Thursday, November 29, 2018

Eliminate Distraction

The last week or so has been wonderful and terrible all at the same time. I have connected more with worthwhile people. I have also felt vulnerable and lost. Vulnerable is not my best thing in some ways.
I often allow myself to be emotionally or professionally vulnerable. Maybe force myself is a more accurate term. By exposing the raw feelings and inner workings of David, I allow people to get to know me in a deeper and more intimate way. This often garners trust and respect. Those are currencies worth trading in. Almost no one wants facade or bullshit. I hold a real, honest monster in much higher regard than I do a hero that hides their true intentions. 
Sometimes my blog is a really intimate look at my heart. More often it shows off the cold calculation in my brain with a little tiny speck of my heart represented if you read really, really carefully. When my friend Christy read my blog she criticized," I like it. It shows a lot about your thoughts. It doesn't tell me much of anything that you are doing." That was astute. 
My therapist similar pointed out that I approach highly emotional situations with a type of emotionally detached logic. I think in place of feeling all too often. More accurately, I feel everything keenly. I then hide those feelings behind a wall of logic. This is a self-defense mechanism, and it often is one that stunts my growth. It is a habit I am trying hard to break.
Because of this tendency of mine, I tend to value or devalue highly emotional people based on my mood. When I am happy, I love feelings based people. They grant me a sort of vicarious permission to explore my own feelings. When I am insanely stressed, as is the case of the last week or so, feelers frighten the hell out of me. I will quite literally run in the other direction. 
When I get depressed the thing I typically lose is focus and direction. I will do all of the standard actions, but I hit a sort of apathetic inertia. Since I am the most satisfied when I am engaged and involved in things this becomes a cycle of sadness. I am not doing anything and so I don't know what to do with myself. The solution always presents itself in time. Sometimes it comes from the muses. Those are the best inspirations and they often launch me into a sort of euphoria of creativity. 
My latest funk was broke by a friend writing her first blog post. I am going to expose her a little bit and say you can read her blog here. Her post had absolutely nothing to do with what I am writing now but look at the bravery on the page. (or don't if you feel it is voyeuristic) I envy the emotion there. I respect the flow of feelings from start to finish. It is pure, simple, unvarnished honesty. Like me, she hung the words out there for universal consumption. 
It also made me think. Instead of being a whiny puddle of my own emotional distress, I need to break the funk and make some small progress. I haven't put my fictional pen to the page in a long time. I have been cranking out a fair few thoughts and feelings based works (they don't all make their way to the blog, kids). I have been extremely stagnant on my fiction though. I have been stupidly entangled with distraction. 
I have put some time into developing my writing. I read works on the craft. I generally practice some vague tips and tricks to be a better writer. The truth of the matter is, I have been playing AT writing for a while though. It has become an outlet for me when other things are just too big.  That is not the path to writing success. To fix that I have decided to focus and codify my process for writing. Since my life reflects my art, this should translate into another wonderful journey of self-discovery. 
My biggest enemy on this journey is meaningless distraction. Spending hours blindly button mashing on video games is a quick example of a time-wasting distraction. The more insidious distractions come from time wasting people. Sometimes telling the difference between life-affirming interaction and someone getting you lost in the woods is so bloody difficult. I will attempt to map out what I know.
The spurned lover- call them your ex, baby daddy, or your bae (is this still a thing? I am getting old and my slang is slipping)- this broken relationship is an infinite source of distraction. There is a reason I put this first on the list. The problem with the spurned lover is that you actually have feelings for this person. You want to do as right as possible by them either for love or old time's sake (if said love has soured). You give of your time and your emotional bandwidth out of both habit and a sense of obligation. 
This is really bad for both of you. It is a form of living backward and facing yourself toward the past which has already been lived. I have enough trouble not slamming into things facing forward. Facing backward is insanely difficult (this sparks a story about walking into a parking meter that someone needs to remind me to post for a good laugh.) This person may not be a Toxic part of your life, but they are preventing you from making as much progress toward the next place you should be. 
If you share a child with the spurned lover there may be so much leverage for them to distract you that freedom seems impossible. You have a common goal. You made a person (or people) together. That bond is so profound as to be almost primal. I personally hate when biological tendencies try to control my thoughts and emotions. There is a reason I have higher brain function. 
In the typical spurned lover situation I am as much of a distraction for them as they are for me. Airing the dirty laundry and honesty about the situation typically cures the problem. Things end for a reason. If we aren't what we once were there is a reason for this. We need to stop shooting for a goal that is behind us. Whatever you do, do not sing Let It Go from Frozen. No one takes this move well. Maybe it is just my singing voice? If honesty doesn't do the trick, limit your contact to manageable bites.
The endlessly needy friend- This poor soul ALWAYS has drama in their life. They often feel the victim of fate or circumstance. They will say things like,"My life never used to be like this," or," What has happened to me?" If you could look at them from an omnipotent perspective, they have always been a tragic figure. This is no coincidence. They aren't (for the most part) cursed. They are victims of their own self-loathing. They bring about their downfall subconsciously because they feel it is deserved. Don't allow yourself to attach to them or you may find yourself falling off the ladder you were trying to help them climb. 
There are two solutions here. Learn to listen to the endlessly needy friend without giving any advice or offering any help. You are "there" for them but you are not entangled in their misfortune. Be sure to control any feelings of empathy or sympathy. These are the morsels that the endlessly needy friend are foraging for. Do not become a meal. 
The second solution is cold-blooded, but it is the suggested treatment. Banish the person from your life. The amount they will take from you can never be regained. You cannot make it up elsewhere. You only stand to lose and so you must escape the gravitational pull of their vortex of entropy. Dramatic, sure, but not inaccurate. 
The fun friend- now this is a dual-edged sword. That friend that we all have who is the life of every party is a valuable resource. They can drive you and inspire you. They can also completely distract you from the things that you should be doing. Their energy comes from somewhere. Is that manic energy actually being pulled from you? Do you leave this person feeling refreshed or exhausted? Psychic vampirism is a very real thing.
Since I have been guilty of being this person for a long time my advice may or may not be biased. I am an entertainer by heart. I feed openly on the involvement and approval of my audience. (Yep. I am doing it as you read these words.) I know I completely exhaust some of my friends. I also know I wake others up and motivate them. Am I a dangerous distraction? Absolutely!
The way to deal with this is to control your interactions. Do not go a step further than you want to with this person. When your energy stops building from this person take a break. Expose yourself to them in bursts than work in your favor. Use them to top up your own batteries. When you feel the drain begin, find an excuse to do something they find boring. This will probably buy you the necessary respite.
Now the extreme version of this fun friend is the energy leech. They never get the hint. You are their meal. They will stick around and suck all of the energy out of not only you but everyone else in the room. The tactic here is difficult. Match their energy if you can. Give them a type of emotional indigestion. This will break their want to snack on you. If that doesn't work, cut contact. The cost of their company is too high.
I could probably write a few thousand more words on distracting types of people. That in and of itself would be a worthy distraction. For the Message here not to be diluted I have two more things that I need to touch on: Distracting feelings and distracting activities. 
2018 has been a year of emotional harmonization for me. I had to admit I have feelings. Then I had to admit that I am not in control of all of them. Finally, I had to admit that all of my feelings are valid even the really bad ones. They exist, have a right to exist, are valid, and are caused by valid things. This is a work in progress, but it is helping me find a healthier, more satisfying life.
Some feelings are there to distract and disarm you. The biggest of these is insecurity. That niggling little voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough is really rooted in self-loathing. It tells you that you aren't good enough because it wants to be right about what a terrible person you are. It tells you that you are too fat, too skinny, too loud, too ugly, too dumb, too caustic, too bad, too evil, too boring and that your feet smell bad. To be fair, it is probably right about your feet. That is ok. Your feet are supposed to stink.
Insecurity is there to limit you from your potential. I equate this with sin. Sin isn't literally doing bad things. It is falling short of being the person you are capable of being. It is wasting your gifts based on the little demon that has possessed your soul for the sole purpose of keeping you from trying. Taking this literally as metaphorically as your individual faith allows.
To not waste time on insecurity you have to ignore the doubt. Sometimes you need to show yourself that you are capable of greatness. Other times, you need to recognize that the effort you have made is plenty good enough even if you didn't necessarily meet your goal. You answer your self-loathing with acceptance and self-love. I make it a practice to tell me how much I love myself several times a day. Occasionally this turns physical. Most healthy relationships do. (Yes, my insecurity totally poked fun at my thinly veiled joke about masturbation, but my pride at the strength of my vulnerability won out.)
A distinct cousin to insecurity is fear. Fear of loss is the most destructive form of fear. You will fail to tell someone how you really feel because you don't want to lose them as a friend. You won't apply for a promotion or a job because you fear being told that you aren't good enough. You fear to let go of the past because you don't know what the future holds. 
All of these fears are permissive. They give you the authorization to not try. They stagnate you. They surround you in a cloud of compromise and comfort. They also insidiously seduce you to continue to give up on more and more things. 
To combat this, you should pursue things that scare you. We learn the most from our failures in a process called trial and error. You attempt it. You botch it completely. You analyze what didn't work. You try again but change the game up. Eventually, you succeed. Insert that stupid Thomas Edison quote (or often misquote) here if it makes you hard. I won't lower myself to it. You all know that one I mean. 
Give yourself permission to try and fail. It is good to fail as long as you learn as much as you can from those failures. This breeds persistence, refinement, and confidence. I love fear. When I run into it there is a pretty good chance that I am about to face something that will make me grow stronger. I treat it as a harbinger of success. 
Finally, let's talk about distracting activities. Not everything that you do should have utility. It should all have a purpose. That is to say that everything you do should produce something within you. Television has been described as the opiate of the masses. I would extend that to cover video games and the internet. 
They can all be meaningless idle pursuits. On the other hand, I watched an episode of The Orville and was inspired to write a novel. That was not the purpose of watching the show. I wanted to relax and have no direction for an hour or so. The inspiration was an unintended added bonus. That means that the value of the idle time was in and of itself distraction.
Activities that don't intentionally drive you to distraction are the ones that are problematic. They take your mind out of the place it needs to be and makes you less productive and focused. Sex is like that for a lot of people. I am certainly one of them. I can be very focused on something and suddenly trip over a sexual attraction that derails me. It takes some serious effort to get back on task since I am rarely in a time and place to alleviate the urge. 
Stories are a massive distraction for me. I love to read. I love comics. I love video games. I love TV. I love podcasts. The narrative distracts me completely. I can be in the middle of a meeting at work and my brain will just start working its way through the latest run of Detective Comics. (so good since Rebirth) I can also suddenly just find myself writing my own narrative from some crumb of an idea that was thrown out to me haphazardly. In these situations, I typically have to get the idea jotted down before I can concentrate again. 
I am certain all humans have unique distractions. The trick to these is to learn what it takes to avoid them when they cannot be indulged. Mine are couched in ritual. I make a note to come back to the distraction later and feel as satisfied as if it is expressed. I also feed my distractions in the moments I can indulge them very heavily. 
I plan what stories matter to me carefully. I give myself a set amount of time (normally an hour per day) to take part in them. That sacrifice makes the rest of my time a little more focused. 
I don't know that Eliminate Distraction qualifies as a rule. I put it on the list. I have to think a little more on it before it is fleshed out into a fully constructed concept. It does set up my next project neatly. I am going to limit my distractions in favor of making some progress on my writing. 
My narrative voice is very strong right now. It needs to feed on a diet of good content. I am going to get back to reading books about writing. I am going to start with Stephen King's On Writing. The Wordsmith always motivates me and challenges me. From there I will work through some more procedural work. 
I think that will lead to some new short stories for the blog. They make great writing exercises. They also are quick wins that help me to feel accomplished along the road. I hope this excites my audience. 
For now, I have exorcized the demon of this distracting idea. I am going to try and go get some rest. Being too distracted to sleep is never fun. 


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