushed to the future, while the now is spent in engaging with low-level tasks or equally low-level pleasures. The lifelogging enterprise is part of my attempt to combat this.

And that can only happen over the long term. The reason New Years’ resolutions don’t usually work out is that there’s a massive gap between where you want to be and the way your brain works at that moment of the resolution. If you’ve not exercised for your entire adult life, getting to five days a week starting tomorrow is a ludicrous challenge. The same applies to every other good habit you want to have.

The problem is, we want to get to the other place—where we’re a different person—without going through the bits in the middle which involve us actually becoming that person. And those are all about the choices you make right now. Going on a 15-minute run today rather than a 45-minute run tomorrow, writing 500 words today rather than 2000 words tomorrow, not smoking today rather than stopping forever tomorrow.

It’s slow, and it’s difficult, and the path reveals to you how shamefully bad you are at this, but it’ll still make you a little better than you were yesterday, which is the only way it can work.

Four

To that end, here’s an anti-procrastination checklist that I’ve found incredibly useful. I don’t quite remember how I got hold of this, but I think it was on a podcast, and I paused it and wrote it down. I’ve posted it in many places before, but since it’s been useful for many people, I think it bears repeating:

If you’re procrastinating on something, it might be because the task is

  • Boring

  • Frustrating

  • Difficult

  • Lacks personal meaning

  • Lacks intrinsic reward

  • Ambiguous

  • Unstructured

So if you can figure out which of these is stopping you, you can solve it and go ahead.

Finally, we can end this very preachy edition of Strange Animals with something I tweeted about writing that might be good for life in general:

Note to self: Every writer can fall into the trap of “Here’s my elaborate reasoning for making the less interesting choice.” If you find yourself defending your choices over and over against feedback, rethink.

Five

From the commonplace book, dated May 2008, excerpted from a now-defunct article about how baby birds learn to sing:

Other researchers have shown that when birds sing, they use areas of the brain analogous to those used in human speech. Researchers have also shown that birds not only dream, but they dream about singing.

Filed under #science.