Chocolate Zombies

Indeedy. The Chocolate Zombies arose (pardon) from a comment I received on my previous post about the problems posed by early mornings.

“So why have a morning time? This seems to be making it more difficult than it needs to be, almost perverse. Let’s say going to bed at 9:30 is a conscientious early night. So ‘stay up late’ then by making yourself a drink, digging out a small but scrummy little treat e.g. Lindt chocolate, and sitting down to write 9:30 to 10:30 seems more likely to be productive.
So you are that much more of a zombie in the morning, at least the writing happened!
If other activities would be curtailed by this then have other activities in the morning when higher functions are not feasible. Zombies can make a drink, toast the bread and satisfy other appetites. Higher functions happen when brain more likely to be engaged to body.
The chocy is to give you that little zap of energy and to get you over the hump of actually sitting down and doing it. Or is that against the rules?”

I foresaw problems with the method (see my reply for details) but in the interests of mad experimentation scientific thoroughness, I decided to attempt a Chocolate Zombie Experiment.

mad scientist

I chose an evening when I knew I had little to do the following morning (i.e. no lunch to make) in case extra sleep was required (extra to the early getting up I wouldn’t have to do because I’d stayed up late instead – following?)

Part One of the Experiment: Chocolate, began at 9:30 pm, as per spec.
I bade the Caped Gooseberry a fond good-night, consumed a morsel of tasty chocolate which a kind Providence had fated to my fridge, and started to write. (Full disclosure: I skipped the drink because I had just finished one, and the essence of a good late night is that the following sleep be undisturbed, i.e. Don’t Drink Too Much Before Going To Bed. Too much disclosure? I think so. Moving on.)

I decided to have a stab – perhaps more of a prolonged hack – at Tsifira, my current project-I-should-be-working-on. I wrote by hand – slower, but I find the ideas flow better that way – with a Faber Castell fountain pen and an exercise book stuffed with loose bits of paper on which I had written things I wanted to remember. (A sensible person might perhaps have consolidated all this into a practical array of notes at the back of the book, but what gives you the idea that I’m a sensible person?)

Overall, it went quite well.
I managed to write 5 1/2 A4 pages of double-spaced scrawl in one hour, which led to an unsurprising hand cramp and a surprising lack of eponymous inkiness of hand. Writing neatly is more compact but slower: ideas jostling like penguins on the ice-floe of the conscious mind tend to slip off and be eaten by the Sea Lions of Forgetfulness and the Polar Bears of Went-Down-A-Different-Leg-Of-The-Trousers-of-Time.

So far so good.
I toddled off to bed at half past ten, (interrupting, I fear, the repose of the Caped Gooseberry) and attempted to sleep.
It took a while. Too many penguins on the loose.

“…about a tenth of the cabin trunks were full of vivid, and often painful or uncomfortable memories of her past life; the other nine-tenths were full of penguins, which surprised her. Insofar as she recognised at all that she was dreaming, she realised that she must be exploring her own subconscious mind. She had heard it said that humans are supposed only to use about a tenth of their brains, and that no one was very clear what the other nine-tenths were for, but she had certainly never heard it suggested that they were used for storing penguins.” Douglas Adams – The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.

Once I had got all my penguins safely stowed (including a few zombie penguins risen from the maw of the Sea Lions of Forgetfulness), all was well.

Until that dratted alarm went off, thus beginning Part Two of the Experiment: Zombie.

World Alarm Clock - Grove Passage, London

Really, is it beyond the bounds of human ingenuity to come up with a sound that is able to wake a sound sleeper but doesn’t induce that kind of psyche-stripping galvanic jump that leaves you quivering under the blankets as your bedmate nurses their bruises?

The usual madness to my method, I should point out, is to have two alarms – the first wakes me up, and the second tells me it’s time to get up.
This provides a useful quarter-hour interlude in which to reassemble my conscious brain, figure out which way is up, what day it is and why I should bother eventually getting out of bed, today of all days – or more often, fall asleep again (hence the importance of the second alarm).

This particular morning I was well asleep when the second alarm burst in, and consequently went through the whole galvanic thing again.
I staggered into my clothes and went the usual round of morning duties (minus the lunch), feeling fuggy-brained and not daring to attempt the toaster. I felt behind-hand all the way through, but to my surprise, managed to leave for work on time.

After a rough day at the office

Here is where I discovered the achilles heel of zombies. They are not built for speed. They lurch. My time allowance for getting to work is based on being able to sustain a reasonable clip (approx. 6km/h), and my body just wasn’t feeling it. I pushed it harder, and it responded with faint nausea and a cloying sense of deoxygenation. I slowed.

I made it to work a few minutes late, but fortunately not so late as to draw raised eyebrows from the Powers That Be. (To be that late, you need to take the bus.)

I felt dim and brainless for the better part of the morning (thus making it the worser part) and made a few stupid, though fortunately inconsequential, mistakes.

To be fair, some of the dimness may have been due to the fact that I didn’t have time in this shorter morning to make a cup of tea (all right, pedants, I had time to make, but not consume, which is after all the point). However, I had one as soon as I got to work and the brainlessness failed to recede, so perhaps not. (Braaaiiins…)

In summation: the Chocolate part of the Experiment was productive and enjoyable (apart from the hand cramp and the minor sleep issues) but the Zombie part was neither and I think this tends to outweigh the Chocolate part, at least when seen in the light of an ongoing routine.
Now and then, particularly if I don’t have work the following day, I may resurrect it again. (Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha! Pardon.)

Time the Ever-Rolling Stream

I had a few things on my mind to write about, but none of them quite amounted to a post. What-I-thought-after-reading-part-of-a-book-on-writing-but-not-a-review-yet; Annoying-things-writing-teachers-say-that-make-you-feel-guilty-and-defensive-because-you-know-they’re-right; and Something-or-other-else-that-escapes-my-mind-and-therefore-probably-wasn’t-going-to-be-that-interesting.

What I can’t write about is all the writing I’ve been doing.
It’s not so much procrastinating as Doing Other Stuff. I have my hobbies – mostly sewing in summer, knitting in winter – and occasional scraps of social life. Plus of course housework and those pesky needs for food and sleep that keep showing up. Not to mention the Dreaded Day Job.

If only the Dreaded Day Job featured such elegant desk work.

But the main problem is the mornings.

I’ve mentioned before now that I am not by any means a morning person. And yet I have made the habit of getting up half an hour earlier of a morning to get some writing done.

OK, so that was the theory.

Strangely enough, it’s not the getting up early that’s the problem. When I feel sluggish I just remind myself of those smug Marines and I drag myself out of bed into the sort-of-dawning day.

It’s the getting things done that isn’t working.

As I frequently heard in my younger days (and we could fill a blog here with annoying-things-mothers-say-that-make-you-feel-guilty-and-defensive-because-you-know-they’re-right), Work Expands To Fill The Time Allotted To It.

So my hard-won sleep-deprived time is not turning into writing time.
Where am I losing it?

I get up, I get dressed, I brush my hair and put it up, I observe the Community Obedience, I eat breakfast, I pack a lunch, and that’s it.

All this used to take me from 7:15 to 8:00, when I’d venture out onto the path outside my door – which according to Mr B. Baggins could take me anywhere, but nine times out of ten (all right, ten out of fourteen) takes me to work.

These days I get out of bed at 6:45, and all the aforementioned takes me to about 7:45 (leaving at 7:55 because I now walk to work).

How does half an hour turn into ten minutes? How????
Either there’s something disturbingly quantum going on in my house (losing a minute of time every time I go through a doorway??) or I’m squandering it somehow.

san remo cathedral by firewind 2

So, my little squandees, how do we combat the loss of time? (Besides getting those doorways checked out.)

Basically there are two choices here: (ok, three, but I’m ruling out going back to bed on Marine grounds) work harder or work smarter.

If there’s one thing I like less than getting up early, it’s getting up early and rushing around like a headless chook, so smarter it is.

I’ve already come up with the time-saving devices of laying out my clothes the night before, and subduing three feet of gnarly hair while I wait for the kettle saucepan (kettle defunct) to boil for that all-important first cup of tea. (Yes, my hair has feet in the mornings. That’s how bad it is.)

The problem, as with so many of my flashes of genius, is that I don’t remember to do any of it, particularly the next morning as I stagger around in a befuddled daze trying to figure out how many socks makes blue.

Devising a way to make sure my future-self remembers something my present-self has thought up is a conundrum which seems to require time-travel until you realise that this is the way humans normally function in time.

Time Travel Haikus 5-7-5

And then it’s just depressing.

So how do I do it?

Am I going to have to leave letters for myself on the kitchen table, like some Hollywood-simplified version of sustained memory loss? (Yes, I have seen Memento. No, I am not going to tattoo “Brush hair while water boils” on my arm. Or anywhere else, for that matter.)

Perhaps if I’m very lucky, I will only need to leave messages for myself until the habits form. 40 days, they say – that gives me til Easter. (Perhaps a henna tattoo would be sufficient.)

Now all I have to do is remember to set things up for myself the night before, which means doing it before I get tired, which means going to bed at a reasonable hour – just like your mother always told you.

So, time the ever-rolling stream having rolled the best part of the evening away, I’d better go and get on with it.

Only time will tell whether I’ll remember tomorrow to boil my hair in clothes while waiting to lay out the saucepan.

January: a Sense of Safety

At last, the long-awaited (by me at least) post about What I Did This Month. (Last month.) With the Artist’s Way, that is.

Since I didn’t have my Good Idea until January was well onto its downhill run, there was not much time in which to work through Chapter One: Recovering a Sense of Safety.

The fundamental push of this chapter is to give you back the childlike feeling of being able to puddle about and create things without the terror that Mrs Danvers (or Col. Gaddafi) will leap out of the woodwork shouting “how dare you make such a repulsive mess, you miserable miscreant?!” (although really, I don’t think either of them had quite that kind of vocabulary).

In order to accomplish this, you confront the nasty critical voices of your past, and face them down with all the nice positive things you have heard, gleaned or discovered about your artist-self – or, if you have had a particularly hard go of it in that respect, the simple, stubbornly defiant statement that you have the right to create.

So nyah nyah to you.

Fortunately for the tight time-frame, I had gone through most of the exercises before. Naturally, some of the results of my exercising are not fit for public consumption (I know who lurks in the shadows of this blog) but I thought I’d share a few snippets.

I am fortunate that I have had relatively few harsh words come my way (hiding your light under a bushel works well, if you don’t mind the smoke getting in your eyes) and a few quite nice ones. But there is still the self-sabotaging voice of the internal Resistance echoing round my cranium.

I don’t think discouragement needs to take the form of words to make us doubt ourselves. So maybe we need to consider things which are not words, though they are harder to pin down and rebut. Thought In Progress.

I confess, exercise six warmed the cockles of my heart – gathering together every scrap of positive reinforcement of my validity as a writer. Took nearly a whole page of my A5 repurposed diary.

I went on an artist date, too – I went to the shop at the corner and dropped my shiny gold coin into a slot. I turned the handle, and boing, boing, boing, out came my multi-hued bouncy ball. And of course, one cannot have a bouncy ball without bouncing it.

As C. S. Lewis so aptly said (or rather wrote), “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” My hero.

The ‘alternate lives’ exercise was another bundle of fun – I’ve always wanted to be one of these:
but I don’t know of any courts that are hiring.

I really struggled with the affirmations – not the basic mechanics of it, but the meaning it. New Zealand is not one of the societies where blowing one’s own trumpet is encouraged, or even tolerated. Self-deprecation is the order of the day.

So in order to say something like “I am a channel for God’s creativity, and my work comes to good” without a trace of sarcasm is a feat which more or less requires the wearing of a funny hat with bells on.

I should make me one.

My favourite affirmation (of the ones I came up with myself) said simply this: I am meant to be a dreamer.

Next week month – that is, this month (already a quarter gone!) I shall look at recovering a sense of identity. (Who, me?)