Life imitates reading list imitating life

Book coverI have very few rules concerning this writing effort. I post something every day. I limit my discussion to one thing. I say only what I have to say, then stop. And I’m only allowed to post about the cats once a week. That last rule is to keep them from turning into a crutch. I know no one will mind me talking about the cats, especially if there are pictures. Given how much time I spend with them, it would be an easy routine to fall into.

As of yet I actually haven’t posted about the cats. This is my 14th cat-free post, so I think I’ve earned a couple of bonus cat posts. This is not one of them, but there are some coming. There is good cat news in our near future. Stay tuned.

My purpose in bringing this up is that I’ve burned through my backup posts and I’m now getting these written late the night before they go up. I knew this would happen eventually. It’s happened a bit sooner than I thought because of some extra demands on my time because of Carla being with her dad. Since he’s doing well and she’s being such a big help to him, it’s a trivial problem for me to have. I’m not complaining.

What’s interesting about this is that even though there are a lot of things I could be writing about, I’ve found it hard to get started on new posts. When we were down in Florida last week I managed to get a little bit ahead. Most days I would decide on the next post topic even before I started on the one I planned to write that day. There were a couple of days I knocked out two in a day. I come home from Florida, I have a lot of distractions and suddenly I can’t come up with a topic. It’s not a matter of the time it takes to write the post. Once I get going the words come, but I have to know what I’m talking about first.

How can I have so many thing going on, yet not readily think of a topic? Remember it doesn’t matter what I write about. It doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be something. But when I hung up the phone with Carla this evening I had no idea what I’d write about.

I may know why this is happening, and it’s gloriously self-referential. I’m currently listening to a book called Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Broadly speaking, it’s a book by a sociologist and cognitive psychologist in the vein of Freakonomics in that it tries to tie a variety of seemingly disparate human behaviors back to a single, non-obvious, root circumstance. They argue that people who are dealing with the lack of something — time, money, companionship, calories — think quantitatively and qualitatively different than those who don’t perceive themselves lacking in these areas. They discuss a variety of studies that indicate that a mind, operating under conditions of scarcity in an area important to the person, does not work as well as one operating under less constrained circumstances.

This is by no means a review of the book because I’m not done with it yet. What’s interesting is that my predicament is exactly the sort of thing their theories would predict. This week I am short of time. I wasn’t able to go with Carla to be with her dad because I had important work responsibilities back here that required my physical presence. In addition, I covered her first two Intro to Craft Beer class sessions since this was the first week of the semester. My attention has been pulled in several directions that have required me to really focus on them. Coming up with topics for these posts have been pushed to the back. If I slow down and take a step back, there are plenty of things for me to write about. I’ve just written more than 650 words about not having anything to write about. I think about breaking the one-cat-post-a-week rule because they are right here in front of me (or crawling on me, walking on my keyboard or wanting me to play with them). (Still not a cat post.) There are plenty of things for me to write about. But I literally can’t think of them because all this other stuff is taking my attention. The point is that it’s not a “block” or anything. They’re arguing that under conditions such as I’m experiencing now, it’s almost physically impossible for me to form thoughts that aren’t related to the immediate goal of managing my current scarcity of time.

I’m not doing the book justice. I think the only reason my mind got spinning on this is because I’m listening to the book on Audible while I’m driving from place to place. I like to listen to books while driving, especially if I have a lot on my mind. It forces me to break the cycle of over-focusing and probably rear-ending another car. I know a lot of people use music that way. For whatever reason, I like books. This topic clicked into place, I think, because I’m feeling the scarcity of time. Since the book uses that type of scarcity as a constant example, I’ve had to expend almost no cognitive energy coming up with this topic. The connections have been made for me in the flow of my daily activities.

You know how people say that some things write themselves?  I think this is how that works.

I’m driving over to Illinois tomorrow to join Carla, her dad and the rest of the family. That will be about four hours of dead time. I’ll likely listen to the book some, but I’ll also spend a lot of time in silence. My next topic will come in those time. Maybe more than one. Time will not be scarce.  There will be room for things to cook and come together. And, as I said, there’s legitimate cat news coming.

But for now I’m over a thousand words about how hard it is to come up with a topic. I probably won’t be able to get away with it again, but it only has to work once.