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January 31, 2014

The Upbeat Thread

I'm looking for fun, happy things and I'm not finding them. So let me know.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the depression that comes with the fading sun. I would again encourage everyone to find something new that interests them, whatever it is, and pursue that hobby, or that interest, whether it's starting to build model planes again (one guy I know is having a second childhood with models, and is enjoying it) or becoming an expert on the Revolutionary War.

I believe the human animal thrives on achievement -- I think we have a deep-seated internal imperative towards creating, learning, advancing, and competing -- and the animal also becomes depressed from stasis.

This may seem obvious, but people who are actually doing something, whether walking every other day (and walking a little faster and farther each time), or writing that damned book they always have known was in them, or learning a new language, or deciding to learn how to rebuild a car, or making an effort to trace one's ancestors or reconnect with distant family feel a sense of accomplishment.

There is something inherently happy about forward motion, and something inherently depressing about standing still.

People are bewildered at why I decided to learn French. Well, for one reason: Look, I do this same thing every day. That doesn't mean I don't like blogging, and it doesn't mean I'm not grateful for the wonderful position I'm in, being able to just do this job I invented for myself and feed myself by doing so. (Though I should be more grateful.)

Nevertheless, let's face it, the parameters of this particular job have not changed in ten years. I have not really gotten a promotion; I haven't learned some new skill, like video or photo manipulation (though, Good Lord, I really ought to, huh?).

I do the same thing, pretty much, day in, day out. Most of you -- even those of you who would think of themselves as kind of doing the same thing every day -- would be shocked at how far one can take the concept of just, literally doing the same thing everyday.

I'm in the same position every day (on the couch), the same hours, looking at the same sites for news, making -- ummmm... let me confess, making pretty much the same jokes and the same observations I've been making for ten years.

The other day someone, Jack Straw I think, said he liked my joke about "abusing myself with the repetitive mechanical fury of a misfiring industrial robot."

Yeah, let me let you in on a little secret, Jack: That joke is literally ten years old. I wrote that in 2004. It is a verbatim lift. It just popped back into my head, and first I wrote a bad (new) version of it, but then I used my memory, and I reconstructed the exact line I wrote ten years ago.

Now I don't think it's too shabby of me to wait ten years before recycling a joke. But I am stressing the stasis I'm in. The holding pattern. The Same Day No Different Than The Next syndrome.

So I'm trying to do some things I didn't used to do. I feel my brain has gotten lazy and has diminished. My brain does the same light trotting every day around the same well-worn track in the pen. Like a caged farm animal, it just sort of gets fat and lethargic.

So I decided, a year back, I was going to start exercising it more, and exercising it in different ways. I have no talent for languages -- none. I always hated languages. They were the one subject I felt absolutely no inherent talent at.

But I always thought it was cool when James Bond gave a quick greeting in Italian or French, so. I decided to do that.

I started reading again. I had not read for pleasure in... ten years? Fifteen? More like twenty. Sure I'd read something every once in a while, but only very once in a while.

And I try to read some things I never read about before.

Has any of this worked?

I think so. Not a lot, but I do feel that I've accomplished something in now being able to translate a French newspaper article without reaching for the dictionary. (Well, I have to reach, but only once or twice per article.)

I do feel like a better, happier, more interesting person now that I've been reading again, and putting new thoughts into my brain. The old thoughts -- the ones that had been in there for 30 years -- were getting a little stale.

I was going to say "I don't know if any of this advice will help anyone out there," but that's not true. I do know it will help you. How could it not? How could learning something new, or making yourself better and more interesting and more alert to the wonder of the world, not help someone?

So, as I asked a few weeks back: What interesting stuff are you working on, or, what interesting stuff do you think you'll give a try?

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posted by Ace at 06:04 PM

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