a little bit more about me

My name is Beth and I accidentally have found myself living in Arizona but I'm originally from Tennessee. My education is in history and anthropology, which means that I know a little about a lot of things and can hold my own at a cocktail party in mixed company. I work in museums, doing all sorts of things ranging from researching and writing exhibits to cataloguing absolute wickety wak. I love comedy, baking, photography, my daughter, dogs, and above all else, napping.*

* 2013 edit: Oh yeah, and my new son too.

This form does not yet contain any fields.

    Entries in writing (12)

    Tuesday
    Sep252012

    Unfiltered Thoughts: Procrastination

    This morning, sitting at my cube reading blogs as the coffee brewed, I read the improvised life's post "the work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life."

    I'm not sure where I come down on this one. Obviously sitting on-call in a cubicle 40 hours a week is not what I think I should be doing for the rest of my life, though I've got some clear ideas on what that is and while I've been taking small steps to get me from the cube-sitting to the working-for-myself part, I still have to be a cube jockey until Plan B starts to pay off. But while I am manning this cubicle, I do procrastinate by writing. So in my case the work I do while procrastinating is the work I should be doing, and I already knew that. But I'm just not sure that "procrastinating" is the right word for what I'm doing, and not just since I don't have other work that needs to be done. (Disclaimer: At work, that is. At home, I've got a mountain of work that needs to be done, but I can't do any of it from my cube).

    I think that's where the problem with the quote lies (for me, anyway) - the troublesome distinction within the quote that work equals, well, work, and procrastination is, in contrast, not productive, or more specifically contributive to work. That's particularly problematic when you're in a creative pursuit, like writing, because you can't separate one from the other. Sometimes when I write I find that the words that give shape and form to my ideas flow quickly and easily, and I'm simply channeling them onto the page. That's incredibly rare. Most of the time, I find that I stumble on kernels of ideas and those ideas take time to plant, water, and tend before they sprout, nevermind grow.

    I carry around a notebook that is full of one-liners and scribbles of half-thoughts that, once fully formed, could become something, but until they are fully formed, those follow me around like my shadow. I find myself constantly thinking about how to reshape an idea, how to phrase and contextualize it, and how to convey its complexity without being overly stuffy. Perhaps a better example is the list of funny anecdotes or observations that were noteworthy enough for me to write them down for reference, if only I could fumble my way past the anecdote itself to what it is that that moment embodies. But if I sit around and stew about "What does this mean? How can I use this as a vehicle to tell some larger tale?" I'd be sitting here staring at a blank screen for the rest of my life. So I just continue on. I go for walks, go get coffee, play with Baby, make dinners, sit in my cubicle, and maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way, I'll figure it out and then I'll get to use that in my writing. But, more likely, I'll get 'distracted' along the way, overhear something interesting in line at Starbucks that I'll write down in my notebook and chase that scrap instead - either because that has a faster path to my discovery of meaning or because it's more timely or simply more interesting. The most likely reason, though, is because I'm still struggling to achieve a way to impart meaning to the previous moment. In short: it's not helpful to sit around thinking "INSPIRATION STRIKE NOW, goddamnit!" But just because I cast that moment aside until later doesn't make everything that happens in between the recording of the moment and the hours, days, weeks, months, or even years before it becomes something "procrastination."

    The Improvised Life did a follow-up post linking to Brain Pickings' post on procrastination but I think that this post from Brain Pickings makes more connections for me: "We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it’s only after we stop searching that an answer may arrive."

    Friday
    Jun012012

    At Least I'm Not the Only One Uninspired

    Earlier I posted about how I haven't been writing because I'm just so damn worn out. And while I try not to be too hard on myself about that, that itself is…well, hard.

    I mean, all it takes is one sideways glance at my feeds to see that they are clogged with new blog posts, updates, follow-ups, and news items that get updated by the hour moment to prove that only I’m to blame when I find myself staring at a blank screen. Obviously I’m not creative enough. Or the ideas I have are bad and not worth exploring. Or the writing I am producing is crap. Pick your flavor – I’ve got 31 ways to blame myself. On really bad days, my efforts to shoo away my internal critic is so hopeless I’m left alone with “I’m not cut out to be a writer.”

    When I get some space and take the time to cross examine my own worst critic, I realize how ridiculous that line of thinking is. It’s also reassuring to read something like this to see that I’m not the only one caught up in a tug of war between wanting to write and insisting that what I write is the BEST THING EVER PUT ON PAPER (or, ahem, screen, in this case). I loved the advice she gives her students going through “Bad Brain Days”:

    I tell them that they are feeling this way not because they haven't learned enough, but because they've learned so well. They understand how hard what they're trying to do is, and know that they're not there yet. I quote to them from Wallace Stevens, that the difference between a good poet and a great poet is that a good poet reads his work and is satisfied.

    So as I slowly build up my motivation and inspiration again, I will be trying hard to take her advice and be a little less hard on myself.

    Friday
    Apr272012

    long time, no write

    It's been forever since I was here. 

    26 days to be exact. 

    In part because I have been alternating between sick and swamped at work, leaving me neither the time nor the energy to sit down in front of a computer at home. But mostly because in the moments I did find the time to write, I found I didn't have anything to say. I was spent. You can't force inspiration. It just doesn't work that way. You can't sit down, put on your inspiration cap, and tell yourself "Time to write....now what are we going to say today?" Nothing worth writing or reading comes of that. 

    But it's also a balancing act, because there's the pitfall of falling into thinking that because what I have to say isn't brilliant or perfect, I have nothing worth saying at all. 

    There's all kinds of advice out there about how to break through writer's block, but, for me, there is no surefire cure, other than carving out some time and space away from the computer, but only while giving myself the permission to take a break, so that I'm coming back to something I enjoy, and not trying to escape something that's become a burden.

    Tuesday
    Mar062012

    Alone. Together.

    I listened to a fascinating interview today with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, who has written a book about being single, and how the way that society thinks about single life has changed dramatically over the past century. What I found most interesting though is that, as an aside, really, he talked about his own personal life - that he is married with small children and living in New York City - and, when asked if he spent a lot of time alone, his response was "when you live in New York City, you don't have much opportunity" to be alone - it becomes "a fantasy."

    Man, you got that right. Have you been to NYC? It's impossible to carve out any niche of solitude (although it helps to wear your earbuds everywhere to drown out everyone else). When I was last there, I got on a bus from the Newark airport to Manhattan, where I could claim an entire row to myself & all my crap, and waves of relief washed over me immediately, "oh thank GOD. I am SO sick of being around all those people. In the airport shuttle, in the airport, on the plane. Jesus! I am just so glad to have some space to myself." Then we stopped at the next airport terminal. And the next. And it quickly became apparent that there wasn't going to be any personal space on this bus - it was just that I was the first stop! Then we got to the Madison Square Garden stop and I got off the bus only to navigate seas of people. Everywhere. All I wanted was to get to my hotel room and collapse. It was late Sunday night and I was exhausted after a long day of flying standby, hoping to make connections. And even after the respite that my claustrophobic hotel room provided, it was back to being thrown into throngs of people everywhere I went. It was impossible to find a seat on a bench to myself in museums. The stairs outside the public library in the park were just teeming with other solo folks just trying to make private phone calls in public. On the subway, at restaurants, in line at coffeeshops, on walks through Central Park - there is no space to call your own. I could never, EVER live there. 

    But it got me to thinking: would his thinking about single-hood and being alone have developed if he lived somewhere else, in some other context? Where the experience of having alone time was neither novel nor particularly noteworthy? Would it have struck him to study being by yourself if he weren't living in a context in which the only way you can be alone is together, with milions of others? I think it's a striking example of how one's thinking can be, to at least some degree, a product of one's circumstances and context...

    Thursday
    Mar012012

    Tongue Tied

    I haven't had much to post lately. Actually, that's not true. I have lots to say. It's like thoughts and ideas and posts are just spilling out of me so fast I can't get them down to paper computer monitor before they float downstream. I have half-baked scraps of posts strewn all over the place. Shards of ramblings that I need to fully develop into posts before I can publish but I just can't seem to get my act together. Sure, I've been home from work with a sick 7 month old for almost 2 weeks with no time to put on pants, nevermind write. And sure, I myself have been really ill. But it's just so damn frustrating to have so much to say and not enough time to figure out how to say it. It's like some kind of clogged writer's block. I start to type all stream of consciousness, only to find that somewhere near the end of the post, I've run out of steam and forgotten where this is all going. Or how I meant to construct the narrative. Or the example I wanted to include. So I just keep saving drafts, hoping that I'll have the chance to revisit, come back, and whip that draft into shape. I'm still hopeful that I'll have that chance, but in the meantime, just wanted to check in and say "Hey Interwebz! Yeah, how you been?"