Procrastinate

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I started writing this almost a week ago… 🙂

Very straightforward for Latin, I have to say, it actually means to defer. It is more specific than the current usage as it actually contains reference to “tomorrow” but otherwise perfectly understandable, if annoying.

I am not very fond of procrastination, even though I do it so well Others are even less enamoured of procrastination and have outstandingly explicit and eloquent things to say about it.

But this is an apology so I looked at what good can procrastination do. I am talking only of procrastination, not of time management difficulties. Those are not choices, procrastination is.

Let me make it clear: it is not a character flaw, it is not a difficulty, it is not an accident. It is a choice, and as such it is a consequence of a process that involves a lot of the individual, some of the system and most of the environment in which it happens.

Most people that I know of (including myself) do not procrastinate out of malice. It may be a passive (or is that passive-aggressive?) protest against circumstances we do not agree with. It may be a sign that more rest is in order so we can make better decisions. It may also be too difficult in which case it becomes again a passive way of saying it

What it can help with is timing. It’s a delaying technique but it may also be triggered by waiting for another piece of information needed to complete our knowledge. Or waiting for just the right time to do something. Or the right space in which to say something difficult.

Sometimes I am so tired that anything past breathing is way, way too much. So I procrastinate.

I don’t like it. I don’t think anyone does. But saying (and I have heard them all!) that the above are “just an excuse” is the same as saying “I don’t care why, just do it my way/the accepted way/the right way” despite what (I believe) are valid reasons.

And that makes me more, not less likely to continue to procrastinate.

Vicious circle, much?

Lately I have procrastinated sadness, if such is even possible. But I can’t let it overwhelm me during the day. And sometimes even nights are out of bounds. So I defer it. There is romance reading, pop music listening, cartoon watching – light hearted fun that nonetheless allows another hour to pass.

I can expect that much of myself, indeed. For sadness will come, and will not be denied entry.

I might as well make the decision when to open the door.

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WOMAD

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I’ve been to WOMAD this weekend just gone and it seems fitting that there should be an article about it. I will explain, but let’s start with the definition: World Of Music, Arts and Dance, at your service.

And the disclaimer: even if I was the one thinking about it, I could not have come up with a better way to entertain myself or with a better expression of the eclectic nature of this particular human being. In short, WOMAD suits me as if it was made to order! Lucky for me, Peter Gabriel is a genius 🙂

I will start with the obvious: it would be very difficult for me to stick with one genre of music. Yes, I love rock, yes, I love classical, yes, I love folk… and I can say yes to pretty much most music, with the possible exception of rap and punk. So WOMAD suits me because it has variety and choices within that variety. Sounds pretty dry, huh? Somehow not enough…. despite every word being absolutely true.

Like most people I listen to the music I love and occasionally delve into something similar to it. But WOMAD means that I can sample a lot more than just the tried and true. It opens up the world, which I assume is not far from the intent. I can listen to Canadian Irish folk then go straight through to Austrian electronica, Brazilian bossa nova, Australian soul, Kiwi rock, Korean drum and this is just one day out of three!

Then it’s the people watching – one of the pleasures of going to WOMAD. You see, the atmosphere at this festival is quite interesting. The experience is more important than individual taste, so instead of competing, people are more likely to settle down and decide they actually like each other. Which, in turns, makes for a relaxed, smiling crowd, mellow during the day (smoking of the green could possibly have something to do with that 😛 ) with an edgier alcohol fueled vibe in the evenings. But its’ family friendly at all times so the little one has come with me since birth 🙂

The food and drink are expensive, as with all festivals, and I have been known to bring peanut butter sandwiches from home in leaner years 🙂

The weather plays an astonishingly small part of the festival despite some real wet or scorching events – if it’s wet then you might see less of the fashion, but that seems to be all.

I don’t know quite to explain why the diversity of people at WOMAD makes me excited and happy rather than apprehensive and on guard. I may know some of them, but we have different taste in music, food, drink and clothes…. we are not of the same age, physical ability, ethnicity. We walk, act, sit and enjoy ourselves differently.

We are not attracted to this festival by any similarity other than our shared humanity – mayhap it’s enough?

Expectation

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Reading back through the last couple of posts, apart from the inherent confusion, one assumption stood clear: choices (and subsequent decisions) appeared to be almost detached, floating untouchables, or in other words, objective, reached through logical elimination of alternatives.

Well, even a two year old given a few choices by her parents could probably intimate that decisions at least are nothing of the kind. They are by default subjective. So what about choices then? They too are subjective, as in they are subject to expectations.

Expectation is an interesting word. It refers to the future, but it implies a wait period, one of those stretches of time between possibility and reality, kinda like the stretch of time between a choice and a decision… maybe they are related?

The choices we contemplate have nothing much to do with logic, even though logic is a very useful tool in contemplating choices, especially difficult ones. Think of the inferences: if this, then that, and if that, then the other thing will happen. That’s as far as I can go with logic, chess is fascinating but not my forte for exactly the same reason. I do enjoy simple logic puzzles and sorites though. But I digress…

As I was saying, the choices we contemplate are not objective, they are subject to expectation, the waiting between our potential and our actual execution. And if it seems to you that these concepts seem to flow one into the other while at the same time remaining different… let’s say that occasionally I get headaches too! 🙂

If by any chance you’ve gone to school, then expectations are something you are familiar with. They get repeated later in the workforce, by the bank and a few other institutions like the justice and revenue departments. Parents are the first ones though to expect things of us. Whether it’s manners, eating our dinner or playing quietly, expectations are usually quite clear. And high!

Now I am very competitive with myself so you could say that high expectations are the rule. And they are, I can’t really do much about it. What I can do something about is figuring out if those expectations are realistic. A lot of the times they are not, what with me being an idealist (the only way is down). I am not sure about it, but I suspect it might be a tad easier for a perfectionist – after all, their only way is up… but is there an end?… hm, maybe I am mistaken and there is no easy way.

What age and experience and lots of experiments have taught me is that expectation is tricky. Low expectations are supposed to be great when you have someone lacking confidence because you have greater chances of them succeeding. Hm, in my experience the pessimism low expectations come with just makes everyone miserable and likely to fail altogether.

High expectations are a bit better if the person can hold them in check. Too high expectation, or too big a difference between potential and action leads to either outright failure or to a breaking of the soul. Messy, nasty and a complete waste of time and energy.

High expectation hovering just slightly above the current ability of a person… ah, that is a wonder to behold, the stretching, the reaching, and, with a bit (ok, a lot) of work, the actual contact… a great feeling… that will give you the strength to try again!

Decision

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In the limbo… hang on a minute, I use this phrase without even knowing the roots of it, just the colloquial meaning… quick, Internet to the rescue… goodness, some Catholics really have too much time on their hands, and the Witnesses’ doctrine is quite merciful in a Gordian sort of way…

As I was saying, in the limbo that stretches from intent to action, choices are fighting it off with societal and environmental weapons to become winners. In other words, decisions. Choices are quite general, really, to begin with: to act or not to act. The more they are thought about, weighed and tumbled over in our minds, whittled in both numbers and generality, they start to become potentialities. And then we figure out the ones we can live with, rarely more than three, and we enter the realm of practical ethics. You can argue that intent has its place there too, it’s just that intent is a thought and no more, while decisions are a lot closer to action than most of us care to examine.

In a magical sort of way, decisions can only be defined at the precise moment of action, until then they remain choices. I am sure we can all think of a choice we had every intention of putting into practice that has been changed at the last possible moment, changing therefore the entire world with it. And when you think of it this way, it’s no wonder some are never making any decisions, remaining paralyzed at the choice level or alternating between possible choices until the very future is confused.

A soft spot of mine has always been for the choices that will become decisions. You know what I am talking about, for the theory above has a hole the size of Antarctica in it… or does it?

Let’s say my intent was to go to university – thanks, mum! The choices are many, but the decision has been made way, way before I even started to notice boys. The choices remain what they are, choices, but a streak of “happenings” make sure that most will never see daylight. A vocation. A teacher. A failure. Meant to be?

Between the time the decision was made, until the time the action was taken, five years. A long time in limbo for such an earthly thing as university, don’t you think? A bit far from the “magical” action that’s supposed to define a decision, isn’t it? And yet, who’s to tell that a decision doesn’t act like a rope between the boat of choice and the land of action? I could have changed my mind at any time… couldn’t I? Well, no, vocations don’t change easily, although they do allow several choices within. That teacher removed several of those remaining choices by his actions. And then I failed, so the first choice I had made was no longer available, leaving me with second best by default. Decision.

Resentful, disappointed, defensive, I was all three. My pride… ah, my pride was smarting! And then, discovery. I was meant for the second best. I would not have liked either the first or the third choice. I was now even closer to my vocation than I could ever have hoped. I had five years more to realize this. Decision.

And when I look back, I remember sitting by myself, waiting for the food to arrive and thinking, wishing, yearning for a particular boy…

Choice

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You cannot talk about action (or consequences for that matter) without mentioning choice. That goes even if free will is not the be all and end all in your universe, because you still don’t know the full plan so you have to rely on an imperfect feel of what you ought to do, including commands, principles, requirements.

It could be that we need the above commands etc. as there is really nothing that is absolutely required if you are a free agent in the world. It is a matter of choice, all of it. Look at a baby refusing to sleep, despite being exhausted. Look at a protester refusing to eat or drink. Look at monks and nuns with vows of celibacy. Look at those who commit suicide. And yet living, eating, drinking, sleeping are supposed to be natural requirements, and I haven’t even begun to mention the human ones!

If the above are teaching us anything at all I suppose it is the fact that choice is not easy. So much so that I lose patience with questions like “if the boat is overloaded and you have to through someone overboard in order to save the majority, who would you condemn?”… and here follows usually a list of people that addresses everything that is prejudice in us.

I ignore this type of question because I believe that every day choices are difficult enough sometimes that we really don’t have time for making our lives even more complicated.

Choice is also the subject of… hm… choice (non-intended pun… which I will adopt and intend from now on 😛 ) for the regulators of our society. How often have we heard judges prompting people in court to make “better choices”? Food and drink with or without some much publicized ingredients are also “better choices”. Elections are full of people who are “better choices” than others. We are expected to compare and act…based, of course, on the intention – be healthy, be safe, be better off.

Several of the choices are automated (breathing, heart beat etc.), others are behind very strong walls (living, not hurting ourselves intentionally), yet others are regularly reinforced (eating, drinking, sleeping). Most of the other choices we make are small and easy – what to wear, what to eat, what time to put our alarm at. This, of course, brings us to the big choices, the ones that influence a big portion of our lives, and the most difficult. They are not many, and they are also the ones most heavily influenced by society. Those choices are sometimes at odd times: haven’t you ever marveled that we know teens’ brains are under construction but we still expect them to decide the direction for most of their lives? Others are made for strange (to me) reasons – marriage being decided by other people than the ones getting married, really? Still others are annoying – deciding to study the inside of an atom as a priority as opposed to finding a contraceptive that doesn’t wreck bodies, desire or fertility.

The big picture/perspective is probably the most important factor in the choices we make. But big picture hasn’t been a favourite subject for a long time, with individuality, specialization and win-lose mentality being preferred. Sure, we fit into our respective niches, but these niches are rarely communicating with many other niches.

And what is the point of a fragmented society?

Future

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If you do this then that will happen. Linked, of course with action and consequence. And I am also advised that “if only” is a terrible expression and we should therefore strive to not only grasp opportunities as they arrive but also to make good choices. As if any of us would make bad choices if we knew the future.

However, as people, we try very hard to predict the future, and I know no psychic who ever died of hunger… except maybe the ones who were actually right. Cassandra springs to mind. I have always had a soft spot for Cassandra. The Greek myth says that she was a prophetess and as such under the protection of Apollo, a later Sun persona. As a prophetess, her word was not doubted, the only mistake could come from interpreting the notoriously mysterious messages given. But then Apollo fell in lust with Cassandra and she refused him, so he cursed her to always be true and never believed. Needless to say she went mad (was mad?) and her life went downhill from there. Greek tragedies make thrillers seem comical and horror movies seem non-sensical.

But predicting the future has another downside, as if knowing in advance what will happen is not bad enough. Even Cassandra, always true, could not do anything to prevent the future from happening. And I think that is what actually drove her mad. Assuming responsibility way beyond what human shoulders can carry. I reckon that the Greeks (and most every traditional society that had prophets… hm, that would make all of them!) put the prophets under the protection of a God/dess for the express purpose of stopping the madness from taking hold. If you are just the mouth of a God/dess then you couldn’t possibly be responsible for what you predict, in fact, it is presumptuous to do so. In some cultures you prophesy only in a trance, or under the influence of special plants, mostly hallucinogenics. The setting is carefully chosen, the people carefully prepared, sacrifices are made.

Compare this then with the current way of “predicting”. Using logic (action and consequence) only, assuming responsibility for both right and wrong prediction, blamed for the choices people make based on those predictions… does that sound to you as a recipe for disaster? And let’s not think of the ones who make religious/financial/eschatological prophecies. Take people in every-day life, trying to predict whether to marry, buy a car, have a baby, change jobs, invest, buy a house. All sort of choices. Go to university, it’s the only way to get a good job. Start your own business, it’s the only way to be free. Save for retirement, you never know when the super will become unmanageable. Send your child to private school, so he can have a good future.

And if you don’t? You should have done this, if you’d have done this none of this would have happened, silly! There is no shortage of people who will point out “if only”’s. And, without a God/dess, without salvia and mushrooms, with no sacrifices made and no questions properly asked, what do we get?

Blame and guilt, of course, what else.

To what purpose? It doesn’t seem to teach us anything. Not even when we are lucky.

I’ll ponder this while I ask my question of the Tarot.

Moral

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Action and re-action.

Action and result.

Murder or manslaughter.

In a practical way we could (and sometimes do) judge what is happening around us in moral terms.

The intent leads us to make a decision and based on that decision we may act.

I will add two other items: the act has a consequence/result and after we hear of the consequence we may also justify it in some way or another.

There is no flow on effect except in one area: action – consequence.

Having an intent does not mean you will make a decision.

Making a decision is by no means a trigger to act.

Knowing a consequence does not prompt justification.

The justification will only sometimes inform further intent.

I would argue that intent, decision, action and justification lie mostly in our power (not entirely, as societal norms will have shaped us within our specific culture). What your mama taught you may still get you lynched in another culture.

Based on the above I would also argue that consequence lies mostly outside of our power, just like gravity and other forces of nature. We could react with bewildered anger if we are told off for an accidental tipping over of a glass of water on the carpet. It’s not like we actually planned, decided and executed that accident! But we are the ones being told off for it!

With so much of the result out of our control, and with our tenuous (at best) control over the other moral steps, how are we to make sense of principles and norms, commandments and admonitions?

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I happen to be reasonably good with the positive type of moral guidance: love one another, do unto others etc. I don’t do so well with the negative type: don’t lie, don’t covet, don’t…

Probably because the negative commands are very restrictive at the same time they are prescriptive. There is no leeway. And yet for my purposes leeway is required.

Most of the time my purpose is maintaining a relationship. Toxic or not, helpful or not, if my intent is to maintain a relationship, then on analysis of the relationship I make certain decisions and this in turn reduces the number of actions I can take. Once I also act, spinning prayer wheels, I await the consequence. If I guessed right then the relationship I have chosen to maintain is secure for yet another period of time, until the next action is required.

Then, and especially if the relationship is not exactly helpful, I spend the longest time justifying it. I may use my beloved wish for control, I may rationalize the other’s behaviour, I may dream of the curt words I would say if I wanted to break the relationship.

Comfortable? No.

I am good at figuring out what the other person needs (not wants!). Which means that most of the time I guess right. Relationship maintained. Control secured. Rationale typed up in triplicate.

Don’t lie. I am a bad liar. But I can withhold, avoid and evade the truth with the best of them.

Exhausting? You bet!