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The Whippet #106: Worried taffy

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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I am a naturally disorganised person who is, therefore, quite organised most of the time.  I have two modes: itemised lists on carefully labelled index cards, or spiralling into chaos. There’s no middle ground. I’m like the alcoholic who can’t have just one drink, except for disorganisation.

So when I feel the chaos spiral beginning — my head feels buzzy and static-y and like thirty people are pulling my brain in different directions and it’s stretching out like worried taffy — I do resets where I gather up all my tasks and think about goals and make plans and new lists and things.

People with ADHD often unconsciously try to address their dopamine deficiency by doing high-energy extrovert stuff or abseiling off a building or something.

I make plans. Your brain likes it when you make a plan, it thinks you’re strategising to hunt a big elk or domesticate wheat or something and starts generating dopamine so you can get it done. So I self-medicate by inviting friends to coffee and trying to make them talk about their goals, or making budgets even though I’m already on top of my budget.

I’ve done this since I was a little kid. My brother and I used to schedule what we called Business Lunches where we’d plan out what to save up for with our pocket money. Instead of coffees we’d each have an eggcup of grated parmesan cheese. Which actually, real business lunches should bring in, in my opinion.

Anyway, here’s my Personal Kanban wall! It’s two weeks old and did a lot for the COVID mood… bad… I was having. Even if I don’t end up sticking to it, it’s already done enough good to justify itself. And it was fun to make, so it’s all benefit and no cost.

  • Green: home / admin
  • Blue: Whippet / freelance / other growth-y stuff
  • Pink: My main employer
  • Orange: fiction-writing / fun activities

I can go into more detail about how I use it and what kind of brain problems a Personal Kanban is good for, if people want.

“Non-verbal accents” — people can tell your nationality from a photograph

GOSH this article is interesting. Summary of research on various identifying facial expressions and so on.

  • Americans were given photos of Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals and were surprisingly good at telling them apart, even when they wore the same clothes and were lit in the same way. People aren’t doing this through logical deduction, they’re just ‘guessing’ — but their guesses are spot on.
  • Children can tell rich people and poor people apart from photographs, even just from photographs of their eyes or mouth. Depressingly, it’s because rich people look happier. When the researchers asked all the photo subjects to look positive, the difference disappeared.

Australians apparently have a distinctive wave that means Americans in one study were able to correctly identify them. I have been obsessing about this since I read it. I tried to figure out what my husband’s “natural” wave is by guiding him through a visualisation exercise in which he encountered a friend on the street. I think, I THINK, that the difference might be that Australians don’t actually wave — at least I can’t imagine doing it. I would raise my hand but then hold it still, it’s more of a salute.

I was on a Zoom call with three Americans this morning and asked them to wave at me to see if I could spot it, and they waved their hands back and forth vigorously and I was like “aha, that’s it!” but then I realised they weren’t doing the American wave, they were doing the Zoom wave, which I guess is a non-verbal accent we’ve all adopted.

There’s a tonne more, I really recommend the whole article.

Glitch rugs by Faig Ahmed

I love these, I love glitch art and art that involves messing with the ordinary objects of our day to day life, like these fine china weapons, or this broken crockery mended with found objects like barbed wire and birds’ nests.

More of Ahmed’s glitch rugs here.

2020 has drastically changed our attitude to being vulnerable in public

This excerpt from comedian Jack Druce’s always excellent newsletter is on the money, I reckon:

Pre COVID, I was working on a bit of stand up about how some men have a hard time being open with their feelings. I wonder how it will hold up when I can do gigs again.

Last week I was sad about some news I’d gotten about a friend. I could feel myself starting to cry on my run. My instinct was to step off the track and get my self sorted out. I thought about it and decided that was a very 2019 instinct. Anyone I ran passed would understand and probably have been in the same situation sometime during the week. Even if not, in 2020, no one is thrown off or confused by public crying. Being embarrassed by a public cry is like being embarrassed by showing a bit of your ankle. It’s an ancient modesty for a different time. This is 2020 baby! If you want to pay for your groceries while openly weeping, you go right ahead, everyone gets it, and no one cares.

There’s also some stuff I really related to about the difference between writing for a small audience vs a larger one. Writing for a small audience can actually be more intimidating.

Monument to Yuri Gagarin

The first person in space, 1961. This monument is in Moscow and is cool as hell.

(Fun bonus fact about Yuri Gagarin. He was injured in a boating accent, and then had an affair with the nurse who attended to him. When his wife caught him with the nurse, he jumped off a second-storey balcony to escape. The resulting injury left him with a permanent scar above his left eyebrow. [Wikipedia] So overall, not a very successful job of healing someone from that nurse. Really a net loss.)

Unsolicited Advice: “Don’t come to with problems, come to me with options”

You’ve probably heard the very annoying and useless phrase, “don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions”? Like a) you’re the boss, it’s kinda your job to have people come to you with problems and b) this toxic positivity bullshit where you have to somehow frame a flooded basement as an exciting opportunity to learn about black mould.

But today someone explained what it’s supposed to mean, and I actually approve of it, plus it’s good advice for employees. I’ve paraphrased it as “Don’t come to me with problems, come to with options”. It means that when you encounter a problem, think about the consequences and what it means. So rather than just saying “I can’t do that work, you’ve already given me too many tasks,” you say, okay, here are the options:

  1. Turn down the new project to prioritise the original project
  2. Cancel the original project to do the new project
  3. Do both but deliver them late
  4. Do both, but spend half as much time on each. A half-effort job would look like this: [….]

And then it’s the boss’s job to choose and you can wash your hands of responsibility, as it should be.

I think part of the reason for that “come to me with solutions” thing is you forget how feckless a tonne of people are.

(Americans: “feckless” means like… the opposite of showing initiative. Extreme passivity. Encountering a problem and just stopping instead of thinking for two seconds. It’s not stupidity — it’s not putting the effort into think, rather than being bad at it.)

It’s not just in the workplace, it’s like when you meet someone who says “I wish my life was different. Oh well. No follow-up thoughts.” I mean there’s lots of ways we don’t change our life because it’s hard, or are there external barriers — that’s not fecklessness. It’s when you just treat it as a done deal, when there are still many other options available.

So “come to with solutions” probably kinda means “please think about the problem for 5 minutes to see if you can solve it yourself”. If you ask someone for help and you’re like, “I already tried x, y, and z” people are wayyy more willing to help.

In psychology terms, fecklessness is learned helplessness. Like, I’ve been very poor most of my life, and so I just sort of forgot that you can buy things to fix problems. I never bought socks, people just gave them to me sometimes, often enough that I didn’t run out. One time I did run out though, and my thought was “I hope some more turn up soon.” I wasn’t even totally broke then, and socks are only a few bucks! I was just so used to not having any agency that my only “solution” was “hope they just appear”. It didn’t occur to me that I could take any action to speed it up. I thought I just had to have cold feet till some more socks happened to me. THAT’s fecklessness, and yeah, it came from a history of poverty (it’s called learned helplessness because I literally learned that I was helpless, I didn’t imagine it) but man, it’s no good.

Even very smart people often have learned helplessness around specific areas, like tech, or fixing mechanical things, or cooking. Like “I’m not good at cooking, so I just get UberEats for every meal” when there’s a million tutorials on youtube teaching beginners how to cook. “I can’t keep plants alive, guess I just have a black thumb! No I’ve never googled ‘how to look after [houseplant species]’”.

I used to have it with mechanical things too, but a boss cured me of it. I was a barista, and I went to my boss being like “coffee grinder’s broken” (it wasn’t wrecked, just some handle had come out of a sprocket or something) and he took me over to it and was like, “look at the sprocket part, look at the handle part, how do you think they might fit together? Give it a go.”  (If it sounds condescending, it wasn’t, it was just training.)

I dont remember if I fixed it or not, but I gave it a go, and learned that you can use logic to give it a try, you don’t just say “that’s not my area, I can’t fix mechanical things.”

I suppose too little fecklessness is a flaw too, when your landlord is like “I’ll fix that electrical outlet, no need to call an electrician, I’ll just tinker directly with the mains.”

But it’s not actually about DIYing it, anyway, it’s just about acknowledging you can make changes to your life instead of being passive. Calling an electrician counts. Fecklessness is when you just go “oh well, guess I live in eternal darkness now”.

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