Wednesday, October 20, 2010

immaculate intelligence

smart dog

Every now and then I take a trip into crazy land and read Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist blog. It's like a jar of pickled okra for your brain. Healthy, but soaked in brine. Her latest article on perfectionism contains the following statement: "The other huge problem with perfectionism is that people stop learning when they're constantly afraid of being wrong."


Oh wait. She may have a point.

But you see, I have this strategy for learning that involves checking out as many library books as I can cram onto the bookshelf (a hodgepodge of fiction, non-fiction and what can only be categorized as self-help), and then I renew them as many times as I can until another patron puts them on hold. But I don't usually read them. I like to call it immaculate intelligence.

Okay, I admit it. I've stopped learning because I'm constantly afraid of being wrong or of being held accountable for information (equally as scary). One of Penelope's strategies is to allow yourself to be wrong in front of others, but I'm so petrified of looking like an imbecile that I rarely even start to formulate an opinion or a stance to throw out into the ether because I'm so entrenched in survival mode. When people ask me what I think about something, I freeze. Must.not.stand.out. Must.sound.intelligent.'s.going.on. These are the things that go through my head on a regular basis.

The other problem with that stack of library books, or newspapers, or cursed New Yorker magazines is that I see them as a threat to the zero-sum game of maximizing time. If I sit down and read the newspaper, I am informing myself (with the exception of the highly political articles that I often skip or skim halfheartedly. sorry, friends). If I read a book about dogs, I'm giving myself a stronger knowledge base for my business. If I read a New Yorker, I'm giving myself an opportunity to actually join in on conversations that start with "hey did you read that article about X in last week's new yorker..." (this happens on a weekly basis, and I feel like a dunce every time because there are gobs of New Yorkers sitting around the apartment).

The point, in case I haven't beaten it to a pulp yet, is that these are all useful activities. Yet when I'm sitting at home deciding how to spend my time, I feel guilty about reading because it feels like a less than optimal pursuit. Do you know what I do instead? I dither around on the internet. And the whole time I think "I could be researching this book or writing that web content for my business site, but then I won't have any time to do those other 7 things I should be doing."

Oh the irony of maximizing. Because I'm so concerned about spending time on the best (i.e. most useful) activity, I avoid all activities and waste my life sitting on the couch covered in drooling cats and staring at this idiot box. Combine maximizing with a compulsive fear of failure and what do you get? A rambling blog post and a hefty late fee at the library.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

self-monitoring specialist


"Ordinarily I don't like to be around interesting people because it means I have to be interesting" -- from LA Story (great steve martin movie)

On a scale of 1 to 10, I would clock in somewhere around a 15 for self-monitoring (it is what it sounds like). Do you know how hard is it to be interesting when you're checking constantly to see if you're being interesting?

I would say more on the subject, but I'm too worried about boring you.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

damn the twitter


Something terrible happened last night: I used twitter. There were extenuating circumstances, and I'm ashamed to say that I have formed a begrudging respect for the twits who tweet.

Around 3am, Charrow woke me up and said "it smells like burning. what is that smell?? is there a fire?" I have always harbored a secret fear of middle of the night fires (sometimes I lay in bed trying to go to sleep and imagine how I would react to said disaster so that I have a basic formula for how to get out of the house), so we got out of bed to investigate. We both poked our noses out the window to catalogue the smell. Not cigarette smoke. No visible flames or plumes. Excessive chemical/plastic tinge. Very mysterious and noxious.

Charrow was satisfied with closing the window and trying to call 911 (busy), but I stood at the window to see if I could witness anyone else reacting to the weird odor. Not long into my observation campaign, a man popped out of his front door wearing only sweatpants and looked up and down the street conducting his own surveillance. He looked perplexed, but satisfied that he had investigated the situation and went back inside. Having had confirmation from the outside world that strange things were afoot, we decided to go have a look for ourselves. This was mostly my fault, because all I could think of was that some old lady in our building had fallen asleep with a candle burning and maybe there was a polyester blend afghan ablaze 2 floors above us.

The smell outside was, according to charrow, akin to a mouse caught in a toaster. Smokey, but not altogether natural. As we stood on the street gawking at the lack of evidence, a couple walked toward their car with their noses buried in their coats. We asked them if there was a fire somewhere and they told us that it was supposedly a tire factory in New Jersey. We went back inside and turned on the tv to confirm the rumor, but there was no breaking news to be found. After a minute of listening to NY1's squawking correspondent, I realized that we needed the instant reaction of the masses on twitter. So we did a search for #smell (a coarse method that produced surprisingly accurate results) and saw the twitter feed of dozens of people horrified by the smell that had been confirmed by several police precincts: Tire fire. New Jersey. Smoke made its way to brooklyn. Of course it's New Jersey's fault. etc., etc.

Damn you twitter for actually serving a purpose.