Jason Porath

has a website, i guess

Indigestion

Freshman year of college, I had a group assignment. The conceit was that each 5-6 person group had been shipwrecked, and found themselves in shark-infested waters with a small lifeboat – just big enough to support all but one of the group members. The assignment was to figure out who died.

Yes, it was a weird class.

When results time came, most groups talked about their deliberation process. Usually the decision was made either by drawing straws or logistical debates. Not so with my group. We actually had the quickest decision of them all. Because I volunteered to die.

I wasn’t trying to be melodramatic. When the teacher asked me why I volunteered to be the odd man out, I said that I felt I could do so. I’d be content. Obviously wasn’t an optimal state of affairs, but I believed I’d achieved all my goals. If I died, I said, I probably wouldn’t come back as a ghost or anything.

Barely nineteen, and I’m saying this.

In the years following, my friends convinced me that this was due to not having actually experienced life. So I went on adventures. Oh, how I went on adventures. Japan. Europe. Burning Man. And before each journey, my friends would sidle up to me, ear-to-ear grin, and ask, “are you excited?” And I’d say yes. Each time, it was a lie.

It wasn’t that the adventures were bad – it’s that I didn’t want to disappoint my friends. Each time they asked, it felt like they were really asking, “Are you alive now? Do you understand now? Can we relate now?” It seemed like they wanted so badly to have someone experience what they did. To have that connection. But time and time again – I was not transformed by that movie, that book, that festival, that drug, that religious service, that country. I didn’t live what they lived. I didn’t see the same colors they did.

How do you break it to your closest ones that what they hold dear, what they are excited for you to experience, what they love, you don’t? That you won’t be able to connect with them, like they’d hoped? How do you convince them that is how it is, without proclamations that “you didn’t do it right,” or “you have to be open to it,” or “you have to give it time”?

How can you – without coming across as a mopey git – express your doubts when someone says, don’t worry, your answer’s out there somewhere?

Today I am in yet another new place – to be precise, Winnipeg. Here for a wedding. It’s a nice city, and I’ve enjoyed myself here. But if you had asked? No, wasn’t overly excited for the trip.

So it’s the day after the wedding. I wake up and I am not hungry. I google interesting places in Winnipeg and start walking. I pass block after block of shops. Clothes, trinkets, books, movies, food. These are the things to do here. Or there. Or anywhere. Gobble gobble gobble. And I am still not hungry.

Out of habit, I whip out my phone to check my email. Then Facebook. Then the news. Twitter. Reddit. I read the local student paper. I idly scan the billboards.

And I think, didn’t I just say I’m not hungry?

And somehow that thought proves the keystone for my mind’s dam. I pull it out and suddenly there’s hundreds more to go with it. I think about my fractured mind. How I want to write, how I need to focus. How I devour wholesale the works of my favorite creators, as if, by osmosis, it’ll rub off on me. How I am always searching, consuming, feeding, yet never hungry. How here, there, and anywhere it’s what you like, what you buy, more than what you do. How long it’s been since I last sat, alone, quiet in thought. How, for years, I’ve plunged headlong into throngs of people, out every night, surrounded at every hour, when, at my core, I hate crowds. How my picture of God in my mind’s eye is totally blank. How writing is like meditation. How meditation is like prayer. How blank is this paper I stare at. How my answer’s not out there, it’s never been out but in, how, god, I took such a circuitous path. How big is this backlog. How full am I. How I must digest to be hungry.

And so I come back to the hotel. I stare at a blank screen. And I write this.

Off now to get some lunch. I’m famished.

7 Comments

  1. Yes, yes, yes and yes.

  2. Funny, and perhaps weird. My first thought once I finished reading this: GTD

    Yes… the David Allen GTD, the Merlin Mann GTD. Let me explain:

    All the talks, the book’s the audiobooks etc… give long-winded instructions, explanations, and justifications to the process of “writing shit down so you can stop worrying about it, and start completing it so you can put it behind you in life.” Their stated goal of the process is to help tasks get prioritized and then completed, but I believe part of the process itself serves another goal.

    Let me just step back a moment of this goal and give some background to my thinking behind this. I’ve changed jobs twice in the last year; this is not unusual for many (probably including yourself) but for me this was at times an emotional roller coaster. At the first job, the situation was becoming less and less of what I desired, and as a result I became more and more frustrated. I got so deadlocked into my moody state that it was no surprised to a few around that I gave my notice not long after a recruiter from a startup had made the rounds with a list of email addresses of the office. I left soon found myself somewhere completely different, with my only thought being that I had at least “escaped” the situation I had been in.

    For the new job, things seemed promising at first, but then about 4 months in I started feeling similar frustrations to those I’d felt before. Soon I was commiserating with a few others every week in-and-out, and finding myself in the same funk. It was another month or two that I realized that I needed to change jobs again.

    By this time though, I had finally begun to realize the true folly of my initial situation of the old job. I realized my real frustration wasn’t my annoyance of the situation, but that not enough other’s seemed annoyed enough along with me. Yet at same time, I had internalized so much of my feelings and thoughts of the time that I really never gave them a proper opportunity to respond.

    This time, I was able to have a one-on-one with my manager there. It is unfortunate that, I believe he was so wrapped up in the many potential contracts at the moment that I don’t believe he understood how close I was to leaving. It was a day later that I began looking again, though this time I didn’t rush like before.

    I spent a few weeks updating my resumé and working on a couple of personal projects to brush up on some skills. I had NO idea it was going to take so long on the resumé (and linkedIn profile) but in retrospect, it was one of the most important things I had done in a while. Having to write down descriptions of my work forced me into a state where I had to reflect upon it as if I was an outside observer; after all, I’m writing it so someone can read it and then hire me. For the first time in a while, I saw the situation without my emotions attached. I had realized that, had I done this many months earlier, I might not have resulted in the same course of actions or at least expressed more hesitation.

    One more thing the writing down provided as a result: closure. The self-reflection allowed me to come up with annoy lessons I might have learned form the experiences and finally put them behind me. It seems silly that writing things down is required before you can move on with your life to the next big event, but yeah it works.

    When you “perform a brain dump” of tasks onto a piece of paper, you are now given the opportunity to reflect upon them as an observer, rather than as a participant. By this I mean, when your thoughts are in your head, they can be dominated by the emotions you have for them. Writing them down takes away the personal attachment linked in your head, and allows you the chance to observe it as if you had explained the thought to someone in a discussion.

    This has ended up being a bit of a brain dump for me again, apologies if you read the whole thing. A final note though: The job I eventually ended up at was, in fact, the very one I had left nearly a year earlier. That said, my position may be the same, but the perspective I being to it is now completely different.

    Cheers,
    -b

  3. Thanks for that, B. Good to hear your experiences, and that you came out of it well.

    I’ve heard great things about gtd. I will try to check it out at some point, but for now, I’ve got plenty on my plate to digest. This is how I’m doing it. One blog post at a time.

  4. This is not to brush aside what you said – very salient points about brain dumps and looking at things objectively. There’s a thousand ways to do that, from meditation to casting stones to drawing pictures. It’s all about creating the best mirror for you right then and there.

  5. (by “casting stones,” I mean divination, like reading tea leaves. Not killing someone by throwing rocks at them. Although that is also bound to teach you something about yourself)

  6. Oh yeah. I forgot what were going to be my final words on this:

    Keep blogging.

    -b

  7. On it. 🙂

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