Priorities, discipline, efficiency — and a fresh start

February 10, 2014 in Blogging, Misc, On Writing by pacejmiller

fresh-start

I don’t need you to tell me that I suck. That’s why, starting from today, I’m going to be a new me. I had actually intended to write this post about a week ago, but instead I continued on my lazy, uninspired ways, yet another reason why I suck. But suck no more. The power of Christ compels you! Be gone, undisciplined self!

Shortly after I started my current job two years ago, I knew I would have a fair bit of time on my hands during the week. I started dreaming of wonderful writing experiences, magical ideas and just a truckload of awesomeness heading my way. Two years later, I’m still in the same position, with nothing but a sore ass to show for it. To be fair, two kids is no joke, and often I find myself just wanting to chillax and watch YouTube videos at work. The days, however, a rolling by too fast, and I was stunned to realise this weekend that we are almost 2 months into 2014.

I’ve developed some bad habits. I’d like to blame other people for how lazy and unmotivated I’ve been (lots of targets at work), but the truth is I’ve got no one to point the finger at but myself. I’ve been distracted and zoned out like Walter Mitty, dreaming of wild fantasies and unrealistic expectations instead of going out and accomplishing them. My focus isn’t where it should be. I’ve been disciplined when it comes to this blog, my work (day job and freelance, relatively speaking) and my exercising (for the most part), though for some strange reason I can’t seem to apply that same discipline to thing I want it to be applied to most — my writing.

I’ve figured out that it’s not that I’m afraid of failure or anything like that. It’s not that I don’t want to put in the work. It’s just that I have my priorities all messed up. I recently wrote an article on Elon Musk, the 42-year-old billionaire who co-founded Paypal and runs visionary electric car company Tesla Motors. His first ex-wife, Justine Musk (nee Wilson), is a Canadian-born author who bore him five boys — twins and then triplets! Despite having to look after 5 boys (OK, so they were rich enough to have lots of help, but still) and having to overcome depression and the SIDS death of their first child, Justine still managed to have three books sold to Penguin and Simon & Schuster. Now that’s impressive, and there are many more similarly impressive stories out there to make me want to stick my head up my butt in shame.

From now, I’m going to get my priorities straight. It’s not necessarily about sacrificing other things I want to do — rather, it’s about doing what I should be doing and looking towards the long-run as opposed to immediate gratification. I’m also going to be disciplined and stick to it. And I’m going to be efficient. I used to think multi-tasking was the shit, but I’ve come to realise it’s just…shit. If you really want to do something well, focus on what you need to do, zone in, and get it done before moving onto the next thing.

OK, no more writing about wanting to write. My fresh start starts…now.

Goodbye 2013, there’s gonna be some changes around here

December 31, 2013 in Best Of, Blogging, Misc by pacejmiller

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True story: I didn’t even know that it’s New Year’s Eve today until someone asked me what my plans were for tonight. Such is the cloudy mist of routine, exhaustion and apathy that surrounds me these days when it comes to figuring out what is happening outside the bubble of my existence. It felt like yesterday when I said goodbye to 2012 and ushered in an endless list of things I want to accomplish for the upcoming 12 months. And just like that, 2013 is now about to be over!

It’s been a strange year, to say the least. Up at the top of the list is the welcoming of my second child, the absolute highlight of 2013. It’s a different experience when you have a second one. In some ways you care less, and in other ways you care more. I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with a healthy boy, a very good boy, one who shits on the notion that “having one child is like having one child, having two children is like having 10.” On the other hand, his elder brother is growing to be quite the handful, so I suppose things even themselves out.

Family has been a gift this year and through all the trials and tribulations I’ve come to appreciate them more than ever, even when my parents are doing their best impressions of Frank and Estelle Costanza.

You know, it’s interesting. Whenever I used to think about who I would step in front of a bus for, there were always people I’d say “yes” for, though there would always be a question in the back of my mind as to whether, when push came to shove, I’d really be able to go through with it. When it comes to my kids, however, it’s a resolute and unequivocal yes. Not even a hint of hesitation. I guess that’s what unconditional love feels like.

While I miss my dear Sydney friends, many of whom I was lucky enough to catch up with during my most recent visit, the friends I have made in Taiwan have been awesome and play another part in my comfortable existence here, complete with regular movies, all the latest TV shows, the occasional book (btw, I smashed my goal of 20 books this year by going for 23), every Pacers game (yay!), and lots of great food and exercise. Oh, and evidently, blogging. But as I have said many times this year, comfort has been a double-edged sword that has sapped me of my career motivations.

That’s where I have to make some changes, man, for 2014. For real. Time to ramp things up and cast aside the distractions. And to be fair, a lot of my distractions are distractions because I allow them to be. That’s it! I’m clearing the plate and licking my chops. Next year, writing MUST be at the forefront of my priorities. Books must be completed. Screenplays must be attempted. Stuff needs to get done.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Now go and enjoy your 2014.

Back in the mix — where my stats at?

December 15, 2013 in Blogging, Misc by pacejmiller

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So I’m finally back after a month, the longest hiatus this blog has experienced since its inception in 2009. It’s a long story, but basically I took on a crippling freelance gig that sapped me dry for a week and then I immediately left for a three-week trip back to Sydney with two kids under two, where every single day was packed to the shithouse with activities and catch-ups.

But now I’ve returned to work, where I will do my best to start doing some serious catching up on this blog before the end of the year. At the top of the list is my best and worst movie lists of 2012 (that’s not a typo, I am indeed referring to last year), which shall be done , I swear, shortly. I’ve probably got one or two movies left to watch and I’m ignoring everything else left in the backlog. Rest assured, my lists for 2013 will (probably) follow immediately because I’ve been pretty up to date with those, though the arrival of a second child has made it nearly impossible to watch any recent movies that ought to be considered. Thor 2 has unfortunately already left my local screens and The Hunger Games 2 is in danger of following its footsteps, and I still have no idea how I will ever get to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I’m in pain, I tell ya.

One other interesting piece of news to report is that it appears readers have abandoned this blog completely, so I don’t even know why I am typing up new posts. My average daily blog hits already more than halved after I moved from WordPress.com to my own domain a couple of years ago, but from the start of this month the hits suddenly plummeted from 300-600 a day to less than 5(!). I have no explanation for the drop off other than inactivity, though two weeks appears to be a ridiculously short period of time for a blog to experience something like this, considering most of my regular hits were coming from very old posts anyway. I’m going to start posting regularly again to see if anything changes, but either way it won’t stop me from blogging. It’s pretty tragic that the blog has dropped from heights of nearly 10,000 hits in a single day to a single hit (so far) today.

[Update: Well, as it turned out it was a coding problem, and it has now been fixed, thanks to the technicians at Stiteground, who were very helpful and efficient. Tell your friends! The website is working again!]

That said, blogging is going to start sliding back in my priorities list a little bit in the future as I begin to shift my focus towards, at last, my novel(s) and screenplay(s). I’ve pretty much wasted this year on that front and I can’t waste another one with the shot clock winding down on my cruisy work days. It’s just gotta be done.

Giddy up!

No more excuses

October 16, 2013 in Blogging, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

no excuses

I was surprised to see that it’s been about a dozen days since I last posted. And is it really October already? Time flies when you have a full plate.

The last couple of weeks have indeed been hectic but have also allowed me to put things in perspective. My elder son contracted some crazy contagious virus again at daycare and I had to take a few days off work to look after him because we had to segregate him from my younger son to prevent contamination.

Spending so much time with him has been exhausting and great at the same time. He’s really become obsessed with basketball (“ba-ke-bo”, he calls it) and we went about four days straight to practice at nearby courts, sometimes for as long as two or three hours. We would then follow that up with a stroll to a mall in the afternoon and then games at home after a shower. My wife has her hands full with the three-month old so most of the time it’s just me and him.

Kids really are amazing creatures. Maybe it’s because I recently read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck (which I am in the process of reviewing) which is all about living up to your potential by equipping yourself with the right frame of mind. My son has that eagerness and fearlessness right now; he’s curious about everything and once he becomes fascinated with something he can work at it for hours and hours without getting tired or losing interest. He just wants to learn and grow, whereas most of us grownups just want to get by, or worse, achieve something without genuinely putting in the time and effort.

Initially I thought taking a child who hasn’t even turned two to play basketball would be a waste of time because the ball was nearly as big as him and he couldn’t even hold onto it properly. Besides, I wanted to play myself and didn’t want to share the ball. But he chased me around and whined and he whined until I gave the ball to him, and then he began trying to imitate me bouncing the ball off the ground. He stumbled and fell at least a dozen times, scraping both knees until they bled, but he wouldn’t let me take the ball off him or show him how to do it. He wanted to learn for himself.

Amazingly, by the end of that session, he had learned how to bounce the ball with his hands a couple of times. It was only then that he would let me teach him to try and bounce the ball with his fingertips rather than slapping it with his palms. He continued practicing for the next couple of days and got better and better at it, and he even learned how to throw (toss is probably more accurate) the ball further than before. And he was so proud that he had improved.

Unfortunately, he hurt his finger a little bit practicing one day and got scared of bouncing the ball, so I went and bought him a smaller and softer ball to practice with. He’s also become obsessed with watching basketball highlights on TV and loves flipping through books or magazines with basketball pictures. It’s the kind of childlike wonder and passion I wish I had. Not knowing — not believing — that there is a limit on what you can achieve must be a marvelous feeling.

Speaking of passions…I recently celebrated my birthday, and the sinking feeling that I’m not moving forward with my writing is starting to scare me. I’m still writing every day, usually on things I don’t mind writing about, but not on the things I should be writing about. There’s still that fear of starting, that fear of failure, that fear of not being able to do something as well as you imagine you could.

So I’ve been coming up with a lot of excuses. I need to exercise (I do, but maybe not as much). I need to watch TV (which is only true in the case of Breaking Bad, and that’s over now, and the new seasons of The Mentalist and Homeland and Revenge haven’t been very good, though The Walking Dead seems promising…but I digress). I have too many blog posts to catch up on (that is true, but they can wait). I have too many freelance cases to do (I have some, not too many). I have to play Candy Crush, Scramble with Friends and Plants vs Zombies 2 (I don’t). Anything but writing the epic novel or screenplay I have been planning to write for years.

A few weeks ago the names of a couple of my old classmates from my 2010-2011 writing course popped up. I was ecstatic to see that they had each published their own novels, some of which were actually projects they were working on in the course we did together. But at the same time it made me sad and ashamed to realize that I’ve barely touched my own in-progress works. And even with two kids and a full-time job, I probably still had more free time than them.

It’s not just writers either. People all around me are going after what they want. I have friends — some of whom I would never have pictured doing anything — running or trying to run their own start-ups and businesses. Studying things they would like pursue a future career in. Taking risks, chasing dreams — or even just doing something they enjoy more.

I have the time to do it too because of flexibility at my workplace. About three weeks ago one morning I was really pysched for some reason and started writing a screenplay. I got a couple of pages done — it wasn’t particularly good either, but I loved the thrill it gave me. I thought the momentum would carry on naturally and I would keep working on it every day after that, but I haven’t touched it since. What it’s telling me is that if I really want to do something I need to keep at it and don’t think it will come easily. Persistence!

This is on the fringe of relevance, but I will mention it anyway. Last Sunday was one of the most exciting days of my life. I went to watch the Indiana Pacers take on the Houston Rockets in Taipei — courtside — and the experience blew me away. I’ll blog about this soon, but what I want to mention is a former Pacers player I saw sitting in the stands. I was surprised to see him there because this player has not played in the NBA since 2008. He was a promising talent who was selected in the first round of the draft, but his on and off court attitude and drug use pushed him out of the league in a hurry. After playing overseas for a few years he’s still looking for a chance to get back to the NBA, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now and couldn’t even get an opportunity in the NBA Summer League this year. I looked him up on Twitter and it seems he is full of regret over blowing his past opportunities and taking the people who genuinely cared about him for granted. Now that he’s finally grown up and ready to play the opportunity is no longer there.

I guess this is a roundabout way of saying I don’t want to look back years from now and regret having squandered an opportunity to go after what I want when I have the time and energy to do it. So this is it. It doesn’t mean I can’t still do the other things. It just means I need to get down to doing what matters. No more excuses.

Getting back into writing with baby steps

July 18, 2013 in Blogging, On Writing by pacejmiller

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You may have noticed, dear reader, that I have been blogging up a storm lately. Contrary to my best laid plans, however, I do not have extra time on my hands.

I’m on paternity leave this week with the birth of my second child, but most of my spare time has been gobbled up by my ill firstborn, who contracted the cumbersome foot and mouth disease from daycare. It’s an awful affliction that can worry parents to death and requires around the clock monitoring and care. Even with the benevolent assistance of my parents, I am now far more exhausted than before I commenced this so-called “break”, and a part of me looks forward to returning to the office for some much-needed rest (and it has not escaped me how messed up that is).

The reason I have been writing — and reading — like a demon these last few days is because I’m finally starting to rediscover my passion again. I’m not forcing myself to read or write, like I had been at times earlier this year. Admittedly, it felt like a chore and I made excuses to avoid it. But now, I’m doing it because I want to, and I’m enjoying it immensely too. I’m hoping this is a sign of things to come (you stupid, stupid jinxer).

I don’t want to speak too soon. This recent change in attitude could be because I don’t have to write monotonous articles daily for work, or it might be because becoming a father to a new son has given me a sudden burst of energy. I’d thus like to keep taking baby steps rather than proffer some grand declaration. I talk a good dream like every aspiring writer, but lord knows how many promises I’ve broken to myself when it comes to actually getting something done, especially in the last couple of years (too many dick moves on my part, I know).

It seems a stable family life and a cruisy, stress-free and relatively simple job have robbed me of my desire to pursue the goals I once had. And while I despise myself for it I found the drudgery and banality of everyday life too taxing to overcome — at least on a consistent basis. There were days where I’d be productive at work, and by that I mean complete my professional writing assignments quickly (I use the term “professional” loosely here) so I could spend the rest of my day on my own writings, but such days were becoming a rarity. Instead, I wasted most of my downtime at work on junk like Candy Crush, YouTube videos, Grantland podcasts and sports news. It certainly doesn’t help when just about everyone else around you is doing something similar, fuelling a vicious vortex dragging us all deeper and deeper into a depressing realm of utter indifference.

We often don’t realise what we had until it’s gone, but in this instance I am acutely aware that the abundant free time I have during work hours is a rare opportunity. I’m not going to be in this job forever and there might come a time in the near future when I have to take up a more demanding role, and the last thing I want is to look back at this period regretting how I had wasted it (pretty much how I have viewed each preceding period In my life, sadly).

There’s nothing more euphoric than the feeling that you are actively pursuing a goal and you are putting all your heart and soul into achieving it. It’s something a few of my friends back home have been doing and I’ve been following them from afar with a mix of pride and envy. They’ve probably had far more setbacks than victories, but it’s their passion and drive that impress me the most. I want to feel what they’re feeling. Whether I eventually reach my goal is irrelevant, as long as I can tell myself, honestly, that I did all that I could.

So I am hoping that this minor revival means I am slowly turning the corner and that I will rededicate myself to improving my writing with a steady diet of reading, blogging — and once I get my confidence back — novel and screenwriting. For now, I just have to keep reminding myself: baby steps, not dissimilar to this.

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