Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chapter 8: The Three Deadly P's

I feel like I owe an explanation for why I'm taking so long to write new blog posts. It really comes down to three simple factors, which I like to call the three deadly P's. Unfortunately, they're the reason I don't usually get a lot done. Let me list them out for you:
  1. Procrastination
  2. Preoccupation
  3. Perfectionism
I don't know how much of my weakness for these P's can be attributed to Asperger's; I'd say that Procrastination is more a teenage thing than anything else. Preoccupation (a.k.a. obsession, but that doesn't fit into the P scheme as well) is something that I think occurs much more commonly among the Aspergian population - basically, we get focused on one particular topic or idea and thus have difficulty focusing on anything else. It's also the reason we tend to talk a lot about certain subjects, but when it comes to anything else we're dead silent. Perfectionism is something that I can't attribute to either Asperger's or adolescence; I think that's just a personality trait.

Procrastination

This one trait is common to almost all teenagers, and we all handle it in different ways. I sometimes like to think of procrastination not as a fault, but as a different way of doing things. That way of thinking ends when it's midnight on deadline day.

A number of factors, for me, contribute to procrastination. First and foremost is the common "I can do it later" thinking, even though we know we're not going to do it later. I often wonder why we even bother to tell ourselves things we know are lies. I won't digress here, but I just personally think the ability humans have to lie to themselves is psychologically fascinating.

Another factor that may not be as common is the "dead eyes," so named because of what I imagine my eyes look like when I'm in that state. There are points in life where I just don't feel like I want to do anything. The things I do want to do I can't seem to do right (seePerfectionism) and nothing else seems to grab my attention. Usually, once I become aware I'm in that state, I jolt out of it, but sometimes I have an incredibly aggravating inability to put words on a page. It's worse than writer's block, because I know where I want to go, I just can't get the words out and it doesn't feel right in my mind. I wonder if "dead eyes" is something that's specific to me (as in, not teenage or Aspergian). Part of me theorizes that it has its roots in television. My generation grew up on tuning out a certain number of hours in the day. Maybe now we're suffering the consequences of that.

Procrastination, surprisingly, has sometimes led to my best work. I tend to freak out under pressure, but I also paradoxically work much better under pressure. Big projects completed on the last day tend to take a sudden turn in the opposite direction as I suddenly figure out what I want to do and how I want to do it. It's a dangerous gamble though, like someone who speeds heavily and says it's okay because they've never crashed. Procrastination has its rare benefits, but if I'm going to accomplish anything I have to learn to overcome it.

Preoccupation

I'm working my way through a novel right now - it's the third time I've read it. My creative writing teacher has told us to find a book and list out all the key plot points in it - I chose to use this one because its plot is so full of events, without becoming convoluted. It's called My Name is Asher Lev, and I'm entirely convinced that the main character has Asperger's. It doesn't say it anywhere in the book, but... it's pretty obvious, in my opinion.

The main character - Asher Lev - is a Ladover Hasid living in Brooklyn. He's got a great gift for drawing and painting, which upsets his father, who is a highly orthodox Jew who thinks art is a waste of time. Asher Lev, however, just can't stop drawing. Every spare moment he's sketching or doodling. He doesn't pay attention when his parents speak - not because he's a rude child, but because he's trying to figure out how to improve the drawings he just made. He's entirely, totally obsessed and preoccupied with his work.

Here's a passage from the book that I resonated with completely (though I'm not an artist, the way of thinking is familiar):
I looked away from her at the painting. The square shapes of the boxes of matzos intrigued me.

"Asher, look at me. What should I tell your father?"

"I'm trying, Mama."

"Your teacher says you're not trying. The mashpia says you're not trying. What should I tell your father?"

"I don't care."

"Asher."

What if I tilt some of those squares? I thought. Won't that make it more interesting?

"Asher, I have to tell your father something. What will I tell your father? I will have to tell him the truth. Asher, what do you do in school? Isn't there anything you'd like?"

"Yes," I said. Suppose I tilted one row of boxes one way and another row of boxes another way. What would happen?

"But you can't do that all day and all night, Asher. You can't go through school not learning."

"I'm learning, Mama."

"I don't know what to do with you," she said. She got up off the bed and went from the room.

I'll try it, I thought. And maybe I'll tilt Yudel Krinsky's body a little in different directions, too. That might make it really interesting.

I scraped off the paint and started again.
- My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok
Notice how he's talking to his mother - giving her answers - but his mind is completely engulfed in the painting. And it's not exactly little things his mom is trying to talk to him about. His father is currently working in Vienna, working himself to death in order to get Jewish families out of antisemitic Europe, and wants to make sure his son is keeping up in school. Surely no child in his right mind would blow his father off like that!

Preoccupation is something that is characteristic of Asperger's, and I don't consider it a virtue or a vice. I think that it enables us to do very well with certain things, but it can also be a hindrance when other commitments stack up. It's something that has to be controlled, like everything else in our lives.

Perfectionism

In another part of My Name is Asher Lev, the mashpia (something like the principal of the school Asher goes to) asks Asher to draw some pictures for him. Asher does so, drawing a number of pictures of the first things that come to his mind.
I was filling the pages with beings and shapes and textures, trying to feel the rain on the windows and on the trees, trying to feel cold and snow, trying to feel darkness and night, and getting none of it on the pages, and finally I threw the pencil down on the desk and slammed the sketchbook shut.
-My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok
Surprise, surprise, Asher Lev is a perfectionist when it comes to art! Of course, when we're preoccupied with something, it's easy to get perfectionist about it. I have perfectionism when it comes to anything I do of my own free will. Obviously, deadline assignments must be turned in on time (that's another kind of perfectionism) so I just do my best and cross my fingers. But I have not posted a single blog entry without regretting it afterwards, thinking about what else I could have done. That's partly the reason for the big break; though there was so much I wanted to write about - and a lot of it time-specific - I couldn't tell it the way I wanted for some reason, and so I just didn't tell it at all.

Perfectionism is also the reason why I don't think I will ever complete a NaNoWriMo, and why the teacher-sponsor of the high school literary magazine always has to press me for stories when I'm not in his class. But as he has said so many times: "Don't get it right the first time: get it written." I guess the same law applies to everything. You'll never get anything right the first time - so just go ahead and do it, and fix the mistakes later. When I do math, I don't wait until I've done it all in my head to write it down. My math doodles are harder to follow than the LOST finale, because I just do it. I'm going to have to start applying that same kind of thinking to writing if I'm going to keep up with this blog.

So I want to apologize for taking my sweet time with my blog. I plan to start doing this weekly, but it'll take a lot of discipline. Today I began an idea that will either take off or die within the first few days - I'm writing down things that I need to get done in a little notebook. It's a little more high maintenance than an agenda, because I also plan to use it when someone asks me to get something done by the end of the day, or by the end of the class period (as often happens in my Independent Study of Theatre first period). Theoretically I check things off as I go along and I make sure everything is checked by the end of the day. I doubt it'll work exactly as I plan it - but hopefully it'll help keep me from procrastinating, getting preoccupied, and being too perfectionist.

Remember: watch out for those three deadly P's!