Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Behavioral conditioning

While I was away, JRB wrote a great little post linking to a great little post by Adspar, who seems to have a great little blog that I'm gonna start reading now that I know it exists.

Adspar wrote:
It occurs to me now that years and years of taking orders from authority figures really fucked up my ability to manage my time, and to direct my efforts towards goals of my own choosing. Whenever I had time to myself, I just wanted to do nothing, perhaps because I was accustomed to goal-directed activity being unpleasant. And it was unpleasant partially because I wasn't the one setting the goals. I suppose these repeated periods where I squandered my time were when I rejected being an agent for someone else's goals, but was incompetent at setting my own and executing on them.
Huh. Sounds familiar. Actually (and there's some me me me blah blah-ing coming up here) I've been mega struggling with this recently. I have all kinds of things I want to do for myself and for the people I know and who live near me. Making music, writing (on this here blog and also the fiction I keep telling myself I write), reading more, learning to cook, getting in shape physically. Getting involved in local culture. Getting involved in local activism.

And I have plenty of time to do all of it. I'm extremely lucky, in a relative sense, in having a part-time job that provides me with just enough to live on, so four days out of the week are mine in their entirety, which most people can't say. And yet I hardly do anything. More often, I sit around all day thinking about the things I want to do, and then go and laugh at the stupid thing digby just said or whatever. Finally it's getting to the point where I can't stand it anymore, where I need to change it. I think I'm starting to turn it around--that's in part what my week-long break was about--but it is hard for me, way harder than it has any sensible right to be.

JRB wrote:
Politically speaking, we need to live but we also need to live as ourselves, in which case we take on double-work: the work of contributing toward that which earns us income, and the work of contributing toward ourselves.

Consumerism tells us to relax when we aren't working as required by its needs. Our work is done as producers; now we must consume! But as our friend suggests, that investment leaves nothing extra for ourselves.
It's funny. I wrote a while back about how our culture conditions us from childhood to be unable to see certain obvious truths, and that some of us, due to the luck (or chance, more accurately) of our own specific lives, manage to overcome that conditioning, or avoid it altogether. I tentatively included myself in that "some of us." I still think I belong in that category--though I am always open to argument on that if anyone feels it's necessary, and I should clarify that "category" is a misleading word and it's more of a spectrum, and a process, but now my parenthetical is getting way too long--but only now am I realizing that whatever quirks of my life led to that independence of thought also seem to have led to a near-complete lack of independence of action. The conditioning of my thoughts didn't take, but the conditioning of my behavior did.

They'll fuck ya one way or the other.


Randal Graves said...

On stuff like this, I always feel like I have less of a place to complain because I don't have a Workin' For MCA®-type job -- not that there isn't bullshit at a college library -- but I find myself succumbing to this as well.

The only place I've been able to find myself being creative recently was sitting in the car while waiting for my youngest to get out of school and that was a whopping 30 minutes.

With my kids, I've made it abundantly clear that I hope they find something that makes them happy. Sounds trite, but I don't want them wasting time with a cubicle degree or anything that's the intellectual and emotional equivalent of breaking rocks so that when they do finish with the daily task that pays for food and heat and such, they won't feel so goddamn drained that the creative is sitting unused next their body that bears a striking resemblance to a lump.

Anonymous said...

some of us have found something we love and can't make money at it. to break rocks isn't much of a life, but neither is schlepping all over the country with a guitar in your back seat. anyway, breaking rocks pays better.

Richard said...

"The conditioning of my thoughts didn't take, but the conditioning of my behavior did."

Yes. Yes.

Ethan said...

Randal, it's always your place to complain. Which might be a funny joke, but it is also true.

I can't imagine trying to raise kids and to instill good attitudes in them.

As for the rest of your comment, and Anonymous's response to it, I always end up being torn about that. In some ways I'd love to be paid to write, either fiction or the type of stuff I write on this blog or other kinds of cultural criticism that interest me, or maybe I'd love to be paid to make weird music, or, failing that, I would certainly love to be paid by (ahem) a library. But on the other hand, as bad as the paralysis this post is about can be, I imagine that coming to feel about things I love the way I currently feel about work: that it's not mine, that I do it to get paid, that I do to the parameters someone else has set.

Richard, thank you. I'm hoping that, having found the diagnosis, the prescription won't follow far behind.

Ethan said...

Uh, this might sound weird, but anonymous, I'm sorry to have referred to you only in the third person. I meant to also address you directly in that paragraph.

davidly said...

Spot on.

Ethan said...

Thank you, davidly.


Anonymous said...

probably because we read very carefully...

it would obviously suck to be alienated from creativity the way most americans are alienated from their work, but you can do it for money without losing your passion. you just don't make much money at all, and eventually your passion starts to wane.

zencomix said...

One of my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, Graves!

One of the traps you may fall into when you squander your time is the "Ice Cream Shoppe" trap. You go to the Ice Cream Shoppe, and there's 57 flavors, and you can't decide what to get because there are so many choices.

You want to read, write, make music, learn to cook, so many choices, etc, and you end up in the "What is Digby Doing" procrastination while you try to decide what you really want to do.

From my own experience, a good starting point for breaking through the habitual patterns of the past would be the getting in shape physically part.

Randal Graves said...

Everyone seems to be hitting on the crux of the whole taco, that if this is the system we're stuck with - and it is, lucky us - and I need to get paid so I don't slowly starve while scraping three-day old cheese out of discarded pizza boxes, it better be for something *I* enjoy, something of my own creation, something fueled by my passion. Sadly, that constitutes, what, 1% of the "jobs" out there?

zencomix, get in shape? You, sir, can go to hell. :)

zencomix said...

Lugging around a Peavey amp qualifies as exercise!

Ethan said...

zecomix: Good diagnosis, good prescription. I'm working on it. Went on a bike ride today!

Randal, I think 1% is vastly overestimating it.

chuck zoi said...

For what its worth, for me I think part of the solution to using my time more productively is realizing that what I "feel like" doing isn't what I ought to be doing. My "feel likes" are more calibrated to short-term goals. So acting toward long term goals require doing something I don't feel like doing right now. Lately I've been finding that when I somehow force myself to start on a goal-oriented task that I didn't feel like starting, once I've started I actually enjoy it. But that first hurdle is a big one.

Thanks for the kind words!

Ethan said...

Thanks for writing words I wanted to be kind about!

And for writing more of them here. I hadn't thought of these things in particularly those terms before, and I think it's especially good advice for me particularly. So---thanks!