Disclaimer: Even though the “I haven’t been blogging for a while but now I’m back” post is a rather trite and uninteresting trope, I can’t really help writing it here.  It’s what is on my mind, and I can’t help but feel, however wrongly, that an explanation is in order of what I want this and future posts to do.  In part because I’m aware of how painful this kind of thing can be to read, however, I’m warning you (whoever you are who might read this) that the following post is pretty boring.  If I actually make good on what it promises, though, there should be plenty of posts up here soon that are both more interesting and less self-involved.  </disclaimer>

I posted a status update on Facebook at the end of last August, which said “Matt Weiss is thinking about blogging… as in, might start doing it again.”

One of my professors wrote a one-word comment: “no”

I can see what I think he would say was his point [though given the brevity of his response I a) don’t know that he wasn’t kidding, and b) can’t really claim to know the warrants behind his claim].  Even then I was behind schedule on my dissertation writing, and needed to be spending my time in constructive ways.  I hadn’t really blogged that much before then, and certainly had never been obsessive about it, but I could still see as valid the point of view that I didn’t need anything else taking up my time.  In part because he discouraged it, but in part because I agreed with those implicit arguments, I not only stopped blogging, I abstained from most social media.

I’ve since changed my mind, for two simple reasons:

1. Although I’ve made substantial progress on my dissertation since August, I’m still way behind schedule.  Not blogging hasn’t helped that.  I’m not even sure I buy the idea that there is necessarily a trade-off between the two; I can only spend so many hours of a day doing “work” before my brain shuts off, and my blogging time would, I think, come out of the “non-work” side of things.  In fact, I actually envision it as a way of getting myself more engaged with my work, rather than less, which brings me to the second point:

2. I need to do something to change my life.  Since last November, I’ve been attempting to get into better shape physically.  I’ve been eating better (and less), and going to the gym every weekday (and playing sports on the weekends).  In the past three months I’ve lost 40 pounds.  I feel (and look) a lot better than I did.  I need to do that same kind of thing with my mental habits: I need to get myself a better mental workout regimen, so to speak.  Blogging seems like one way of motivating myself to do so and keeping track of the progress.

Specifically what I want to change is my relationship with my work: I want to stop thinking of it as “work,” as drudgery that needs to be suffered through.  I genuinely enjoy my dissertation topic, and I need to get better at finding a way to experience that enjoyment.  I’m convinced that only a change in my perception/attitude will lead to a change in habit, which will in turn lead to a beneficial change in the actual work itself.

Two things come to mind immediately when I think about how I might go about accomplishing this.  The first is an essay from The New Yorker, called “The Checklist,” which describes how the use of a checklist (much like those used by airline pilots for takeoff procedures) can have a dramatic effect on reducing rates of infection and mortality in hospital ICUs.  The idea is, quite simply, that a number of the tasks routinely necessary in an ICU require a number of steps, and using a checklist to make sure those steps happen can reduce staff/doctor error enormously.  I wonder if I could do the same for myself, as a kind of Behaviorist attempt to make sure that I do a certain set of things each day.

The second thing that comes to mind is, perhaps unfortunately, an example/critique of exactly that idea.  Demetri Martin did a show centered on his auto-biographical account of going from a law-school student to a stand-up comic.  The show is up on YouTube in six parts.  The bit I’m especially interested in is split between clips 4 (starting around 5:45) and 5 (in the links above, that’s “in six”).  In that bit, Demetri describes how, after dropping out of law school, he tries to figure out his life with the help of a home-made “points system” designed to help him achieve the vague goals he has set for himself (they mostly seem to involve some notion of self-improvement without a terribly clear idea of any specific purpose).  Ultimately, his point system is a failure: he doesn’t live up to the standards he sets for himself (his average “score” for each week is 11 out of 35), and he can’t really figure out why.  As he says:

What do I learn from all this?  What can I conclude from all this analysis?

I have no fucking clue.

I spent a half a year of my life doing this every week.  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.

You know, I look back on it, and I realize my intentions were good.  I was trying to become a better person, I was trying to methodically record what being a better person would be for someone like me, and what I could do every day, capturing every moment, trying to move toward that.  But I failed, pretty miserably.

I know that one of the methods psychologists recommend for fighting habits of procrastination is an “activity journal,” where you record how you are spending your time throughout a given day/week, and then use that record to help figure out what you need to change.  This kind of thing seems similar, but I also wonder if it is a distraction and means of procrastination in and of itself.

This kind of thing becomes especially relevant when I think about the Graduate Writing Center workshop I’m giving on April 1st entitled “Overcoming Writer’s Block.”  That’s right, not only am I trying to figure out how to make myself more productive in my own life, but I’m expected to help other people figure it out too.  I’m confident, though, in the fact that my own struggles make me that much more qualified to talk to others about this topic: I not only know various strategies one ought to try to combat writer’s block/procrastination/mental malaise, but I know the feeling of knowing what the right thing to do is but still finding it hard to realize (as in “make real,” not “be aware of”… funny connection there, huh?).

I’d welcome other people’s thoughts on the matter in the comments…