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: Two Recent Requests: Leonard's Amazon wishlist (since his birthday is a week away), and the RSS feed for this blog. Thanks for the reminders, Mirabai!


: Note To Self: Write web quiz: "Highlander episode title, Star Trek episode title, or both?"

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(2) : One Peace At A Time: In school the teachers said, the real world isn't so forgiving, you won't be able to get extensions on your papers, you'll get worse consequences than bad grades if you do a poor job. And indeed, in my working world, the challenges don't end, I have to seek out feedback from my superiors, and I don't get summers off. Yet I find that I experience greater motivation and less procrastination and anxiety at my current job than I did in college. Why?

I remembered those bad old habits when I read some old blog entries about procrastination and avoidance in Ph.D. dissertation work. I found it reassuring to read those, and to see that I wasn't alone in my master's thesis experiences. My biggest problem was shame-related avoidance as a turbo maximizer on procrastination. And the gimmick that worked best for me: injecting a trusted third party. When I could talk to a friend about my problems, I often found out that I wasn't doing terribly, or at least that in the light of day my situation looked more manageable. When I made a first-draft pact with a friend, I had new motivation to start the project and gain momentum. Otherwise it was just me versus or with The System, possibly embodied in a teacher.

Talking and working with peers helps me set expectations (how original does this solution have to be? what's a reasonable amount of time to spend on this?) and break down big goals into sequences of little tasks. Socially I was a late bloomer, and it seemed to take me the vast majority of my academic life to grok that I work better this way.

I like working with people -- and for people. Aaron Swartz touches on this motivation in the Fog Creek Copilot documentary when he suggests that work is more interesting than institutional education -- why spend your time doing something fake when you could be doing something real? One inherent problem with academic make-work was that nothing except my own grades depended on it. I thought I was unmotivated, I had no idea how much responsibility I could handle, and I refused to consider a career in medicine because I didn't think I could handle being responsible for human lives. In retrospect, that was stupid, because basically all adults have to handle huge responsibilities with babies, money, driving cars, etc. and risk ruining and ending people's lives.

Then I moved up in the working world. Every time I gained real responsibilities, and saw my work serving others, I started working harder, valuing myself more, using my time more wisely, and attacking problems with greater energy. The experience of responsibility, not merely of earning money, nurtured my ambition.

A few weeks ago, Leonard and I ate at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, and we happened to talk to a trio of recent high school grads who were behind me in line. I think they were on a road trip, then off to freshman year at college. They asked us for advice, and Leonard said: start a business. Just find some random need that you can fill, part-time from your dorm room. There's a bunch of reasons why that's a good idea. You get pocket money. You get entrepreneurial experience while risk is cheap and your brain's more malleable. But the reason that strikes me hottest right now: you'll get people depending on you. If you find that tremendously motivating, that's a sign.

And if part of independence is disobedience, another, less frequently articulated part is the capacity for responsibility, not just for yourself but for your dependents. (From stuffed animals to computers to pets to clients to children? How will my staircase go?)

In school the teachers sounded like Morpheus from The Matrix: "Welcome to the desert of the real." But what grows in a sandbox?

Happy Independence Day, and Happy Interdependence Day.

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(2) : My Husband: Leonard likes the quiche and the Mexican-style hot chocolate at Tea Spot (MacDougal and West 3rd Street).

Leonard likes harmonizing with recorded music that he's listening to, or filking it or mashing it up, instead of just listening passively.

Leonard likes to rub his knuckles or his fingernails against each other when he's thinking, or making a witty point.

Leonard likes it when people invent things. He argues that Peter Frampton should get to use the vocoder because he was so inventive with it, but that others should have to get a black belt in vocoder to use it.

Leonard does not like being forced to do things.


: On Being A Manager: Man, I need to read my self-help books again.

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(1) : New Slang: I'm updating my very out-of-date slang dictionary; if I have turns of speech that call out for noting or explanation, comment away. Newest entry: "Birthday."


(3) : "It is what it is. Namely, it.": I called last night's Babylon 5 "Married to a Mob."

Today: cleaning, brunch, and an "adult party" (in that I don't have to keep my guests from eating paint).

Leonard likes to give books away via BookMooch. While cleaning and making room on our bookshelves for new comics and thrift-store finds (yesterday I snagged a Thurber anthology), he coaxes me into giving away less beloved books, like the Jim's Journal anthologies and random kids' books that I treat as popcorn. My sister participates in the similar Paperback Swap service and also reports positive results. It's a warm-and-fuzzy way to declutter.


: Photos Galore: I organized a few birthday celebrations for Leonard last week, specifically a fancy dinner and a ceramics-painting fest.


: Service: For jurors and cops, the job erratically swings between moments of tremendous responsibility and stretches of consuming boredom. Thurber is a fine antidote to the boredom; I finished 356 pages of his short stories and essays today while getting processed into a grand jury and commuting an hour each way.

Last summer I spent two weeks doing physical labor and this summer I'll spend a month doing intellectual labor: evaluating evidence, critical thinking, all that buzz. I may diagram arguments in my juror notes the same way I did in high school debate.

The initial processing room had several bookshelves full of paperbacks, complete with two copies of The Fountainhead.

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(2) : Learned This Week: Josh Fruhlinger appears on Jeopardy! in an episode playing this coming Tuesday. Come over to my place if you want to watch it!

The text prediction on my phone thinks that "leopardy" is a word.

Josh, as a science/tech writer, is also the plot-device/worldbuilding uncle from Asimov's story The Dead Past.

Some people wet a toothbrush before putting toothpaste on it, and some don't.

Even good people can't resist making an obvious joke about Governor Paterson's blindness.

I was reminded that one incident can lead to multiple legal charges. Prosecutors can slice ten seconds' worth of actions into infringements of several laws in different degrees.

I have an easier time reviewing written notes than memories of purely oral instructions. If I won't have the safety net of any written instructions, I have to take notes on the oral instructions or repeat them back to the teller, especially if there are steps that seem like duplicates. This is a repeat lesson from my time on the farm last year.

Witnesses often have to give approximate times, durations, or addresses. Numbers in general are hard to remember.

I give people the impression that I am smart and read a lot of books, and am possibly a doctor or lawyer.

The 1928 version of the NPR-listening vegetarian body-piercing liberal was "card playing, cocktail drinking, poodle dogs, divorces, novels, stuffy rooms, dancing, evolution, Clarence Darrow, overeating, nude art, prize fighting, actors, greyhound racing, and modernism."

Some people would rather sit around and do nothing, and complain of being bored, than read.

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(1) : Creak: I accidentally brought home the NYT crossword puzzle on Wednesday and Leonard and I solved it together. We repeated the endeavor yesterday and today. I've begun reading the paper during my commute, including the obituaries. (Interesting fact: St. Louis's Gateway Arch was designed by Eero Saarinen, which makes sense now that I know it.) Leonard fears we have instantly aged 15 years.


: Check The Contrast: I am Cinderella!


: Waiter Rant Book Signing: Who wants to come with me to Tuesday's book signing by the author of Waiter Rant?


: If Only: Leonard reported seeing a guy with an Open Planning Project tee moving into our building. I garbed myself in my oldest EFF tee and went to welcome him. Turned out he was just helping a friend move out. Blah!

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: Service, Cont.: Jury duty continues. Yesterday I called myself a prude and was called a prune. It all works out.

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: Group Dynamics Were Never My Strong Suit: Bought today at the hardware store: new construction-grade earplugs (with baffles) and earmuffs. Together they should reduce incoming sound by 45 decibels. Will that keep me from hearing Adam Sandler movies and loud vulgar conversations so I can concentrate on my book? I'll find out tomorrow!

The loud, talkative juror's voice cuts clear through my old earplugs, and my attempt today to ask her to curb talk of sex a bit mightily failed to achieve its objectives (despite my carefully-laid groundwork). So, for several more working days, I'll be trapped in a jury room with a loud, verbose, repetitive person who has a bone to pick with me. Thus, new noise-reduction gear.

At times like this I remember the adage, Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.


: Further Reports: My jury seems to have settled into watching Adam Sandler movies while waiting for Assistant District Attorneys to show up and occupy our time. Better Sandler movies, which merely confirm existing prejudices, than vigilante/rogue cop movies. We've gone from Anger Management (wincertainment, in case The Office is too highbrow for you) to I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (why are Buscemi and Akroyd in this again?) to Reign Over Me (Cheadle pulling Sandler into respectable territory). I've threatened to bring in Punch-Drunk Love, which Roger Ebert called the key to all Sandler films.

Also watched: Charlie Wilson's War, aforementioned crime/cop stuff, and Hitch. One ADA immediately won my good graces by coming in, recognizing the freeze-frame of Hitch, and imitating a signature dance ("This is where you live").

Some ADAs are smoother than others. Some interview witnesses and have the knack of hinting and leading them along the right track. Others let jargon get in the way of asking questions in a way non-attorneys can understand. ADAs get into the habit of saying, "What, if anything, did you observe?" or "Would [piece of evidence] refresh your recollection?" We've heard those so often that they take on the flavor of religious ritual and infect our speech. "What, if anything, did you have for lunch?"

Grand juries have to watch out for fishing expeditions, vendettas, and mistakes.

Interpersonal stuff is still dicey, and I am really glad my jury does not run on a reputation economy or I'd starve. But I haven't been burned as a witch or anything. The earplugs and earmuffs help. When we're not on a case, I can listen to my ears ringing and read my Neal Stephenson.


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