Navigating the spiral during times of constant upheaval.
I've always found writing to be cathartic. I've rarely been willing to be vulnerable enough to share it.
Obviously if you're writing a public post, you're not as likely to say the kinds of things you might say if you were writing to only yourself, in a book, to be stored in some location (a shelf, let's say) unlikely to be reviewed or assessed by wandering eyes.
I'm also not entirely certain how much relevance personal blogs maintain in this day of over-saturation where YouTube and the internet as a whole are filled to their virtual brims with the life story of just about everyone who has even thought once or twice about sharing it. I don't really spend much time reading posts like this, and if I'm not representative of my audience, then who is?
But maybe that's precisely the idea.
I started this post, first and foremost, because it had been a while. But also because the series of events in my life of late have left me decidedly lacking for a sense of accomplishment, and on some level I really just wanted to experience the satisfaction and closure of finishing something.
Writing is a good vehicle for this for me. I have an easy time deciding when a written piece is finished, and I can complete written works in much shorter time-frames than any of the other media I participate in.
I'm slow with music, slower still with visual art, and still struggle with the skill set needed to churn out video pieces with any kind of alacrity or regularity. (Though, when they do work, they get finished faster than songs or artworks do.)
And when you're writing to an audience of none, where the readership isn't yet established and the only people encountering the work are ones who accidentally stumble across it, perhaps that's exactly the place to practice and test out new ideas, or bare your truths that you'd be otherwise too concerned to admit. Like the band preparing for tour at the local club, or the comic at the dive bar practicing and perfecting their set before they take it out on the road.
And why not? That's exactly the part of the process that seems to be lacking lately. The feeling of establishing footholds on the climb.
A Priority Problem
There's a personality type that Barbara Sher referred to as the "scanner" - someone with many, even hundreds or thousands, of interests, often with the tendency to flit from endeavor to endeavor without seeing them to completion.
I align with this characterization, with the one exception being that I do almost always finish what I start, but it can take years and even decades before it happens in the more extreme cases.
This actually isn't really an exception to her depiction, as she breaks scanners down into differing types, of which this is one. However, the majority of the personalities she is referencing do not tend to return to their short-lived obsessions after they tire of them.
This one aspect; that I remain interested in my ideas even if I can't find the time to execute on them, can be the bane of my existence at times, as they all tend to exist like frame threads or anchor points in a spider web, and until complete, have the perceived effect of restricting the integrity of the whole and any ability for continued growth.
Just as a spider web can be compromised by the lack, or destruction, of just a handful of critical threads, needing to de-prioritize an idea I have for the sake of more immediate goals tends to relegate it to a position in the background wherein it continues to consume energy and resources in its stasis state, without really contributing anything. Do this enough times, and the bearing on the overall cognitive load is significant, and draining in a very inobvious way that sometimes feels quite mysterious indeed.
Part of the reason for this is I tend to project out into the future and prepare for a linear progression of events that, at the time, seems very near and achievable, only to unravel out to the horizon and be realized as a much longer journey.
Not only that, but these processes tend to be interdependent across disciplines, and I generally interconnect them in ways that force dependencies I hadn't actually accounted for.
Let's take one of my more far-fetched pursuits as an example. I'll start by saying that this one is very low priority on my list at the moment, but because I do return to it, and because it remains largely unexplored, I'm certain it carries with it a perceptible allocation of brainpower and lends the respective dissonance for lack of achievement. And what is that pursuit, you ask? Well, it's more like a collection of ideas that require acquisition of new knowledge to fully realize. Allow me to explain.
There are two seemingly disconnected realms that tug at me for investigation. I'm not going to go too deep into the actual executable ideas here and now, except to say that one involves a concept for a video game, and one is a concept for a device that would require I significantly deepen my understanding of quantum mechanics to even understand what is possible to achieve given the current known science.
How are these interrelated in any way? Well, when it comes to video games, there's a lot of math that's very helpful to know, from trigonometry, to linear algebra, to calculus and beyond.
And when it comes to quantum mechanics, calculus is extremely important for certain aspects to be fully understood.
But here's the rub: while I was good at math in school, I never studied anything beyond trigonometry and some introductory calculus, and that was in high school. Meaning it has been over 20 years since I've dealt with some of those concepts. And I developed a prototype for the game in question before realizing that I was going to need to be more fluent in these disciplines before it was going to materialize on the level I wanted.
The device idea came later, but because I had already sought to pursue the game, I already had some material to help me on that path, and extending said path with the incorporation of quantum mechanics felt like a natural resolution. Interdependence achieved!
These ideas are important enough for me to explore that I now have sitting on my shelf a series of books ranging from basic mathematics and algebra (for review) to quantum field theory and cosmology. There are literally hundreds of hours of research waiting to be applied, and this is just for validation and/or execution of two relatively fringe ideas that I would really like to attempt in my finite lifespan.
Add to this projects in electronics (specifically synthesizers, which isn't something that you just dive into without some prerequisites), photography, animation, and a whole host of other items (and we're not even into the "low-hanging fruit/easily achievable" list yet). Incorporate, in addition, the fact that my main revenue generation is in the realm of web application development, an ever-changing industry that is difficult to keep up with even if it's the only thing you do, and include my continued commitment to what I consider my other main endeavor, which is music, and it can feel like I'm eternally scrambling upon the rungs of a knowledge hamster wheel via which I may never actually reach terra firma.
Oh, and did I mention that I am in the middle of completing an album, just finished moving our house and my studio to a new location, have a house to fix up and sell, and have a two year old that just started preschool after two years of pandemic? (imagine the number of illnesses she's picking up... it's not pretty).
Oh, and at work I'm a tech lead across four teams for a new product for a pretty big company (hint, Apple and Amazon are clients of ours) that's trying to go to GA in the next few months. In case that acronym isn't familiar, it means General Availability.
Place all this on the table -the table in this case is my mind and inner dialogue- and you may begin to see why I'm yearning for some small achievements in the interim.
What's the Point?
Right, yeah, so why am I saying all this?
Well, in part it's because somewhere in there is the fabric of an idea I think is probably pretty important, and in other part it's because I'm still working out for myself exactly what all those connections actually are. But here's what I can say so far...
I believe it's true to say that history repeats. I also believe it's true to relate to our experience of time as a linear one, and I believe we can fairly assert that, barring the phenomena of déjà vu, we will never have the same experience twice.
But when you combine these two concepts, I think you achieve a more accurate depiction of our life experience in the form of a spiral.
We are often (in some cases constantly) returning to the same or similar ideas, either through a process of repetition (a job, for instance, that has us repeat a learned set of steps) or through routine, or through practice with the intention of learning a skill. But that repetition is inherently bound to the progression of time.
In any given day, most of us will revisit the same locations as the day before. We will perform the same activities as the day before. We will even achieve this on the macro scale in many cases by repeating something over and over in the form of practice (think of learning a piece of music, for instance). These behaviors, when considered as the pattern they represent, could be seen as a type of revolution, or orbit, from a starting place, through the course of a path, and back to the start again.
On a larger scale (say, at the level of life lessons) while we as a species have a very difficult time visualizing trends over extended duration (Buckminster Fuller thoroughly understood this shortcoming and attempted to address it with his data animations) we definitely have larger and longer cycles of behaviors that we repeat across our lives.
An orbit, when plotted in 3D space across time, forms a spiral. So maybe a more accurate image would be a big spiral made up of interweaving spirals of various sizes and scales.
Wait... where have I seen this before?
While the above video isn't the most accurate in terms of how it depicts the motion of the bodies in respect to the sun, the general premise is correct, as the following image shows.
If you extrapolate this, and visualize us as the sun in this image, and our patterns, practices, goals, or formulated ideas as the planets in rotation, a very interesting thing happens.
Speaking for myself, at least, I tend to view my ideas and routines as concrete things that exist reliably in space and time. But if you frame them within the above image and example, they take on a more organic quality, a quality of change over some elapsed period.
I think this is pretty critical, especially when you're trying to juggle and maintain as many ideas and projects as I am. Mainly because the tendency (at least for me) is to resist the notion of change when it comes to this stuff.
Once a project is in motion, it's much easier to view it organically and let it evolve with time. But when something is paused, awaiting completion, the passing of time can be more confounding and frustrating than welcome.
I know for me, I want my ideas to remain unchanged. For them to sit conveniently on the shelf until I am prepared to resume. And in some cases this happens. But more often than not, for the idea to actually reach fruition, I am forced to reconsider it and acknowledge that I am a different person in a different place than when I first conceived of the thing. Sometimes this means laying down the idea and letting it rejoin the aether. Other times it means reforming it and giving it new life in the context of my current circumstances.
Regardless of the outcome, I find it incredibly assistive to recall the passage of time as a necessary element in the equation, and to acknowledge that time reshapes most things.
So tonight, when I have to make the choice between working on the album, or resuming my studio build, and when I finally resume the studio build only to realize that so much time has passed that some of my ideas are different (and I tore down the only finished part of the room to relocate some items when I needed them for a weekend) I need to remember that this is expected. That these ideas continue to spiral and revolve around me while I progress through my daily routines, glancing off objects in the vicinity, being reshaped by their path through time. And instead of being frustrated by it, to take steps based on priorities, and assess how things have changed since last time I visited these concepts.
I don't know how helpful these views are, especially given that I don't get the sense that too many people's brains work exactly as mine does. But hopefully there's something here that can help guide you when the seas feel choppy and the path, unclear. And hopefully remembering yourself as a point guided through time with the elements of your life orbiting around you (including your thoughts and ideas) can help ease the sense of overwhelm that can happen, and let you see the change as the natural ebb and flow of life.
At least, that's what it does for me.