All posts by screwthemoon

Quit complaining. Start learning

I’ve done a lot of complaining today. I’m certainly not the only one, though. I’m one of many people complaining about the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.

But enough now. It’s time to quit complaining and start learning.

Why? Because complaining is pointless. It achieves nothing. All it does is make me feel better about the fact that I don’t understand how a man like Donald Trump could be elected into power in a democratic system.

The point there is: I don’t understand. The solution to not understanding is learning, not complaining.

I can complain as much as I like about a situation I don’t like. It won’t change that situation one tiny little bit. I don’t have the power to change the US election result. I do, however, have the power to direct my own attention towards trying to understand the forces at work in the United States that led to Trump being elected.

Nobody forced the citizens of the United States to vote for Trump. They did it of their own accord.

It’s too easy to dismiss the American voting public as being ignorant or stupid, but that doesn’t actually help at all and it is in any case not true. All it does is make me feel like I’m better than them in some way. It doesn’t help me understand them and their motivations.

So I say to myself: Quit complaining. Start learning.

Be polite. It helps

I frequently tease my colleagues for being too polite. The conversation goes something like this:

Colleague: Chris, do you possibly have time to review this for me? I hope it’s not too much trouble.

Me: You really don’t need to be so polite. Reviewing your work is literally my job. 

It’s light-hearted. We have a little laugh and then get on with the work.

The other day, I had one such exchange with a colleague, and it got me thinking: There’s no reason we have to be polite to each other, but it really does make life more pleasant.

When someone asks me in a polite manner to do something, I want to do it well and quickly for their sake, not just to get it off my to-do list. I feel the need to make a positive contribution to that person’s life in response to their being polite to me.

Additionally, I enjoy pleasant exchanges, even in less than ideal circumstances.

A couple of days ago, I got pulled over by traffic police who were checking car licences and driver’s licences. It turned out my car licence was out of date, which resulted in me getting a fine.

The traffic officer was polite, friendly and professional. I responded by being friendly. She asked me some questions and wrote out my fine. When she was done, we smiled at each other and wished each other a good day before I drove off. I’m not happy about the fine (though I recognise the fault lies with me for not renewing my licence, not with the officer for fining me), but my interaction with the traffic officer was a pleasant one, simply because of how we both approached it.

Looking at conflict situations in my life, politeness always makes resolution much easier. If I have reason to call a service provider to complain about the service, my being angry and aggressive is never constructive. However, if I’m friendly and courteous, I typically find that my complaint is swiftly resolved.

It’s not always easy to be polite. Sometimes my emotions get the better of me and I lose my temper. It’s never useful.

Be polite. Always. It really does help.

Screw the lyrics – Satisfaction

I can’t get no bacon sandwich
I can’t get no bacon sandwich
‘Cause I try and I try and I cry and I cry
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m ridin’ on the bus
And a man gets on with food in hand
He’s tellin’ me more and more
About how much he loves the bacon
And it fires my imagination
I can’t get no, oh no no no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no chicken schnitzel
I can’t get no German pretzel
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m readin’ through my feed
And a Facebook ad appears to tell me
How big my blog could be
Well how does it know ’cause it doesn’t think
The same random thoughts as me
I can’t get no, oh no no no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no double whisky
I can’t get no Scottish whisky
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m ridin’ round the block
And I’m doin’ this and regretting that
And I’m tryin’ to make my car
Just get me somewhere even though it leaks
’cause all I want is some bacon streaks
I can’t get no, oh no no no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no, I can’t get no
I can’t get no bacon sandwich
No bacon sandwich, no bacon sandwich, no bacon sandwich

(Modified from original lyrics sourced from Google Play Music)

Screw perfection – write that post

I have a problem when it comes to blogging: I want every post to matter. In that respect, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I don’t want to write something that’s not worthy of having being written. And that’s a little ridiculous.

I can identify three reasons this is problematic:

  1. I don’t know what is meaningful to other people

Something that seems obvious to me might be illuminating to someone else. In the same way, an idea that I consider my greatest thought of all time could be quite mundane to everyone who reads it. I simply don’t know. The universe of possible thoughts is so vast that it seems probable that for every idea I have there is someone who will find merit in it.

If that is so (and I currently have no reason to think it is not) then it’s better for me to express my ideas than to filter them and only expound on those I think will be most useful.

2. I don’t really know what I think until I’ve explored the thought

Since I started blogging (it seems amazing to me that it was almost 5 years ago), I’ve realised that the expression of an idea is crucial to the development of that idea.

I might think up a topic for a blog post and be convinced that I could and should write a riveting post about it, and yet when I actually sit down and attempt to write the idea falls apart because it’s blatantly incorrect or just not particularly interesting to me or for some other reason.

Similarly, a few of my favourite blog posts have started as tentative ideas that seemed to lack merit at the outset. Looking beneath the surface of these ideas has revealed insights that were not immediately obvious when I first thought of them.

3. I don’t have to publish every post

One of the best parts of writing (as opposed to speaking) is that I have the opportunity to write, review, and choose not to publish. Once words are spoken, it’s impossible to take them back, but writing is not quite so immediate.

As I write this, I can see that I have more draft posts (51) than published (37 excluding this one. 38 if it makes the cut). So this particular point is already in action in my life. And yet, I find I often don’t start writing because I’ve already made the assumption that the potential post will not be worth publishing. Points 1 and 2 refute that.

So I resolve to write more; to explore my ideas; to risk writing badly about irrelevant topics; to express myself.

We give up easily

I’ve had KT Tunstall’s “Other Side Of The World” playing in my head for a day or so now, and most of the chorus speaks to my current challenge: I need to just keep going.

The words that resonate with me are:

The fire fades away
Most of everyday
Is full of tired excuses
But it’s too hard to say
I wish it were simple
But we give up easily

I don’t know the story behind the song, or the intended context of these lines. What I do know is they have meaning for me. My life is draining, and in the seemingly endless tiredness it’s all too easy to make excuses for not becoming the me I want to be.

But I give up easily. I have massive internal resistance to that idea. I don’t want to be someone who gives up. I want to persevere, overcome and emerge triumphant from the challenges of my life.

The excuses I make to myself really are the result of weariness. I’m exhausted, which is a less than inspiring state of being. What I see looking at these lyrics, though, is that being thoroughly tired out is not the same as being incapable.

I don’t need to give up. I need to rest.

And on that note, goodnight.

Economic inequality and me

On Saturday, two things happened in my life that do not seem unusual at all. And yet, they highlight the enormous economic divide that exists in South Africa. What happened? I had lunch and my flat was cleaned.

Let’s start with the cleaning. I employ a domestic worker on an ad hoc basis – roughly every three weeks at the moment. She (I won’t name her for the sake of her privacy) spends about 6 hours making my home clean, neat and tidy, and in return I pay her R250.  This happened on Saturday.

While my flat was being cleaned, I went to lunch with my Dad. We had a very pleasant curry lunch with a few drinks at his current favourite curry place. I paid for the meal, which ended up costing R360.

Those two transactions – each of which seems so very normal to me – are in such massive contrast to each other that I’ve been thinking about them ever since. I literally paid more for lunch than another human being earns in a day.

Let’s put that into a bit more perspective. Assuming she works 6 days a week for R250, that’s a weekly income of R1500, or roughly R6000 per month. On a R6000 salary, the idea of going out for a lunch that costs R360 is ludicrous.

In my life, a R360 lunch for two is not particularly expensive. It could easily have been a fair amount more and it wouldn’t have bothered me particularly. Yet, for my employee, the lunch I had on Saturday would have been ridiculously extravagant. It would be as unlikely for her as driving a Porsche is for me.

The economic inequality that is visible here is startling. I know a person who is economically incapable of experiencing my lifestyle. I can’t even imagine trying to make ends meet on a R6000 salary, and I’m a single man with few responsibilities. The woman who works for me is a wife and a mother to two children.

How does such massive inequality exist? Why do I allow it? Do I have a choice? Is there anything I can do to change the situation?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I really would like to find out. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

Screw depression

Screw depression. Really. It sucks. If anything in the world is unfair, it’s depression. My own brain literally just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, and the result is a compromised, stunted experience of life.

I suffer from depression. It’s been a part of my life for a long time, though it took years to work out that I might have a problem. Once I sought medical help, I discovered that antidepressants are truly magnificent.

Unfortunately, dealing with my own depression is not just a matter of taking medication. Over time, I am learning that depression has shaped the way I see the world. It has affected many of the habits I’ve developed during my life. It is without doubt the most limiting characteristic I have.

Depression makes me extremely effort-averse – productivity is a chore, rather than a path to achievement. Even though I now understand that my aversion to effort is a result of depression, it seems well nigh impossible for me to change my own behaviour.

I’ve been accused of being lazy at various stages of my life, and I’ve even believed it much of the time. But I’m not lazy. I’m depressed. When I’m not depressed, I’m capable of sustained hard work, which I enjoy greatly. When I am depressed, it’s almost impossible to get started.

I’m full of interesting ideas for what I’d like to do with my life. Almost none of those ideas ever see an attempt at implementation. That’s the result of depression convincing me that hard work is unpleasant, when the exact opposite is true: Hard work is invigorating and satisfying. I know that intellectually, but that’s apparently not enough to overcome the negative emotions I’ve learned to associate with effort.

Depression is the one part of my life I wish I could remove. I detest it. It makes me ordinary, when in my imagination I am extraordinary. It holds me back from pushing my own boundaries and expanding my life experience. It tells me I will probably fail and that failure will be a bad thing, when in fact failure is my most useful tool for learning and growing.

Screw depression. Seriously. Screw it.

The irony of it all, of course, is that depression is a part of who I am.

I’m fighting with myself.

Perspective

In a life that is full of daily challenges, as mine is (most likely yours too), it’s easy to forget to marvel at the magnificence of the universe and the fact that I’m here to experience life as a part of it. This morning I’ve had a little dose of perspective, and it is wonderful.

I came across a website that presents our solar system to scale with the Moon the size of a single pixel. The link is: http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html.

I tend to imagine, as I imagine most people do, that the planets in our solar system are far apart, but not outrageously far apart. After all, some of them are visible to the naked eye from Earth. The fact that human beings have walked on the Moon and have sent landers to Mars and probes to Pluto reinforces the mistaken idea that the distances between objects in the solar system can’t be too ridiculously large.

Apparently my general imaginings are wrong. The scale of the solar system is mind-boggling. Even just the distance from the Sun to Mercury is unimaginably massive. And the size of Jupiter relative to Earth is almost shocking.

If our solar system is so extremely large as to defy my understanding, how much larger is our galaxy? Or the universe? I really can’t even begin to imagine. It is quite beyond my ability to comprehend. I can only wonder at the magnificence of it.

And that reminds me to look up from time to time. Not to get stuck in my little daily problems and forget to marvel at existence. Will you join me in a little enraptured stargazing?

Identifying negative routine

For a very long time, I’ve thought that I am not a creature of habit. I claim to dislike routine and repetitive tasks and prefer to keep my life in a manageable state of chaos. I’ve now realised, however, that I don’t not have routine. I have negative routine.

I don’t normally make my bed in the morning. I almost always get out of bed late enough that I have to rush to have a chance of getting to work on time. I usually don’t wash my dirty dishes immediately. I avoid doing laundry until I am literally going to run out of clean clothes. I exercise only very occasionally.

I’ve believed for most of my life that the above paragraph describes a resistance to routine. I don’t like routine. I don’t want it. But I realised this morning that I do all of those things with great consistency. They are my routine.

My morning routine looks a bit like this:

  1. Snooze alarm (a few times)
  2. Notice the time, panic because I’ll be late for work and spring into action
  3. Shower (a little longer than I can afford to given that I’ve woken up late)
  4. Decide I don’t have enough time to shave
  5. Search through messy cupboard for clothes to wear
  6. Get dressed
  7. Brush teeth
  8. Use lack of time as an excuse to not make my bed or tidy up in any way
  9. Pack up the things I need to take to work
  10. Get in the car and head to work, knowing with certainty that I will be late
  11. Stress

Looking at that list, it’s no wonder that I find every workday stressful from the start. It takes me a good few hours to really settle into a day of work, so while I do get things done in the morning, I’m usually just trying desperately to keep up rather than actually being on top of my work. Only in the afternoon, when I’ve finally settled down at my desk, do I really make significant progress in my day.

And then I go home, tired from the day that started off in a state of self-induced stress. When I get home, it’s to the mess I created by avoiding cleaning and tidying up.

This is my routine. It’s not a resistance to routine as I’ve thought for so long, but a well-practised, finely-tuned exercise in compromising every day of my own life. I realise now that I choose it, and that only I can change it.

It’s ok to be sad

I’m sad. Right now. As I write this. I know it’s temporary – I won’t always be sad. And yet it’s also not something to be dismissed. Life is not an exercise in acknowledging only happiness. Sadness is real too.

Why am I sad? Because I have experiences that have resulted in sadness. I experienced them when they happened and I experience them again when I look back. Those experiences are a part of who I am. They define me, but only partly. They are not the whole story. And yet they are a crucial part of the story.

I am sad. It is not trivial. It is not to be dismissed. It is to be experienced. It is to be contextualised. It is to be accepted.