Concrastination

I have often considered myself to be quite good at procrastination. In fact, I’m working on a series of related blog entries as we speak.* I can probably lay the blame on my precise mental make-up that means I tend to juggle activities (probably why I rather enjoy the day to day amalgam that is teaching at secondary level) rather than sequence them.**

However, today I read something that happily explained why I seem to succeed in certain situations – specifically that of working rather well in a coffee shop. This article on Psychology Today gave a specific tactic to combat procrastination: don’t do anything else. It’s rather Zen.***

It also seems like it’s a bit of a tautology – if I don’t do anything else, then I won’t be procrastinating – and it doesn’t immediately suggest that more of the targeted activity would be achieved. The article likens the concept to Raymond Chandler’s writing process:

This rule was inspired by the habits of writer Raymond Chandler. Chandler set aside at least four hours each day for writing; he didn’t force himself to write, but he didn’t let himself do anything else. He wouldn’t let himself read, write letters, write checks—nothing. He summed up: “Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.”

Thinking on this myself, it explains why I work so well in coffee shops. I am there to do a certain activity – either mark a set of papers or write a certain amount of words – and I do not leave until I have done that. In a coffee shop, there is very little else for me to do, so the activity gets done. I am rarely able to dedicate myself as effectively to the same task at home.

However, what it doesn’t explain is why I am so bad at working in libraries or other silent academic environments. Perhaps the white noise is more important than it seems.

* Or, perhaps more accurately, as I have written and you are reading, unless something particularly strange is happening.

** (Simultaneously) I thought about editing that sentence so that it would be considerably easier to read, but I thought that the mess suited the content rather well.

*** See Rule Three.

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Concrastination

Democratic Demographic

Following a conversation with one of my friends, whose internet effusions can be found in my links on the right-hand side,* I realised that while I might think of “my readers” (for either this output or my creative writing) I do not have a particular group in mind.

The idea of target demographics is much more suited to the creation and selling of products. I accept that blogging could be considered a process of this, but much of blogging’s appeal is in its broadcasting into space. Reactions are nice, but I don’t consider my entries to be failures if they fail to garner a garnish of comments or likes. In fact, I’m usually most impressed by the stats of clicks from my site – a hit counter can interestingly increase (and it has gone above 1895), but all of those numbers might not be reading anything. If somebody clicks on something further that I’ve spoken about, I can be more sure that they have read it.

This entry is not the same as most of the previous ones. I might not have a target readership, but I have a readership. And I’m interested in learning more about those beautiful people.

I am notoriously bad at this sort of thing. It took me forever to actually write my BIO page, and even then its contents are terribly short. I think it’s because I was happy enough with the description I have given myself at the top of this page. One line is enough; what it lacks in verbosity, it makes up in resonance.

That’s your target length. Tell me a little bit about yourself?

* No, I’m not going to say which, because it relates to SECRETS.

Democratic Demographic

Beautiful People go to Book Shops

Last night, I learned that Amazon has a particularly underhanded sales drive at the moment from Michael Marshall / (Smith)’s blog. This morning, I read an interesting article on the New York Times by Richard Russo that went into more detail.

I would heartily recommend that you read each piece, but the bottom line is that Amazon is offering its customers a discount on its (non-book) products if they scan the barcode in a bricks-and-mortar shop and compare the price. I must stress that this is not the case with books (at the moment), but nonetheless it does shepherd a bad day for meatspace* shops. By driving people to see the prices in shops and then compare them with online retailers**, and then giving them a further discount on the already lower price, people will stop shopping in these stores. The process reinforces that the most important difference between items is their final price. As quoted in Russo’ article, Ann Patchett states “I do think it’s worthwhile explaining to customers that the lowest price point does not always represent the best deal. If you like going to a bookstore then it’s up to you to support it.”

I agree with her.

Whilst I’ve generally been a fan of Amazon, I have never been a major user. Mostly because it breaks Rule One of my budgeting system, but mostly because I don’t often browse it. I have used it to much success in the past in tracking down a fantastic film called Was Geschach Mit Harold Smith (at least, the German copy I was able to find through its affiliate sales) for milady.

I much prefer book shops, and always have done. I have always been a fan of browsing book shops, from the larger chains to the smaller independents. Each has their benefits, but both attract a certain calibre of staff that can recommend books to their customers – not because they think that it might be like a certain book that they’re currently looking at, but because they are readers. I would much rather a personal recommendation that brings me out of my normal thoughts than a recommended add-on based on statistics and analytics.

I worry that if Amazon continues to steamroll sales, a generation of readers will not know how a book shop smells.

* Yes, I slipped in some cyberpunk jargon. Note, this does not mean meat shops.

** Who do not have to pay for shop-front space, heating, public liability insurance, et cetera.

Beautiful People go to Book Shops

Richard Morgan’s “The Steel Remains”

Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke’s much cited Third Law* makes a good starting point for a consideration of Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains, let alone my love of the mutability of remains between verb and noun states – referring to the museum references for the former, and several pieces of Kiriath technology for the latter. The Steel Remains is a gritty fantasy world, but unlike the relative realism of worlds like Joe Abercrombie’s it is rife with the fantastical elements of explicit monsters and of magic. It’s an interesting blend, and one that works very well.

The story follows the lives of three veterans of the war with the Scaled Folk and explores the part they play in facing a new threat to the stagnating Yheleth Empire and the unconverted** Leagues. While the characters at first glance may appear to cohere to fantasy stereotypes, you’ll soon realise just how different Morgan makes his heroes. The brilliance of the concept and their execution are fantastic, and I am loath to repeat them here, because a lot of what makes Morgan’s writing so strong is in the pulling away of veils.

image

This is Morgan’s debut fantasy novel and has justly received high praise from well-regarded authors upon its dust-cover. I was first introduced to Morgan through his first Takeshi Kovacs novel, and swore to read further since then. What Morgan did for cyberpunk and future-noir in that book (tearing apart expectations and saying a massive fuck-you to convention), he attempts to do here. Indeed, on his website he says:

“If you had to – really had to – kill someone, which way would you rather they made you do it? With a pistol, or with an axe?

Exactly. So welcome to the brutal world of Ringil Angeleyes, scarred hero of Gallows Gap and death-wish-furious, semi-retired warrior aristocrat. I’ve been talking a good fight about fantasy noir for a while – now I’m putting my money where my mouth is. The Steel Remains is a grubby, blood-spattered trawl through exactly how unpleasant it might be to actually have to live in the average fantasy universe. Can you do noir in a fantasy landscape? You can certainly try…”

I think he manages it.

Which brings up an interesting idea, at least to me, and especially within my frame of mind as a budding writer: if your audience are unaware of the conventions, does circumventing them in such a manner as Morgan does prevent the full impact of the writing? I wouldn’t necessarily like to judge, at least at this point.

Either way, The Steel Remains remains fantastically strong through its sheer power, its fantastic characters and its brutal writing.

* See rule three.

** And the religious overtones of that word are most definitely intentional.

Richard Morgan’s “The Steel Remains”

Too Many Things

I have yet to complete my Masters in Procrastination because I keep finding other things that get in the way.

I have just finished reading Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man, which I found under a bridge on London’s South Bank for two pounds fifty.

It was very fragmented and fragmentary* and all in all a read. I’ve not got round to finding the relevant adjective yet.

It reminded me of American Psycho in its fragmentation, although stylistically it kept swinging between forms and persons.

American Psycho is great.

I love its lists, the postermodernity of it, and its juxtaposition of its clean, pure lifestyle with the careful bloodiness.

Part of me wants to live in a flat like Pat Bateman’s (especially in the film variant).

I love its cleanliness, its space, and its potential.

I’m terrible for clutter though. I’m even struggling to write this piece in short paragraphs. Part of me wants to run with the idea that I’m trying to put across in a different way from previously and just let each space show as much as it can, or did, or is. The same is true of the spaces I inhabit (partially prompted by Christi Craig’s thoughts on expanding the space of a short story into that of a novel – not the tendency, but the thought). My desk at work is terribly messy. My entire classroom is terribly messy. The dining table in my library, my girlfriend will (un)happily tell you, is hideously messy; you can barely use it to eat from.

Sorry.

That got away from me there.

I’m not sure why I struggle with keeping space space (~d/~y).

Perhaps its conceptual claustrophobia.

Today is the first day in a fair long while that I’ve had a good solid chunk of time to do whatever I want to or need to.

As you might imagine, I haven’t used that well.

I need clutter. Kibble, for readers of DADOES perhaps. Mentally.

If I have a vast number of pressures and tasks, I can flit between them pretty well. I tend to get a lot done, surprisingly quickly.

Lots of space leads to lots of nothing (done).

That’s kind of Zen.

* See Rule Three.

Too Many Things

Why is Liam Burns wrong?

It’s not often that I actually get angry.*

I became aware of Liam Burns’ comments on university earlier today, thanks to Ed West’s blog at The Telegraph. Specifically, this statement:

The reality is you need that bit of paper to get into better jobs with greater earning potential and influence. So we want as many people to get one as possible, at the expense of quality if necessary.

This is why he makes me angry.

One.
I understand that the number of students going to university (and the number of universities) has expanded rapidly over my lifetime – in reality, mostly during my secondary education, if I’m honest. However, aside from the fact that this means more people have degrees, it doesn’t mean that those “pieces of paper” equal a greater ability to interact in the current workplace. A degree is not a qualification like an A Level – it is a certificate that demonstrates further and higher education at a university.

Two.
Burns seems to lump all students and their degrees together – not only causing hyperinflation of the value of a degree, but also reducing the value of the greatest to the lowest common denominator. I worked hard to get into a good university, and to get a good degree from it. The value of a degree is not inherent, it is always dependent on location and class. There is a reason why Oxbridge and Harvard are spoken highly of.

Three.
Burns also commented that universities today are vehicles for social change. Arguably, yes they are – indeed, the success of this is a matter of great debate. Nevertheless, Burns is confusing purpose with possibility. I buy a spade so that I might dig up my garden.** The spade itself is designed to dig – irrespective of what it is used to dig up. I’d buy a different spade to shovel shit.

The purpose of university education will always be to learn.

* See Rule Three.

** I haven’t got a dog, you see. Come to think of it, neither do I have a garden.

Why is Liam Burns wrong?

UK Budget 2011

So another year rolls round and we wait for George Osbourne to hold his old red briefcase in the air so we can photograph his familiar hairstyle and the unfamiliar London sun.

But that’s not what I’m going to write about. I’m going to write about my budget.

I’m not famous for handling money efficiently,* but somehow I survived last year living (on my own) off two hundred pounds expendable income a month.** My one pound sixty weekly shop has become legendary. Even that allowed an impulse purchase of a “luxury item” (see rule three).

Somehow I always seem to be able to spend to (sometimes beyond) my means. Which has become a problem now that they are greater.

I’ve imposed a budget on myself, but being bad at budgeting, instead these are a succession of rules. Here they are.

Rule One – Pay only in cash

This is sometimes avoided, such as when I buy big purchases on credit; similarly to the machine that goes bing! these then enter other budgetary pigeon-holes, much like incapacity benefit to slash unemployment figures.

Essentially though, it involves my day to day spending being paid entirely in cash. I set an arbitrary weekly limit, and withdraw half on Sunday and half on Thursday. This gets me through food shopping, travel and luxuries (see rule three).

Plus, you can see cash going down, and you’ll subconsciously keep track.

Rule Two – Impulse Purchases

I’m an impulsive man. I am famous for my impulse purchases.* Once, my friend and I bought a lot of Go-Gos for no reason whatsoever.

I believe that abstinence is doomed to fail, so rather than denying myself impulse purchases or luxury items (see rule three), instead these are limited.

Generally, my Impulse Purchase Of The Day is a Creme Egg, at least at the moment.

Rule Three – Luxury

See above.

* Fame will be the topic for a future blog.

** Most went on alcohol, generally social events, then on food.

UK Budget 2011