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Monday, January 12, 2009

Overcoming the Self

I don’t remember what age it was exactly that I began cataloging my weaknesses and designing interrelated strategies to defeat them. It is a convoluted process and the list of weaknesses is longer than I like to admit.

By “interrelated” strategies, I mean that I use one weakness to overcome another, or overcome one weakness by overcoming another. For example, in college I would save up big, scary assignments and then offer myself false dichotomies: “you can either work on the thesis paper, or you can do that little philosophy reading assignment.” The big projects would sometimes suffer for it (I essentially turned “procrastination” into a study strategy), but not as much as they would have suffered from my ignoring the daily grind.

My tendency to procrastinate is, even now, problematic for me. Even if I enjoy an activity, I will procrastinate if it becomes “work.” I enjoy writing to no end, and given a piece of paper and a pencil will fill every inch of it with words, just because. Yet while detritus surrounds me, my novel inches forward like molasses. Yesterday I designed a method to defeat this.

I hate exercise with a passion. Mind you, I’m in fairly good shape, because I dance, and hike, and sometimes climb, and because I view eating with a largely utilitarian bent. But I hate exercise for exercise’s sake, and the holiday season makes it difficult to accomplish exercise for “fun,” because the dancers I know are out of town.

I love writing, but it is “work” now, so I procrastinate it. On this newest attempt at “the novel,” I have made a rule. Each day, the number of pages between where I am and the number 100 get added to a little list I made and converted into minutes of exercise. I don’t have to do the exercise on the day on which I rack it up, the minutes just keep adding up until they form a scary, impossibly huge barrier. At that point, exercise becomes the “big scary assignment” and writing becomes not only the small, enjoyable assignment, but a way to minimize the big scary one. The more I write, and the more I focus in on the primary project, the less I have to do an activity I hate, but which is good for me. When I breach 100, I will begin counting down to 200 (equivalent to approximately 400 paperback pages), which should be about as much space as this story will need.

It is interesting how the human mind works. There are wheels within wheels within wheels. Thinking about the manner in which I trick myself into doing things makes it possible, on some level, for me to relate to people who have either had their brains divided, or have multiple personalities. There are so many different kinds of people within one person.

I myself have done wonderful, and terrible things to people, just depending on who I was the day they ran into me. Was I the nervous, socially awkward geek, or the grandstanding, in-your-face geek? Was I the confident, experienced lead, or the new dancer with two left feet?

I contain people capable of great emotional involvement, and people capable of great emotional detachment. I have loved women deeply and shallowly. I have used people for sex and cried on the laps of virtual strangers. I have made immense sacrifices for people I hardly knew, some of whom will never know what I gave them or why. But I have also taken things that were not mine to take.

Watching American movies is a little funny, for me. People are so steadfast, and sturdy. They always are what they always were. They are allowed to be interesting, but they are not allowed to change unless that change is permanent, meaningful, and the basis of the plot.

Yet the people I meet from day to day are fickle, like me. They are one thing to one person, and another to another. Sometimes they are kind, sometimes cruel. Sometimes they laugh at a joke and sometimes they become offended. They like, hate, love, and fear things before they know why, and spend days, weeks, even years surrounding their emotions with reasons, because ultimately, mankind must rationalize everything that it does.

The people who are most successful, I think, are the ones who decide which specific subset of the people inside them are going to be allowed to come out. They decide who they are, and defy any internal voice to deny it. They overcome their demons and their angels alike.

There may be something to this, in terms of understanding structured religion. Overcoming your own demons and angels is exhausting. Believe me. Coming to where I am now (and I do not think I have succeeded yet) has nearly killed me twice over. A religion is a structure through which you can be told which demons and angels to listen to and which demons and angels to ignore, and be given the tools with which to rationalize your decision and stick to it. Done right, it frees more of your mind for other things.

Those of us without this structure, though, must continue to overcome the self. If you are among us, I can only wish you the best of luck and assure you that if you succeed, you will be better and stronger for having done things the hard way. It may not be true, but you don't really have any choice in the matter, so you might as well believe it.

If you fail, of course (as I might), then you are basically screwed.

Ganbare o, as they say.

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