Tag Archives: Brain

I Am Deep Thought

Welp! I screwed myself real good last night.

Editorial note: Here we have an illustration of why it’s important to just go ahead and finish the first draft of what you’re writing, and then go back and reconsider your choices thoughtfully. The preceding lede graf set me off on this little journey, so, it’s done its job. But what if the reader has arrived at this post immediately after having taken a stroll through, say, one of the saucier subreddits? That opening sentence might give him or her the wrong impression about what follows.

“My,” such a person might think. “Andy has a rather high opinion of himself, doesn’t he?” 

If you read on and feel that you’ve been deceived and left feeling disappointed…well, (after much thought) I guess I should feel flattered. Somewhat. But I’m not prepared to make it up to you in any way.

I’m engaging in a housecleaning campaign that matches Rommel’s North Africa campaign in aggression, cunning, and scope. Visitors to my home over the past few months can confirm that this marks a significant shift in my administration’s domestic policy. Normally, I consider it a really big deal if any of my housework involves moving any piece of furniture for any reason. “I suppose the window above the bookcase is clean enough,” I think, as I prepare to knock off for the rest of the day. I mean, it still lets in enough light to see the rug by.” But this time, I’m even contemplating a (small) dumpster rental.

The “screwing myself” came in the form of going out for breakfast with a few friends this morning. Specifically, in the non-doing of that thing. I knew that I was going to be tied up with lots of typey-typey work this week, so I wanted to spend Monday pushing the Progress bar as far to the right as I could before the Housecleaning process beachballed.

I should have put down the dustpan at 10 PM and gone to bed by midnight. I didn’t drop it until 4 AM.

Why? Because the Housecleaning process is a sick calculus of Messiness, Time, and Effort. The immediate effect of increasing Effort over Time is that the Messiness curve pitches up sharply. Example: the wood-burning stove needs its end-of-season cleanout. Despite my best efforts, ash gets all over everything. I want to roll up the carpet so I can take it outside and clean and air it out properly. That requires me to move most of the furniture into great heaps in a room that I’d just finished cleaning the day before. Et Cetera.

Eventually, the Messiness curve peaks and then slopes towards zero — asymptotically, dammit — but you need to push yourself over an enormous hump before that happens.

This is an overly-complicated way to say “I can only turn a large mess into a smaller mess by creating an even larger transitional mess.” It’s baffling, isn’t it? I thought that the laws of thermodynamics insisted that there would be a Conservation of Mess, at bare minimum! This is why we agreed to not do this kind of housecleaning!!!

I sincerely intended to be in bed by midnight. But those intentions were overwhelmed by four or five hours of walking past, or stepping over, one of these Transitional Messes and then thinking “Andy, wouldn’t it be grand if we didn’t to stand on a sofa and reach over a 3-D printer to use the toaster oven tomorrow morning?”

Result: I woke up roughly thirty minutes after I would have needed to leave for breakfast. I traded French toast and sausage and ninety minutes of conversation for an English muffin and 45 minutes of watching YouTube videos in stoic silence.

My mind is still focused on housecleaning. Before I sat down to write this post, I was about to get a Sharpie and write out a whole bunch of new paper labels for the drawers into which I’m sorting tools, cables, and other bibs and bobs. But I need to get my head out of Housecleaning mode and into Typey-Typey-Typey mode. I had hoped that detouring into the office to dash off something for the blog would distract me and help me to disengage from Edith Bunker Mode. However, as I entered this room, I looked at the pile of things that were partially blocking the entrance and I made a note to clear out that stuff at the very least by the end of the day. (The office, as yet untouched by the chromey melon of Mr. Clean, is the next room to get hosed out.)

My brain can accomplish huge, ambitious, long-duration projects. I’ve written about a dozen books, after all! But it’s optimized for committing to that one thing and forsaking all other tasks until the Big Project has been shrinkwrapped and shipped. Just like the Deep Thought computer in “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Once it began calculating the Answer to the Ultimate Question about Life, the Universe, and Everything, it couldn’t abort that process or multitask any less-significant ones alongside it.

Each of my books was written that way. When I was deep in production on book number three (? Well, a long, long time ago, anyway) I had a briefing with some unlucky Microsoft executives. To my credit, I did manage to arrive at the downtown hotel suite fully dressed. But otherwise, I looked and smelled like a body that had been buried in a Scottish peat bog since the days when Shakespeare was still stealing jokes from Francis Bacon’s standup act.

I’m better at multitasking huge projects today. I have to be; as a Grown-Ass Adult, I (happily) always have multiple Big Creative Projects going on and I longer have the luxury of only one enormous thing to build at a time.

But just as a vegetarian is incapable of seeing a thick, juicy steak without feeling a heavy tap on his or her shoulder from a spear-shouldering genetic forebear who wishes to remind them that winter’s coming, my brain naturally wants to roll towards Obsessive Task Completion Pursuit. I spent five hours writing today and I had to push my brain uphill the whole way.

Mind you, my brain is also terrific at putting things off until later. I try very very hard to do a big periodic cleaning before things get so untidy that it would be easier and cheaper to just drop a new carpet and set of furniture on top of everything that’s there already. That’s a drastic move, admittedly. But everything compresses down over time and you wind up with a charming two-level effect in the room.

Alas, I’ve already done that twice and my guests at this year’s Oscars party had to resort to stepladders and a lot of crouching. So I suppose it was long past-time for me to really roll up my sleeves.

Postscript: While Tweeting a link to this post I realized that I should have named it “Lysol, the Universe, and Everything.” It would have landed the subsequent HHGttG reference nicely without running any risk of anyone thinking…you know…well. Anyway.

Are you waiting for proof that you’re really an artist? – Jessica Abel

Are you waiting for proof that you’re really an artist? – Jessica Abel:

If you’re not stretching yourself, trying to say something you’ve never said before, trying to give form to ideas that are truly new for you, writing is a breeze. It’s a walk in the park. Do you struggle to describe the ridiculous behavior of your annoying roommate? To express how you feel about what your dog did to your shoes? To recount what happened in some recent sports match? Probably not. If you were to write about these topics in an email, say, it would probably be a pretty cut-and-dried affair. But that is because the ideas you’re expressing are fairly simple, and the events are clear and on the surface.


I’d like to needlepoint the whole blog post on a pillow. A really, really big pillow.

Jessica Abel has been one of my favorite graphic storytellers for ages. Somewhere in the Ihnatko Archives, I have an early issue of her “Artbabe” series…printed at Kinkos and hand-stitched with red yarn.

But I discovered her blog only recently, and it’s brilliant stuff. Her series on “getting your creative work unstuck” is true, important, and inspirational. I’m so grateful that I happened to read it just before starting another long work session.

In the above piece, I love the balance between “you’re working hard and going through heck (try to stay out of hell, kids; it’s a silly place) because you’re trying to create great things” and “finish it.” It’s advice I’ve given to others, and yet it’s sometimes so hard for me to accept!

You do need to hear it from others from time to time…and I’ve never seen it expressed better than this.