Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Patterns

I do not have a life.

That was my first thought upon explaining my productivity of late. When making graphs or writing paragraphs, if I can keep moving forward, I tend to do little else but work. I’m content in that lifestyle. I enjoy the feeling of focus and flow. Despite feeling a bit ill (so very hot – it’s so uncomfortable), I found myself spending hours playing with slides yesterday. Making one figure more square than rectangle-y, changing the background of slides to match the size of the title.

But how did the paper and book come about? Easily explained. I’ve written the book – which does contain chapters that are adapted from what I’ve written on this blog as well as countless emails I exchanged – in fits over the past months. Some Saturdays were lost to writing some chapters from scratch, living in some imaginary word and seeking to describe what I think should happen to my characters.

Plus, it’s really not that good. I’ve been reading bit by bit over the past days and while part of the problem is that I’m editing as I go, the book is also flawed. It doesn’t move. I’m not convinced the main character is very likable (which is a shame since she’s a lot like me). There are definitely pages where I just fall in love with synonyms and get all wordy for no apparent reason.

Point? Writing a novel is excruciatingly difficult for me. Yet it’s also my only hobby at the moment. There are moments – sometimes few and far between – that I get lost in the story, in defining moments and unending conflict and witty dialogue. When I move paragraphs or delete text and find the chapter is better. There is pleasure in the writing, even if I’m not so good at it.

The same could be applied to work. Running code in Matlab, making graphs in Excel. Making figures in Photoshop and peering through histograms and color-coded pictures to see if I can isolate a trend that might be important. I did and writing the paper was – once months passed and I figured out what piece of information mattered and how to present such a thing – delightful. I’m also loving these slides I create. Editing movie files to show some trends, carefully selecting a few words to explain complicated concepts.

It’s fun.

It’s also all I have.

I don’t date, though I would if someone asked. But I don’t place myself in positions to meet anyone, nor do I feel it’s particularly important right now. I find my problem is that I want a relationship, not an awkward evening trying to make conversation with a stranger over dinner. Yet the former is hard to obtain without the latter and that seems to require energy I won’t spare.

I have a single friend in my current city. We tend to eat together then spend time in her apartment or my house, doing work or reading blogs. Our laptops open to individual pursuits, sometimes we’ll exchange brief comments, but we can go for hours without a word. Therefore I can exist in my own thoughts – and she hers – with all but the smallest interruptions.

As I started to ponder this post, I wondered what fun meant to me. Is there something I wish I had time to do? Other than sleep more?

“I like to swim.” I said out loud. But I don’t want to fight crowds for a lane at the pool, nor am I in a physical condition that it wouldn’t hurt a bit to start. I used to watch a lot of hockey, but that fascination appears to have faded. I don’t like movies – I get too emotionally involved and they can sometimes trigger migraines. I love books, but prefer to read them cuddled on my couch. I like to travel, but opportunities don’t come along often enough and I’m too lazy to make my own.

So I have a lot of time to kill.

I do that by working. Now I don’t advocate such a lifestyle. It’s obsessive – I’ll be driving somewhere and realize how I want to fix my normal population. I’ll be mid-conversation at work and remember I meant to analyze the fourth component more carefully. My brain fixates and I only want to answer a specific question. Anything else just gets in the way as I crave my programs and graphs and results.

It’s a rather bipolar way of working, but since there are periods of incredible sloth – where I accomplish nothing at all – I need the obsessive times. I’ve never found a balance, so I continue to go all or nothing. This just happens to be an all time.

So the productivity isn’t to be envied, it’s to be pitied. I wanted this time to be much, much different. I wish I was in love and making time to spend with a man. I want to live closer to my family so there can be afternoons with Little One, playing Care Bears or going shopping. I’d like to make dinner with Mom and suffer through endless advice-giving lectures from Dad. I should be volunteering, but I can’t seem to find a place that leaves me anything other than drained and sad and frustrated. I love my church, but don’t really want to be more involved. I’m not sure why.

It is not as if there are no benefits to this lifestyle, sad as it may be. My book chapter is listed online, and the text will be published in the first quarter of 2008. I’ve been checking the publisher’s website for a long time, but it was finally there yesterday! I stared at it for a moment, recalling the hours spent freaking out over my lack of knowledge in the subject I chose. The data I analyzed and countless papers I read to try to create a set of pages that was useful and descriptive. And now I can view the title as it marches proudly across the screen with its other chapter friends. My name is listed underneath and I basked in the warmth that caused.

My feeling of self-worth is largely dependent on lines added to my CV.

So the hours I spend writing in this near-desperate attempt to create a paper (because what I’ve published here so far has been graduate work) are how I feel good about myself. So that’s where I focus my energy. I work. Yet when taking a step back, it’s hard not to wonder if I’ll regret this at some point. If I’ll look at the chapter and the potential paper and this upcoming talk and ache that I didn’t do things differently.

I’d worry about it more if I wasn’t so busy fixing the second background slide for my talk.

4 comments:

phd me said...

I've been feeling the same way lately. I can stay busy but that doesn't equate to feeling like I have a life. Work takes up most of my time but I can't lose myself to it like you can (wish I could - I'd be much better off, tenure-wise). I don't really have any hobbies, except reading, and my social encounters, nice though they are, are all group ones. It isn't that our lives are bad, they just aren't...good. And it's hard to know just why sometimes.

The Contessa said...

Honey - you have a life. It's just that you appear to want more from it!

When I emerged from the workaholic haze called my 20's. I noticed that I worked so much to accommodate the fact that I lived alone and I was lonely.

You will figure it out. Your novel can't be that bad if it's anything like this blog!!!! It's probably got some really amazing parts to it. It's an awesome hobby.

Just remember to play as hard as you work.

Lucy said...

I just realised something similar. At least you get work done. I just seem to fill the time until I go to sleep with procrastination, unless prompted by someone else. I need to figure out how to prompt myself, or how to find more people to do it for me. Either one is hard.

Phdladybug said...

It's such a shared feeling! Since I came back I don't even think I've had a single date with my husband, it's just me and my iMac (I should have married the computer...).

We are all very focused on work but you already have things that you love and like and do. And each stage of life has its own rhythm. Go with the flow and I am positive you'll get what you want!

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