On Arbitrary Deadlines & My Insanity

Deadlines. Where to start? Deadlines are kind of cool to me, in that they are to the moments one remembers on one’s death bed as a day passing into another and another is to the continuity of a life. Big moments, turning points, game changers, or whatever you want to call them, are examined chronologically by various Bokanovsky groups and are assumed to be the causes and effects of each other.

 This, of course, assumes that the camera must have been filming elsewhere in the meantime. As if you and I and every human being that ever lived just sat around an oval table the size of the flyover states and waited for our turn to draft in the current round. What excitement when it is finally our turn again! Adrenaline abound. The clock ticks, we abandon our plan five or six times only to come back to it, check the clock again, and blurt out whatever name resonates most with our hearts during the second-and-a-half that we scan seemingly every opportunity in this world and all of those that we’ve ever put ourselves into. Some argue the choice was predetermined. Some argue it was utilitarian. Some argue it was logical; still some say it was done in the heat of the moment. But they say something, they say everything. Why? Because it was our pick, our time on the clock, our moment, our action scene, our deadline.

 The rush of calculating our options and choosing a path forward steadily declines until we see the immediate results of the choice that we made. What “other people” probably do at this point is just sit around and go to work, find or continue a routine, do nothing of note. Until the next deadline. Until their pick in the next round.

 This peaks-and-valleys view is not truly reflective of a human life, though. People other than us live this way, sure, but not us. Our story is so much more complex than that. Our story is continuous. To quote every guest on The Maury Povich Show, “Y’all don’t know me.” This is true. We don’t know you, father of 4 with 3 different women, who made a national television appearance in a stained wife-beater and a scumstache. We don’t really know you. But we know enough. We’ve heard the bullet points.

 The struggle between trying to appreciate the complexity and room for growth in every human life and looking for the deadline decisions, the bullet points, is one that I try to combat as best I can. I’ve come to the conclusion that our nature is to look for the highlights (and lowlights). I think this is the product of the scarcity of time. If we did our best to really understand and engross ourselves in every little mundane experience that another person had, we’d be lucky to almost know about three humans before our time ran out. We simplify in order to open up time and brain power for other things. This simplification necessarily means looking at the lives of others, and oftentimes ourselves, with the skimming eye of one looking for comments inserted onto a SoundCloud file.

 A person will say to another, “I bet that thing that happened or decision you made that one specific day really set you on your path toward all of those other line breaks that I see in your story,” and another wants grab a person and shake them and say, “Yeah, but you’re discounting all of the other stuff that happened in between and all of the other influences that made me decide to do that one thing in the first place and the continuity of it all.” And a person says, “I’m sorry, another, but I just don’t have time to understand all that.”

 Now that you get what I think I’m trying to say about the arbitrariness of deadlines in general, let me move to something even more absurd: arbitrarily setting a deadline.

 That’s what I’ve done to myself. In a conversation with the most important person in my life, I decided to arbitrarily set a deadline at the end of this year. What are the terms of the deadline? What needs to be accomplished in 2013? Would that I knew. But the origin story of the setting of the deadline amounts to the following.

 I have the ability to make a notable (to me) increase in dollars brought in, but I’m not sure it’s what I “want to do.” I’ve been kicking the can down the road regarding this decision of which path to take. What is the other path? Good question. I’ve always considered myself a creative person, although no, the irony of saying that whilst publishing this unedited mess of a post is not lost on me. I tried writing about hockey, my first true love, for a good while (3 years), but it just didn’t feel important anymore. I had a blog that only I posted to, it had a good amount of page views, but it felt stupid to continue to waste my mind on a league that exists entirely to sell its fans to corporate sponsors. By the way, that’s every major league on the planet. The fracturing of a conscious sports fan is its own essay, and one for another day.

 I started this blog for a few reasons. 1) I wanted to spread and comment on things I found to be awesome, funny, beautiful, or true. I want to do this because when I find other people doing it I am thankful for them, and I think I’ve come across enough stuff in my 28 years, a few of which I’ve even been awake, that I have a little something to contribute to the subject; 2) I wanted to share some original writings. I want to get as much terrible shit out as soon as I can so I can finally get good at the whole thing. So maybe someday I’ll feel confident enough to publish anything I care about; 3) I wanted to figure out exactly what was on the other side of my funnel. I feel like my mind is scattered, although I’m not convinced that’s uncommon. So much of my past feels utterly wasted, and I am aware of the cursing I’ve done of myself over this lost time. I know berating oneself over the past is a waste of time and can be paralyzing, so I started this thing to see if I can’t just work myself out of those feelings of irreparable setbacks and hone a craft; 4) I just fucking loved the pun / pseudonym that I chose for the blog. I feel like now is a good time to point out that I came across Vercingetorix, and my chosen pronunciation of his name, through Mike Duncan’s The History of Rome podcast. Thank you for using a soft “c,” Mike. You changed everything for me.

 So, there. I felt like my endeavors at being a “successful” writer were being hip-checked at every turn by this nagging guilt trip I lay on myself and project onto people who care about me. I suffer from this subliminal guilt most of the time I’m not at work proper and just enjoying some reading or writing because why aren’t I doing what needs to be done to get ahead? It’s been bugging the fuck out of me. Sorry for the language, but posts like these aren’t meant to be censored.

 The strange thing is that when I’m watching a game, for instance, I don’t feel this guilt at all because that’s just unwinding time (which yes, I realize makes no fucking sense). So, I don’t feel guilty about wasting time watching professional athletes play games for teams that I do not even care about, but I do feel guilty when I’m writing anything at all, or even reading if I’m doing it as a writer, because odds are it will turn out to be fruitless and someday in the future I will rue all the money that isn’t in my bank account and all of the options I won’t have. It’s a sickness.

 Do any of you know what I’m talking about at all, or is my stupid self-shackling just a product of majoring in business and growing up believing all the talking points? If you got to the end of this post, thanks. Good on you. I guess. Bottom line is if none of the seeds I’ve planted or plan on planting look like bearing fruit come the winter, I’m going to move forward and sell my soul and be surrounded by just not quite the right kind of people. Just not quite the ones that I would feel like telling the capital-t Truth to.

 The arbitrary deadline works both ways, I think. I didn’t feel liberated to truly pursue writing as a career (or even a possible career) because half of me wondered if the time was being wasted not “getting ahead.” But I also know that I haven’t made the decisions necessary to “get ahead” because at least half of me is raging against getting old and never really trying to do what I love. So, holy shit. The deadline felt liberating two nights ago. All it took was one 1,100-word short, followed by an audible, “This is crap,” to throw me back into fear about the next six months passing without remark. I really don’t want that to happen. I might need your help, though I won’t ask for it. I certainly will need luck. But I’ve been granted six months to feel free from advancing my other career, in an effort to spark the one I truly want. An arbitrary deadline, but one that had to be set somewhere.

[editor’s note: this got insane quickly. I hope to leave it up.]


Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is Great Fictional Dialogue

I came across Ernest Hemingway’s very short story Hills Like White Elephants thanks to Brad Reed’s podcast. The topic was how to improve at writing dialogue in fiction, and one of the sections addressed Hemingway’s look inside a couple’s veiled debate over what Jonah Hill might refer to as a smushmortion as an example of two characters having very different agendas within the same conversation.

Link to Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.”

The degree to which the man’s and woman’s agendas are opposed is comical. Here’s this dude, acting like the decision is ultimately the woman’s, but refusing to put the topic to rest until she agrees to have the procedure and terminate the pregnancy. I mean, “it’s awfully simple, Jig.” He pretends as if nothing is wrong in the world – indeed, as if nothing between them had changed since their good old days. It’s not even his refusal to let the pregnancy be a catalyst of change between them; he seems to be trying to deny the passage of time itself.

Meanwhile, we have this pregnant woman who wants nothing more out of this conversation than for it to be over. Ideally she wants him to relate to her, to get what she’s saying, to acknowledge the huge fucking white elephant in the room, but once it is clear that he is only willing to throw glancing jabs that never satiate her desire to be an evolved adult, she shifts her desire to the singular relief that can only come from his shutting the fuck up.

I really like this piece of short fiction. There are many other things to look at in this 1,459-word story relating to Hemingway’s style, but I’ll leave those analyses to the people who have already done them. The kick I got out of “Hills Like White Elephants” was the humanity in seeing two people seemingly having two very distinct conversations with each other, over beers, and waiting for a train.