Monday, November 18, 2013

let's go again

Just a note?  I bought some bok choi at the grocery the other day and stuck its root-end into some water in the fridge, thinking this might help it not go all gross and wilty.

It kinda worked, but kinda not - some of the stalks stayed nicely, but others got wilty.

Yesterday, I took the water (and its bok choi) out of the fridge because I intended to cook it up.  That didn't happen, and I didn't put the plant back in the fridge because, you know, I don't know.

Now, at room temperature, in water, the bok choi is just as firm and appealing as the day I bought it.  I am determined to cook it tomorrow in some duck fat, before it starts growing slime in the water.

So that's the data I have so far on keeping bok choi so that's it's still usable after three days.  Undoubtedly, there's more data yet to come, but this was promising, so I thought I'd share.

But all of that is beside the point.  My point for the next couple days, I've decided, will be iterating upon my iteration post to make it better.  Is my bok choi a good lead-in for this?  Not really, I think, not the way I've written it.  But it's a nice example, and potentially useful, so in it goes.

I have a tendency to get stuck.  Stuck on how to start something, stuck on a particular piece of a problem I'm working on, stuck.  What's interesting is my different kinds of stuck.  When I'm stuck on a piece in a puzzle I'm solving, it's hard to pull myself away.  I have to really work at evaluating if the thing I'm hammering at needs to be solved.  Often it doesn't - and it takes significant effort on my part to pry myself off and set myself on a more productive path.  I am not always successful.  The other stuck - the don't want to do it version - is also troublesome.  I can avoid a task that I'd rather not do, and worse, I can generally justify this avoidance in ways that feel very true.  The trick to a good justification, I think, is to have elements of truth ("this is not the top priority right now") with elements I want ("I don't have time to do anything on this until X is finished).

For both these stucks, iteration is my friend.  I can pop a random number into my calculation and remind myself I can come back to it; I can convince myself that there's value in going the rest of the way through a problem even if I haven't figured out exactly how to handle Hurdle Y.  If I'm avoiding something, it's much tougher to justify not working on it when all I'm asking myself to do is fifteen minutes of work, or making a directory, or putting a paper into the bibliography, or outlining one section.  I'll edit pretty much ad infinitum, so it's never a stretch to tell myself that what I need to write (or do) is a rough draft.

I still avoid things, and I still spend too much time on appealing problems.  But in general, I think I'm improving.  Recently, there was something at work that I wasn't terribly excited about doing.  But I wrote up a draft (in Word, people!) and sent it out.  I've been editing for about a week, and the thing is looking just fine now.  Bok choi?  Crispy.  This blog post?  Slightly improved (friends may disagree).  Talk with my supervisor?  Uuuungh, painful, and didn't go great.  But definitely better than nothing.

I find that promising myself improvement doesn't always get me unstuck, and I'm not really sure where the difference lies between the successes and the failures.

I wonder if part of the difference is fear.  Or maybe some feeling of overwhelm.  And in the interest of attacking a problem - in this case, never writing a damn thing - from every possible angle, here I am writing.  My thinking is that practicing what I'm avoiding, even in a different setting, might lessen its barrier into something I can more easily overcome with my promises for iteration.  Actually, I prefer to do my practice with something a little easier than "writing a scientific paper".  If I were doing something equally difficult, I'll bet I'd never do it.

You know what definitely does help?  Sleep.  I'm going to go invest in some of that magical elixir right now.

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