Need a mental tuneup?

XKCD on Misconceptions

What do you get for somebody who thinks they know everything? A dose of realism! Here are a few useful links to get started:

Follow the links, then follow more of them. Lots of good stuff in there – I sure found holes in what I thought I knew.

-the Centaur

Good morning, pilgrims…

lenora on the cat condo

… this is still not If it was, we wouldn’t be leading off from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Second Sunday After Christmas:

Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.

There are lots of ways to interpret this passage, but I’m most interested in the one by Reverend Ken Wratten of Saint Stephens in-the-Field church. Joseph is performing an action in faith – he’s moving to a different country based on a voice he heard in a dream – but based on a realistic response to circumstances.

Historians dispute whether the massacre of the innocents really happened, but not that Herod was a tyrant and madman who murdered his own family. So even though we don’t normally follow the advice we get in our dreams – and, for the literalists among us, note that in some circumstances the Bible specifically warns us not to – it was nonetheless a reasonable response to the circumstance for Joseph to heed that voice and get the heck out of Dodge.

Father Ken’s interpretation of this is that we should respond to the circumstances of our life in faith. Not assume that faith will magically shield us from all woes, but realistically look at the circumstances we have and, based on faith, take the response available to us that best fits God’s will. If you are not a Christian or other believer, substitute the idea that you should not rely on your ideology to save you, but you should nonetheless take the best action available to you consistent with your values AND the circumstances. (There’s more to Christianity than just Always Do The Right Thing, but I digress.)

So what does this have to do with cat spray?

gabby 5 seconds before whapping caesar just as he relaxes

One element of responding in faith is that God can use changes in our circumstances to prod us to action – if we are willing to look at our circumstances in faith and try to see how we could, indeed should turn it to our advantage. No matter how trying the circumstances…

Recently, we noticed a whiff of an odd smell and realized the cats had been spraying under a desk in our library, which I’ve been reorganizing. I wiped up the spray, picked up the stack of three plastic tubs of computer parts, and turned to take them into the kitchen – and a stream of cat urine slid out from between the boxes and dripped all over a pile of papers I’d set out to file. For those not familiar with cat urine, it’s the substance they used to “eat through the floor” in the movie Alien. (No it isn’t; that’s a joke. See the link below).

The cats had sprayed most of the under-desk shelf but the ridges of atop the plastic tubs had sealed it in and trapped the smell – until I moved it, when the funky urine landed on my pile of junk. Everything was trashed: the box for my MacBook Air, an old drawing book, some papers, a record … but, miraculously, not my comic book artwork, which, in one of those circumstances which gives succor to those of faith and drives our skeptical friends nuts, was completely spared.

God uses circumstances to prod us to make changes we wouldn’t do on our own. I had already decided, in a sort of general way, that I needed to purge my library: this brought the point home, and even helped me decide what to purge. My wife and I already knew we needed to get all three of the cats integrated or get rid of one or more of them: this brought that point home, and led immediately to a new plan of action. And we already knew we were a team, but had yet to really accept that we had complementary work habits, but when she cheerfully worked to 5am cleaning while I slept, and then I cheerfully took over while she slept, that brought that point home.

Religious believers, Christians, look on this as a reminder to look at the circumstances that befall you in faith, and try to find the action God has given you that doesn’t just cope with the situation, it actually improves it and brings you closer to him. And for skeptics, remember: fundamentally, we live in a spot of this universe where it is possible for life to thrive for billions of years. It may sound cheesy, but life will find a way: and no matter what the circumstances, you can too. Like pilgrims, you may find it takes a long journey, but at least it’s possible to reach the promised land.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Lenora irritated by a cat toy, our warring tomcats Caesar and Gabby, and a Youtube experiment attempting to replicate the “acid burning through the floor effect” from Alien.

BLOOD ROCK now under 500 pages…

Me at work at the kitchen table

Editing BLOOD ROCK in response to the notes from Bell Bridge Books is progressing. It’s been quite the challenge, but I’ve preserved the bulk of the book and got it to under 500 pages. I’m going to try to get this editing pass (#2) done today, a third editing pass done next week, and send it to the editors the following week.

-the Centaur

UPDATE: BLOOD ROCK is now 488 pages (as my personal reading copies are formatted, which is probably about 400-450 pages of a normal novel), meaning I’ve successfully cut 100 pages from the novel. And, as I hoped, I JUST FINISHED THE SECOND REVISION. On to pass 3.

New Year’s Resolution: Finish The Hanging Tasks

The "take one" slip for one of Office Depot's 5-shelf bookcases I use.
In the past I’ve tried various complicated New Year’s Resolutions. I’m going to try something simpler this year: I’m not taking on any “resolutions,” except for one I’m going to come back to later.

Instead, I’m going to review my past Resolutions and my Life Plan, update them, and come up with a set of goals that I’ll try to achieve. No ridiculous list of resolutions filling up my life in January, then forgotten by February. No public declarations of things I can fail at. In short, no pressure. Just a private set of goals, which are subject to tradeoffs based on my best judgment.

The one “resolution” I’m going to take on: in January, come up with a list of eleven Hanging Tasks, and tackle them, one per month, in 2011. I define a “Hanging Task” as: something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, that I need to do or would be good for me, that I’ve made significant progress on, yet not completed for a long period of time—but, when completed, would be over and done with and off my radar. So things like exercise, karate or learning new programming languages don’t count because they have no fixed end point, but reorganizing my library definitely does.

One concrete example of a Hanging Task is an essay on futurism which I was going to call “Ten for ’10”, but missed that deadline through a combination of procrastination and a genuine last-minute disaster that ate up the allotted time I’d set aside to finish the essay. As another example, there’s a nasty financial issue I need to deal with … in theory I could literally put it off until I retire, but it will make my life much easier in the meantime if I resolve it now. The problem? It involves a whole bunch of grungy paperwork which I’ve been “putting off.”

Putting off? Not really. There are a lot of things I’m good at getting done; there are others that I’m not. If I’m at work, I’ll almost always choose working on work over taking out an hour to do errands, even though some errands, like the grungy paperwork above, need to be worked on during business hours while talking with someone on the phone. If I’m not at work, I’ll almost always choose writing over blogging. It’s not that I don’t want or need to do those things; it’s just that I’m not good making space for them in my life.

So, for 2011: I will pick 11 of these (I’ve already got four off the top of my ghead). Set aside time for them, a few days each month, until each one is dealt with. The result: I’ll have 11 less things to worry about … and that much more mental space for something more productive.

Cheers to the New Year! I hope you enjoy yours.

-the Centaur

Pictured: the tag to purchase an Office Depot 5-shelf cherry bookcase, purchased late last year as part of my library reorganization project. I have approximately 12 of these 5-shelves from Office Depot, 13 2-shelf ones, 1 three-shelf one, 6 more 5 shelfs from Ikea, at least 4 more miscellaneous 5-shelf bookcases, and two wall-sized units, one from Ikea and one built by myself.