Sunday, January 04, 2009

Absolute Power

I've been noticing for a while that absolutes have a kind of power to them. Always and never carry a psychological and functional weight that sometimes and rarely and usually don't have. I started thinking about this a while ago, when I noticed the power of the absolute working in my favor. I never drink alcohol (because I'm a boring sleepy drunk, because alcohol's expensive, and because I don't like the feeling of being drunk). And when we go out, people are generally fine with me not drinking. But if I described myself as an occasional drinker, people always want one of those occasions to be right now. (Rarely, someone won't be put off by the never -- "come on, just have a few!" -- but we have words for these people, of which "alcoholic" is maybe the most polite.)

Relatives carry no real weight. If you usually exercise daily, there's no compelling reason to do it today; some days you do, and some days you don't, and there's no real reason today needs to be an exercise day. But if you stretch every morning, that in itself is a compelling reason to stretch today. It's a habit, like brushing your teeth. And, I never want to miss the day that turns an always into a usually.

I've spent too much time abusing the laxity allowed by relative terms. For the last few years, I've tried to write when I could, which functionally translated as "when it's convenient". And, writing is hard, and therefore rarely convenient. I almost never wrote five days in a row, and I occasionally went whole weeks in which I didn't write anything creative at all. I lead a pretty busy life, and trying to write when I could meant not writing nearly as often as I should. It's awfully easy to find an excuse for skipping today's writing; in the short term, what difference does it make if you miss a day?

But this reasoning falls apart in the long term. Missing days are cumulative. We're creatures of habit, and not doing something is exactly as much a habit as doing something. Being busy is no excuse; I'm never so busy that I skip brushing my teeth or taking a shower or emptying the cats' litter boxes every day. I shower and brush my teeth and engage in cat maintenance because it's important, and because it's a habit. So if the writing is important, there's no reason I should be able to find time to shower, but not time to write.

And don't get me started on my exercise habits.

But I'm trying this year to use the power of absolutes (to twist this awesome power to my own selfish ends, mwah ha ha ha!!). I'm writing every day, without fail. And I'm exercising every day, also without fail. It's already helped; yesterday was a bit of a busy day and a scheduling boondoggle, and I realized it was 10pm and I hadn't written anything yet. So instead of going to bed and figuring I'd make up for it later, I sat down and wrote. I'm giving myself a 45-minute daily minimum with the writing. More is better, but 45 minutes is the bare minimum. Blogging and e-mail don't count; it's got to be fiction or fiction-oriented.

I'm also requiring a mere five minute minimum of daily exercise. Five minutes might sound a little sparse for exercise, but I'm not counting cycling as exercise; my daily 40-minute-minimum commute is separate. So in addition to the daily bike ride, I need to spend five minutes doing something actively energetic. Five minutes is short enough that, if bedtime rolls around and I realized I haven't exercised yet, I can do five minutes of push-ups and crunches and sumo squats without giving myself insomnia. And it's a minimum. More is always better, and the hard part is getting started. Once I'm doing exercise, adding more time is (mentally) easy. This is mostly so I can develop a habit of keeping in shape on or off the bike.

And, I acknowledge that I have a few extremely busy days. So I'm giving myself an out: any day when I'm too busy to shower, I'm allowed to skip the writing and exercise. Though on days when I'm that busy, I'm usually active enough that exercise isn't an issue....

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