Monthly Archives: November 2013

I Want This. No, That. Maybe. Nah…

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like making decisions. But of course, as an adult, I am unable to avoid them. As such, I’ve come up with a few ways of dealing with things. But those same methods, if taken to far, can loop back around and make the decision even harder.

A big part of the problem is that I’m not a big fan of change. I know, I know, only constant thing and all. But there it is. In fact, my first reaction when faced with change is to but on the metaphorical brakes and try to avoid it. If it can’t be avoided, I try to play for time so that I can perform “adequate research.”

How do I get around this? Well, it’s possible, with enough lead time. I find that if I can slowly sidle up to an idea or decision, deliberately not making confrontational eye-contact, I can get used to the idea without it being too scary. Basically, I treat my decisions and choices like an 800 pound silverback gorilla. During mating season.

One of the main ways I do this is to start researching. I find as much information as possible, from as many sources as possible. I guess the thought being that research is safe, keeping things in the realm of theory.

Case in point: as I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a smartphone recently, I started looking at various models and options. As a relatively techy person, this seemed like a good way to generate excitement and emotional buy-in (in other words, to distract me from the decision itself). As I did so, I started coming up with ideas and usage scenarios, convincing myself that getting one was a good idea. So far, so good.

But this roundabout process can also get away from me. It’s a good idea to have time to do research and brainstorm, but there is such a thing as having too much time. If I start the process too early in relation to the actual decision point, I move past coming up with reasons why I need something, and into coming up with reasons I don’t need it. Basically, I psych myself out.

I’m not sure why, although it probably has a lot to do with a subconscious desire to not have to make a decision (and yes, deciding not to decide is still a decision, but it doesn’t upset the status quo. Also, shut up). I start to try and differentiate between “want” and “need,” which brings us back to Wednesday’s post. After all, it’s easier to put off a decision if it’s for something that’s not “needed,” even more so for the seemingly superfluous “wants.” Once I loop back around to indecision the process has to start all over again.

Research, brainstorming, convincing, over-thinking. The trick is to arrest the process in between the third and fourth steps. That’s really the best time, for me, to make a decision. Of course then you risk replacing the last step with “Buyer’s remorse;” I haven’t figured a way fully around that on yet, but I think it’s a matter of selective denial and self delusion.

Oh well. Work with what you’ve got, I guess.


A bit of a departure from my recent navel-gazing. But by the time I got around to writing, I was pretty fried. I enjoyed the introspection, and may return to it in the future. Also, Happy Annual Turkey Holocaust.

Have you ever been reluctant to keep reading a book you’re really enjoying? You’re reading along, getting into the story, when you’re overcome with a sense of dread. Things are going well for the characters. Too well. Somehow, you just know that things are about to go pear shaped, and the characters that survive are sure to be worse for the wear.

And no, I’m not talking about A Song of Ice and Fire.

Continue reading

“But I Can Make This Work…”

I’ve done some more thinking about what I wrote yesterday, and I think some of my angst (which is getting better, by the way) about things is representative of a more widespread issue I seem to have. Namely, that I feel odd buying things for myself that I don’t “need.”

Call it a misguided search for efficiency if you’d like. But for some reason, I have difficulty justifying purchases or new investments when what I currently have works “well enough.” I am more likely to try and make something work than to replace or upgrade it. And honestly, “well enough” is not always the same as “well.” Case in point: my current flip phone, with no functioning screen. Sure, it makes calls, even lets me set alarms (mostly because I memorized the button sequence) and check voicemails. But I can’t send or receive texts (which have become a larger part of my communication than I thought possible, but that’s a different issue), see if I missed a call (I usually keep my phone on silent/vibrate), or check the time (most annoying, since I don’t like wearing watches).

This is especially true when money is tight, as it has been the past few years during and after grad school. Then, this tendency interacts with my sometimes (read: often) overactive frugality to create a perfect storm of Making Do.

That is not to say that I think throwing things away at the first sign of failure would be a better solution. I don’t. I’m an incorrigible tinkerer, and am an avid supporter (at least in spirit) of maker culture. Even if I don’t get around to tweaking and improving my possessions, I should at least have the option. But I also think that there comes a point where the energy invested in making something work would be less than starting over.

Does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself? Congratulations, you’ve discovered one of the not-so-hidden purposes of this blog! Help yourself to one (1) whole Int4rw3b. They’re in a bowl next to the candy.

But seriously. I find that writing like this, even without much re-reading and review on my part, helps me sort through my thoughts in a way that merely brooding about them does not. It also gives me the chance to receive feedback from my family and friends, which can provide a much-needed outside perspective. After all, who am I to notice all the nooks and crannies, the baffling design decisions, the stairs that lead nowhere within my own psyche? I live here.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, it should be okay to occasionally be nice to yourself. Did you hear that, Me? Relax every once in a while. Take a risk, buy yourself something nice.

You deserve it.

Pride And The Swallowing Thereof

Pride is a funny thing. It is important to be proud of our accomplishments, to be able to appreciate our own skills and merits.. But pride can also have a negative connotation, and it can by its very nature conceal its existence. In other words, one can be too proud to admit that one is prideful.

Why do I bring this up? Well, I think that my current cell phone woes (which admittedly qualify as a “first world problem”) may be caught up in my pride and feelings of independence.

To fully understand this, we may have to go back a bit. I often feel that my growing independence as an adult has been piecemeal over a number of years. When I started college, I lived at home my first two years. I did move out on my own after my year in France, but if I hadn’t had the catalyst of studying abroad, it probably would have taken me longer to do so. Even while I was in France, I didn’t have to work; I drew a salary/allowance from the family business. I was also still on my parent’s car insurance plan for a while, and the only reason I’m not any more is because they would have had to have been on the title of my current car.

It doesn’t help that I’m one of the younger members of my social circle, and reminders of that fact can get uncomfortable. But I’ve come to feel quite independent. I’ve got a job, an apartment, a car, a girlfriend, all like a real boy! Save for one thing.

I’m still on my dad’s cell phone plan.

Now, when I was in grad school this was a great boon. I didn’t have a fancy phone, so I was able to pitch in $10 a month for my voice line while still enjoying the benefits and coverage of a major wireless network. On a grad student budget (read: poor), I couldn’t beat that deal without going to one of the prepaid, super-budget carriers. And even that was a stretch; with their more limited coverage and call time allotment, they looked like even less of a deal.

And that’s the reason I’ve stayed on the family plan: it’s just too good a deal to beat. Maybe I’ve become spoiled, maybe I’m just taking advantage of opportunities that have been put before me. I don’t know. I do know that limiting myself to a “feature” (read: dumb) phone felt like the lesser of evils, and the least likely to interfere with my feelings of independence. A twinge of guilt was still there, but I was mostly able to ignore it.

But my recent spat of phone issues (i.e., no functioning screen) has me thinking again. It wouldn’t make much sense for me to sign up for a two-year renewal contract just to get another basic phone; I don’t like the idea of limiting myself in that way. But I can’t really afford to set off on my own without some significant sacrifices in reliability. Plus, I fear change.

But what do I fear more? Change, or some abstract sense of “wounded pride,” that’s likely just a personal hangup I picked up from who knows where? I’ll be honest: probably change. And unless my dad feels like he’s being taken advantage of (which I doubt), there shouldn’t be an issue staying on his plan. And since I’ve just finished paying of a credit card, I’m starting to feel like I have money again.

I may have wandered off track a bit, but there it is. If I can get over whatever weird hangups I may have, this may be a good opportunity for me to upgrade in a way that saves me money, but without being a total handout. After all, what’s the difference who I’m paying as long as I am paying?

Definitely some food for thought. Should go well with the turkey later in the week.

Weekends vs. Days Off

One thing I’ve had to learn while working retail is the difference between a “weekend” and a “day off.” This was a hard lesson, and it took me a while to figure out why.

After all, for most of my life, these two concepts have been one and the same. In school, you have the weekend to sleep in and catch up on homework. At most office jobs, Saturday and Sunday are there to recuperate and do whatever projects you have for yourself (more often than not, cleaning).

But not so when one works retail. When working retail, your busiest times are those when “everyone else” (read: those with a typical 9-to-5 job) have nothing else going on. That is to say, evenings and weekends.

Needless to say, this came as a bit of a shock to me. I was used to having to “work” on weekends; after all, you won’t get very far in grad school if you’re not willing to give up some of your free time. But my schedule was still flexible. I normally took Saturday off, so that I could spend time with my girlfriend and go to the occasional SCA event. Sunday was my “work day,” where I would head downtown and crank out whatever project I had put off until the last minute. It was a regular schedule, and something I was at least able to get used to.

But weekends are the peak business times at my current job, Saturdays doubly so. And without a regular schedule (it changes from week to week), I could be working anywhere from early mornings (5am) to late nights (10pm), on what is assured to be the least convenient day. As such, I’ve had to take my days off where I could get them.

When I first started, I was still very much in the “weekend = day off” mindset. If I didn’t have to work on a weekday, I nonetheless found other productive things to do, like cleaning house, running errands, and looking for a better job. I even felt a little guilty if I didn’t “accomplish” anything on those days. Additionally, I felt that having to work on Saturday and Sunday cut into my free time, preventing me from being able to recharge and relax.

I soon (but not as quickly as I would have liked) realized that my views would have to change. After all, applying the old system to the new job had resulted in no weekends and no days off. Therefore, I started making a conscious effort to do “nothing” on my days off, whenever they happened to fall. Weekends would just become additional days, some of which I had to work, others which I had off.

I think this mindset would be easier if I had consistent days off. I would be able to mentally shift my “weekend” to those days, and thus reduce the cognitive dissonance. But alas, I apparently do not have enough seniority to merit a consistent schedule, even if I am on the schedule writer’s good side. Ideally, I wouldn’t have to change my mental model, and I could consistently get Saturday and Sunday off. Heck I’d even learn to work with Friday and Saturday. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.

So I will soldier on, sleeping in when I can, and trying not to feel like too much of a slob when I don’t bother to change out of pajamas before lunch on a Friday.

The Buffer Is Back, Baby

The past few weeks have been quite busy for me. Between work, social activities, and other obligations, things have been hectic. Not explosively so, but rather in that harried, background way which I’m starting to think is the background radiation of adult life. As such, I’ve been kind of neglecting my writing.

It started innocuously enough. I’d have a day (usually Friday) where I just didn’t feel like writing. “That’s okay,” I’d say. “I’ve got a few posts saved up in my buffer.” I would then proceed back to whatever game or website or show that had latched its quivering talons into my attention span. Before I knew it (read: the next day), my buffer would be gone. I’d get off work and think “Man, I really want to sit like a lump, but I need to write.” I’d procrastinate, more often than not the afternoon slipping away under wave after wave of “one more turn/article/episode.” I’d then crank out a quick post without much thought, vaguely approaching my target length and topic, post it to the blog, and call it good. Even on my days off, where I had the goal of writing at least one extra post, time slipped away just as easily.

This wait-and-rush approach has resulted in me not feeling overly satisfied with the quality of my writing. Now, I normally don’t like my writing (and can’t stand to re-read it), but even after accounting for my skewed standards, my output has felt sub-par. I’ve been posting just to say something without putting much thought into my output. Selfishly, I even noticed my readership numbers going down, likely from a combination (to my mind, at least) of degraded quality and random posting times.

But now that I have a small buffer again, hopefully that will change. I am already feeling less pressure to write right away when I get home, and can spend a bit of time recuperating before I have to think. I’m also hoping that the additional flexibility will help me form better thoughts and feel less rushed.

And while I still think it’s important for me to write every day, there are still some issues with the daily post regiment. I don’t have much time to give to each topic, and thus can’t always go as in-depth as I’d like; does that make sense? Quantity still ever-so-slightly trumps quality. But since all these posts are essentially first drafts, what can one expect? I’m sure if I made writing a higher priority in my life that wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but I’ve got a lot of other hobbies pulling me in a lot of directions. And admittedly, these concerns may be unfounded.

I guess this is just a long-winded way of saying that I’ve finally managed to achieve a buffer again. Hopefully I can keep on top of things, and you readers will be able to see my posts (and hopefully read them) at a more regular time.

Here’s to small things going right!

Achievement Unlocked

Earlier this week, I finally managed to pay off my main credit card.

This has been quite the source of stress for me. In the past, I’ve used my credit card like a debit card, using it for most of my purchases but paying it off each month. My parents instilled in me very young that a credit card was not free money, but could be a great tool build credit and have some fallback financial options. But then I finished grad school.

Upon graduating, I found myself without a job, and not just in my field. I had been working as a computer lab technician, but that position was only available to students. I decided to give myself some time before finding a job, giving myself a chance to decompress before getting back into the grind. But like most plans, this one faltered when it encountered reality. I couldn’t find a job in my field, and ended up spending a total of two months unemployed before my current place of employment hired me to work part-time.

But of course, working part time can only go so far. I hadn’t accrued much of a balance on my credit card, but it seemed that every spare cent was being gobbled up by bills (rent, credit cards, student loans, etc.). This had the unfortunate effect of making me feel especially poor. After all, I was working hard at a menial job that, while paid well for what it was, was in no way the fulfilling career I had dreamed of upon entering grad school. I suppose I could have cut back on any and all social activities that cost money, but that level of isolation from my friends would have surely pushed me into a Funk. I was running as hard as I could, but was barely keeping up. Would it ever end?

But I persevered, trying to both curtail my spending and put a little bit extra towards my outstanding balances each month. A few unexpected expenses (like new tires) were unfortunate, but I kept soldiering on, trying not to focus too hard on what were far too many numbers to the left of the decimal point.

And this week, I finally managed to get back to zero. I’ve still got a ways to go (a backup card, as well as student loans), but finally paying off my balance is a huge weight off my chest. I finally feel like I’m getting ahead, clawing my way out of underemployment hell. I’m still working at a job that is unfulfilling, but at least it lets me pay my bills.

What did I learn? Well, I like to think I already had pretty good budget habits. The biggest thing would probably be to not look too closely at the details; long projects advance in tiny steps, and it is only after a longer period of time that slight changes coalesce into a larger shift.

I haz a happee. Now to blow my money on ale and whores! er, a new gaming rig! I mean, the rest of my bills!

I Don’t Know, What Do You Want To Do?

I don’t like making decisions. Big ones, small ones, inconsequential and life-changing ones. Having to make a decision causes me no small amount of stress, and I try to avoid it as much as possible. Of course that’s not realistic, but who said that neuroses have to be logical?

I do several things to avoid making decisions, one of which is engrossing myself in research. I’ll find out as much as possible on a topic, taking as much time as I can before whatever deadline is approaching. Oddly enough, this doesn’t help: I just find my head filled with half-understood variables, each of which requires a decision in and of itself. But I continue doing it anyways. It feels like progress, and it lets me procrastinate.

Which brings up another coping method: procrastination. I’ve touched briefly on how procrastination and perfectionism are intertwined, and I think this is another example. I worry so much about making the wrong decision that, if I wait long enough, any decision is better than none. Or even better (for loose definitions of “better”), the decision gets made for me.

And that’s the third way I try to avoid decisions: I delegate the responsibility to others. This can be as explicit as saying “All right, what are we having for dinner?” or more subtle, such as “We have X and Y in the house. What do you want for dinner?” Luckily I am generally pretty easygoing, so the sacrifice of control is more than outweighed by the joy of not having to decide. This has caused a large number of conversations with my girlfriend to devolve into an endless loop of “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

A result of this is that once I make a decision, I try very hard to avoid having to make it again. For instance: now that I’ve found a style of pants I like, I just buy a new pair of the same jeans whenever I need them. Once I found a shampoo I liked (in France, of all places), I continued using it after getting back to the states. I have even been seeking out the same style headphones for at least the past ten years. When one wore out, I would just buy a new pair.

These last two examples have recently cause me grief, as it has become harder to find the products I’m used to. I tried, going to multiple stores in the area, but was unsuccessful. Long story short, I had to cowboy up and *shudder* change. I did more research than I needed to (of course), but eventually the lack of clean hair and using only one functioning earbud became annoying enough to make me make a decision.

And of course, I wasn’t overly thrilled with either choice. But I think that’s mostly because they’re different, not because I was wrong. And I’m starting to realize that too: a wrong decision is not the end of the world. Most of my decisions are trivial in the grand scale of things. Stressing about them is not a good use of my mental energy. I’d like to think that realization is a sign of adulthood.

But I haven’t decided yet.

A Funk Avoided?

I think I managed to avoid a Funk yesterday.

Yesterday was a Monday, with all that entails. I was at work, after having just spent a nice, relaxing weekend with friends. I was running on much less sleep than I prefer. I had packed a lighter-than-preferred lunch and snack, as I had not gone shopping before the weekend. I was working in a different department than usual, without any help. So I was tired, hungry, and not in the greatest mood to start.

I could feel a Funk approaching.

It was surprisingly seductive. “Come into the darkness,” it said. “You won’t feel stress, or annoyance, or pain. All you have to do is feel nothing at all.”

I could feel myself slipping. I tried to resist, but holding on was taking precious energy from already-taxed systems. What the Funk said was true: some things would be easier without feeling. But I didn’t want to do that, even for a little, because I couldn’t know how long it would take me to crawl my way back out.

In the end, though, I think I may have succeeded. I’m still tired, but the fatigue clouding my mind lacks the bleakness of depression. But my state of mind is still fragile, so I’m trying to shore it up however I can. I’m finally getting a small buffer back for my blog, which is something I’ve been meaning to do for the past two weeks. Finally being able to do so is boosting my mood; I can feel it increasing even as I write. I don’t have a day off until Friday, but I’ll try to get to bed early tonight; maybe that will help as well.

It will be interesting to see if I end up being successful. If I’m not, the failure to prevent a Funk may paradoxically cause a Funk, but that’s a risk I’m going to have to take. I’ve got a lifeline, and I’m going to hold on to it as hard as I can.

Evolving Thoughts

Okay, I’ll admit that Friday’s post was a cop-out. I fully intended to write, pack, and prepare for a weekend trip, but things started getting away from me fairly quickly. Something had to give, and it was my daily post. I’m not posting “No post today” is any better than just not posting, but acknowledging it at the time rather than later (or just ignoring the lapse) feels better to me. And since this is my blog, that’s what matters.

That being said, lets talk a bit about Funks. I’ve been trying to be more conscious about when and how the overtake me, but that can be difficult. The often sneak up on me, a subtle darkening of the mood like a long Colorado twilight. Even so, I do what I can.

Fatigue can be a strong trigger, as can low blood sugar. If I’m especially tired or hungry, I tend to be predisposed to bad moods. They may not cause Funks on their own, but they can severely increase the chance of things getting Funky (sorry for the pun, I’m listening to Daft Punk while I write this). My thinking has been that if I can find my triggers, I can take steps to avoid them and/or mitigate their effects. I could be in control.

But frustratingly, my triggers don’t always seem to be consistent. I can be doing fine, and some innocuous thought or interaction can send me spiraling off course. I can’t do much to avoid Funks when the can blindside me for no apparent reason. In fact, I’ve started to wonder whether or not they are something that can be controlled or consciously avoided.

As you might guess, my thoughts on the matter are starting to change. As a culture, we are widely told to “be happy” or to “think positive thoughts.” But what if that doesn’t work? What if you can’t get happy just by willing it? What does that mean in term’s of one’s worldview, one’s self-control?

This deserves some deep thought and careful consideration.