Of Gears and Brain Goo

I had a few hours of hyper-focus heaven today while I worked on my research paper, and now my brain is pleasantly fried. I do, however, want to get a blog post written today as well, and that means a) getting my brain to spin back up again, and b) getting it to switch focus to something new. Hah! That meant ten minutes of staring at a blank text editor window while every idea I’ve ever had for a blog post mysteriously went missing.

That switching gears thing is tricky, isn’t it? On the one hand, I can actually get through a flurry of simple tasks in rapid succession—but spend some time on something that requires more focus, and it’s like my thoughts get physically stuck to it. It takes effort to pull them away, and some still get left behind, lingering on the previous project like sticky gray goo. That leaves me with less to apply to the new project, and a nagging sense that I’ve left something incomplete, even if I haven’t.

So that’s where I am right now. I figured I could at least write about this difficulty from the midst of it, but my brain’s still pretty stuck. I do have a couple more things I want to get done today, including more writing on yet another project, but at least that one has some momentum behind it. I think I can at least jump on and see where it takes me. Bye for now!

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Irons in the Fire

I have a lot of irons in the fire right now. I’m technically on summer vacation from school, but work has been busy, and I am trying to use the summer to get ready to take the GRE and finish up the research project that will be part of my application to grad school. Plus, I am trying to expand the offerings in my Etsy shop (just added new things last week!) and my husband and I are exploring a new business venture that he’s been thinking about for a while. I also want to get back into a regular schedule of posting on this blog, possibly even increasing the frequency of posts. It’s kind of a lot to manage.

(I’ve always liked that expression, by the way: irons in the fire. It feels solid and businesslike, in a hands-on, creative kind of way. It’s a lot more appealing than saying I have a lot of balls in the air, because while I do kind of like the juggling metaphor, I’ve never been very good at juggling, so it makes me feel like all of those balls could come crashing down around me at any minute. No, better to frame them as irons in the fire, as if I were a blacksmith forging pieces of my life.)

Long-term projects are particularly hard to keep up with at times. I start out with the intention to work on something a little bit each day (with wiggle room for off days) but when there are multiple such projects, it gets to be unwieldy. Not only is there often not enough time available once outside commitments are met, but some projects require more sustained attention than “just doing a little each day” will allow. So one thing I started trying this past week was designating a different project for each day of the week; my responsibilities on that day are then to take care of any paid work I am scheduled to do (and any other appointments and such), and then spend at least a couple of hours on that project. It’s like an additional work schedule, but one that I am fulfilling for my own work.

So far I like it. I made a lot of progress on three different projects this week, and being able to really get into a hyper-focused groove with them was highly satisfying. I left one day (Sunday) as a “miscellaneous” day, where I could work on anything that called out to me, catch up on things that hadn’t gotten done due to unforeseen schedule changes, or just take a day off and relax. I ended up doing all of the above today, which left the day feeling very productive but also nicely paced; I didn’t feel rushed to get particular things done, I just did them.

It helps that I really enjoy working on these projects, so spending most of the weekend being productive in this way doesn’t leave me feeling like I never get a break. Researching, writing, crafting, and reading are all things I look forward to doing, so having a whole weekend to pursue them does feel like a break. But I suppose I’ll have to see how it goes in the long run.

On the practical side, I drew up a weekly schedule on my home office whiteboard, and added recurring reminders to my to-do list for which project to focus on for each of the days. That way the schedule is constantly visible to me when I am in my office, and I get a reminder each morning when I look at my list of tasks. Both of these things are really helpful as executive function supports, as well as general memory aids; I’ve been using Todoist to manage my project to-do lists, and I’ve really come to appreciate the benefit of having some things be more visible by using a whiteboard. My husband and I have a household whiteboard on the wall at the bottom of the stairs, where we see it all the time. This has really helped keep both of us on track with things that need to be done, especially one-off or time-sensitive tasks that could easily fall through the cracks.

My main concern with this plan is that there are some days when I am just not in the right frame of mind to work on a particular project; if I didn’t sleep well, for example, writing can become hugely difficult. So designating a set day of the week for each project may not always pan out. But if I can remember to be flexible and just swap days with something I can work on, I still think it will be manageable. That already happened this weekend, actually, and I just made use of my “miscellaneous” Sunday to catch up.

So I’ll see how it goes! Just have to keep forging, one iron at a time.

An Active April

I’m sure I’ll write more about April as Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Appreciation Month at some point in the next thirty days, but…not today. Today I am planning and prioritizing all of the various things I need to do during April, many of which have to do with everybody’s focus moving onto autism for the month.

The first priority is my upcoming webinar for young autistic adults interested in starting their own business; that’s coming up this Wednesday. To to fair, its timing wasn’t specifically related to April, as it’s part of a webinar series that has been going on since (at least?) February. But I ended up with a date in April, so it happens to be right at the beginning of the all-autism-all-the-time frenzy of the month.

Then two weeks later, I will be participating in a panel discussion at my local community college on the topic of being a student on the autism spectrum. I’ve been in communication with the coordinator to help streamline some of the questions and make sure the focus isn’t entirely on areas of difficulty. I’m really looking forward to this event, actually, and I’ll be curious to hear what other students have to say about their experiences.

At the end of the month I’ll be attending the Annual Autism Conference put on by Autism Connections in western Massachusetts. One of the keynote speakers will be Steve Silberman, whose book Neurotribes is still one of my favorites on the subject of autism (and definitely my favorite by a non-autistic author). I’m not sure what else to expect from this one, but I’m curious to see what the overall tone of the gathering is, and how inclusive the organization is of autistic perspectives.

During all of this, I also have to get through the last full month of my spring semester, do all of my software-testing work, and keep up with my responsibilities to my coaching clients. Oh, and try to expand the contents of my Etsy shop, get some writing done, and have some kind of family life with my husband and dogs.

It’s a lot, but it’s manageable. It’s all about prioritization and tracking. Calendars, checklists, and to-do apps are my friends—actually, they’re way closer than friends. Todoist is pretty much my constant companion these days, and I highly recommend it, especially for recurring tasks that need to be done every day, week, or month. And I recommend including self-care and “recharging” activities on to-do lists, because they’re important, too. There’s something particularly satisfying about getting that feeling of accomplishment from checking something off your list when that something was itself relaxing and rejuvenating. “I got so much done today, including taking a break!”

Speaking of which, it’s looking rather nice outside. I think I’ll go enjoy it.

Work But Not “Work”

I realized something while I was driving to school for classes this past Thursday: I work really hard. Like, really hard. I had two journal entries, two longer papers, a test and a quiz due this week, and I got them all done early. This was on top of actually going to class, putting in all of my work hours, making progress on my novel, taking karate classes, working on crafts, and spending at least half an hour per day on my spiritual practice. Oh, plus walking the dogs and spending time with my spouse.

I actually do find time to relax; I played a video game for about two hours this afternoon, and I usually unwind with a movie or a good TV show in the evening. It’s just that there are a lot of things I like to do, and so I tend to get a lot of things done. But it takes a lot of work.

I am constantly, relentlessly, aware of the next thing that I need to do, prioritizing and reprioritizing as things come up during the week. (This is one reason I hate for my plans to be interrupted, or to have things scheduled at the last minute; it’s hugely disruptive to the map I already have in my head.) When I had that realization in the car on Thursday, my mind felt like steel: tempered and honed, cutting through unnecessary distractions. And I realized that it’s like that a lot.

So I work really hard, and I’m good at the things I do. But I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I am vastly unsuited to having a full-time job, or even a part-time job that takes a significant amount of energy. I haven’t had a full-time job since I burned out around the age of thirty; I cut my hours to part time before finally leaving that job, and I’ve only worked part time since. And even that stressed me out before I found my current remote position, which at least allows me to work from home and have some control over my hours.

Part of the problem is that both my energy levels and my ability to focus vary during the day, and from day to day during the week. That’s one reason I enjoy doing a lot of different things: when words are flowing, I can get highly absorbed in writing; when my brain is tired, I can make something with my hands instead. Working at a job where my hours are set and I need to do the same thing every day regardless of how I’m feeling or where my interest is focused is just…exhausting. Add to that the sensory and social aspects of an office environment, and it’s no wonder it’s a recipe for burnout.

What I’d like to do instead is build up ways to support myself with my own projects (really, for my husband and I to support ourselves with all of our various projects, since he’s also very creative and hard-working). It’s just slow going—and additionally hard when you throw in the need to have some kind of job(s) in the meantime. We need alternatives to the current structure of “work,” to be honest; whenever I try to think of ways to improve the employment experience of autistic people, it always comes down to, “Well, work just shouldn’t suck so much.” And that would be better for everyone.

Incurably Eclectic

This is a two-part update to my previous post, Making Things. The first update is: my Etsy shop, Incurably Eclectic, is now live! I had some previously-listed items that I had allowed to expire, so those were easy to start with, but I plan to add more variety in coming weeks. I really do like to make a lot of different things from many different materials, and on top of that I have ideas based on several different themes, so the overall effect will likely be very eclectic, indeed.

Right now my settings are such that I can only ship items within the United States, but if you are a reader of this blog and would like something shipped to another country, please contact me. I’m intimidated by international shipping options, but I have done it once or twice in the past, so I am sure we can work something out. I just wanted to give myself some time to figure it all out before opening things up to shipping everywhere.

The second update is that I have finally finished the chainmail dice bag I mentioned in that earlier post. It took ten hours and 1,455 rings to make, but I am very happy with the dense, fabric-like nature of the weave. I’m still going to have to find a bigger ring size that will let me make these in a more cost-effective manner, though; I want to find a balance between something that will work up quickly but also have a fairly dense weave that feels nice in your fingers.

Here are some pictures of the finished bag. Oh, and I’m also on Instagram with more pictures of my crafts, including Etsy listings. I’m incurablyeclectic there as well. 🙂

Stainless steel chainmail bag holding white and yellow diceStainless steel chainmail bag, empty and spread out on its sideStainless steel chainmail bag, cinched closed and shown from the top

Making Things

I really enjoy making things. That goes for creating intangible things like written works and computer programs, but I really find it satisfying to make something tangible with my hands. So I’ve picked up a number of crafting skills over the years, some more in-depth than others. I tend to cycle through them over a long enough period that I end up having to re-learn things when I return to them, but I also pick up skills fairly quickly so it works out fine.

Lately I’ve been focused on crochet; earlier this month I made a pair of fingerless gloves for an old friend I’ve gotten back in touch with, and another pair for my husband. I just started getting back into chainmail crafting as well. I’ve mostly made chainmail jewelry in the past, but I’m working on a new dice bag now, since I’ve also gotten back into playing Dungeons & Dragons on a regular basis.

Both chainmail and crochet can be very soothing, with repetitive patterns and attractive materials that I enjoy working with. They also both create textures that I find very pleasing to look at and touch. The pouch I’m making is formed as a widening circle, and the rings are small enough to form a dense weave that is essentially a flexible metal fabric. (They may not be the most efficient size to use, but I really like the effect.) The light glinting off the rings is also very soothing; my eyes keep getting drawn back to where it is sitting on the table, waiting for me to add to it.

At various times I’ve also enjoyed wood burning, leather working, metal stamping, and various types of jewelry making. I used to sell some of my jewelry on Etsy, but didn’t really put a lot of effort into marketing it. I’m actually thinking about reopening that shop soon, and expanding it to include examples of the different types of crafts I enjoy, as well as different themes that interest me. There’s nothing in there now, but I’ll share a link when it’s open. I’m calling it “Incurably Eclectic.” 🙂

Flat circle made up of interwoven stainless steel rings

 

Caught Up In Other Modes

I’ve been mostly in absorption mode lately; I’ve been reading a lot, internalizing information and perspectives that point toward some intriguing connections that still need time to simmer. In addition to that, most of my writing efforts have been directed toward updating and editing a novel I wrote several years ago, and I find that when I’m in editing mode it’s harder to generate new material. So it’s been tough to decide what to blog about lately. The thoughts that have been sparked by my reading aren’t quite ready to put together in a coherent way, and with most of my creative energy directed at the novel, it’s hard to pull my head out of that to write something else.

I could write a bit about the novel, I suppose, but as I think I’ve mentioned earlier, I don’t really like to talk about works in progress. I will say this, though, which amused me when I re-read it last month: I had decided to revisit this story to see if it would work with a clearly-identified autistic main character. What I found was that the only thing lacking was the “clearly-identified” part—this character was already so autistic that I had to laugh. I wrote her long before I started learning about autism and my own identity as autistic, but clearly I had put enough of my own tendencies into her that yes, the story would work with an autistic woman at the center. It already had one.