Tips for the ADHD Creative: Part One

Always always clear your workspace before going to bed.

Yeah, we’ve all been told this as kids, but I think it’s especially important for all people whose focus and executive function is naturally unreliable. I can leave a project in the middle, plan to clean up my office in the morning, and really mean it, and then it can suddenly be a week later. The office has just gotten messier, and I’ve been too stressed to go in there for days. I only know how long it’s been because my poor houseplants have shriveled up in the intervening time.

Sleep is when our brains tend to do a major reset. My mood and motivation when I wake up is at its least predictable. I may have been fired up to finish that project when I went to bed, riding high on many hours of focused effort, and I still might wake up with zero interest in continuing it right now. Then, that project is suddenly standing between me and any other work.

I tend to feel guilty when I leave something unfinished, especially if it produced some sort of mess. The guilt stops me from even wanting to clear up the project so I can do other things, because I feel that if I’m interacting with it at all, I should be finishing it.┬áThis is a trap. It’s a trap I could have avoided if I had cleared up the night before, before my brain reset.

Yes, it’s a bit of a dilemma if you’ve been working for twelve hours straight, and now it’s 4am, and you desperately need to sleep so you won’t be a sad potato in the morning. You’ve got to weigh the potential results, though. If you stay up an extra hour to force yourself to tidy up while you still have a teeny bit of momentum to work with, you’ll definitely be tired in the morning. If you don’t do that, and you do go to bed, and your brain resets, and you can’t face the mess, and you can’t use your workspace for anything else until you do deal with the mess, how many hours or days will take for you to recover from that?

If you work on your couch, like I did until recently, make sure you get rid of your old coffee cups and hide the TV remote before going to bed. Fluff up your pillow. Don’t leave anything in your spot that would require an extra step before getting to work. Charge your computer. This applies to digital mess, too. If your screen is full of the thing that you were working on before, will you be able to go straight to work on other stuff, or will you panic when you open your laptop and start binge-watching Youtube videos on time management instead?

For me, this means that I have a rule now: I can’t go to bed until my desk is clear, my chair is ready to sit in, and my laptop is charging. I know from experience that the cost of me being tired in the morning is not as long-lasting as the cost of me feeling stressed about going into my office. I’d rather plop down at my desk with a cup of tea and blearily mess around until my meds kick in than spend three days avoiding my office by doing every household chore and errand I can think of and then telling myself I’ll get back to the writing work tomorrow.

Whatever the space and resources are that you need to work, make sure they’re ready to use before you do something that you know tends to reset your motivation, whether that’s sleep or video games or another activity. You can’t necessarily count on having the energy later, but you can try to help take care of your future self when you do have it in you.

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Bonus: Your office plants will look prettier.

Writing days this past week: 7

I’ve Decided Not to be Afraid Anymore

At least, not of creating things. Heights and ants will probably always freak me out. (Don’t judge me. Ants are so creepy.) I am sick of letting the chorus of negative voices in my head have a say about what I do, though, because I really can’t do anything well enough for them. They are literally never satisfied, and they never will be, because they don’t actually want me to improve. They want me to stop. Doing nothing with my interests and talents is a shitty option, but it’s the only thing that keeps those asshole voices at bay.

This is a process, obviously, because nothing ever happens overnight, especially major changes in self-image and behavior, but I’ve been working on adjusting the way I think about myself. It’s one thing to remind myself that I have a right to mess up, and I do, but it’s another to tell myself that I’m already someone who can handle that. “I think I can” is different in impact from “I’m already there, and need to keep moving.”

It’s okay to be confident. Lots of people know that, and live it, but I haven’t. My experience was that any time I felt confident about any aspect of my life, I got smacked back down by someone, or reminded that I had messed something else up. It hurt, and it made me wary, because learning from the past is part of what makes us the really successful monkeys that we are. But, I don’t want my future to just be more of my past, so I’m telling that adaptable part of me that it needs to adjust its expectations accordingly. It doesn’t work so well with hopes and dreams for the future, but it kinda gets the here and now, and it really lives in the past. So, I’m changing the material it has to work with, slowly, one thought at a time.

I’m someone who can handle making mistakes. That’s true. I’ll probably still remember them sometimes when I’m trying to sleep, and cringe, but I really believe that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. I want to do things with my life that are worth embarrassing myself over. I’ve only got the one life to work with, and I’ll be damned if I’m willing to waste it for the sake of people who haven’t got my best interests at heart, trying to reach standards that were only ever designed to be impossible.

“Done” is so much better than “perfect.” “Perfect” is a fantasy, but “done” is right there, waiting for us to get around to it.

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Dogs have it all figured out. Be as goofy as possible. Lie around in the sun. Cuddle with the people you like. Bark at the ones you don’t until they go away.

Writing days this past week: 3

Educational Stalling

So, I got totally distracted by Youtube when I sat down to write this post. I don’t even remember exactly how it happened, but I started to watch something vaguely writing related – which I should have recognized as a dangerous trap in the first place – and then a couple of hours later I was learning how mincemeat pies were made in the victorian era.

Apparently, chopped tongue was a classic ingredient in mince pies, although you could use any other leftover meat you happened to have on hand. It wasn’t specified, but I gather that it’s supposed to be made with red meat, not bird meat. Some of the little details about this sort of old-fashioned cooking are really interesting. She boiled the lemons before adding their juice to the pie filling, but I have no idea why. It just seems like an unnecessary extra step to me, but maybe boiling does something special and magical to lemons that I don’t know about.

I am pretty dang tempted right now to try my hand at making some traditional mincemeat pies, so it’s probably a good thing that it is currently 2am and I can’t easily get the necessary ingredients. I doubt I’d actually be happy with the results, I would never get to bed, and it would mean making a big mess in the kitchen that I’d have to clean up tomorrow. It’s bad enough when I get a random craving and have to make late-night rice pudding. (By bad, in that case, I actually mean delicious. Warm custardy goodness with raisins and cinnamon… Yum.) Making mincemeat pies right now would probably end more like that time I tried to make flan in the microwave. As it turns out, microwaving custard ingredients is a really good way to get several mugs full of heavily sweetened scrambled eggs, but not a good way to make anything edible.

Some other random stuff I’ve learned about this evening: How kimono cloth is dyed, the art of Japanese candy sculpting, and also an incredibly expensive iced coffee that is only served in one shop in Japan. It’s barrel aged for 22 years and is served in the owner’s one-of-a-kind porcelain cup.

Oh, I also watched a fun video about annual killifish. Many species of killifish only live for about one year, because they inhabit ponds and creeks that disappear completely in the dry season. The fish lay their eggs before the water goes away, then the adults die and the eggs have to survive for weeks or months in the dirt until it rains again. Because of this cool adaptation, their eggs are extremely easy to transport. People can pick the types they want and have fertilized eggs shipped right to them in little packets of soil. These are then dumped into water, where the fry hatch and begin growing rapidly into these gorgeous little fish that basically look like aquatic butterflies.

A fish-keeper I follow ordered a bunch of different annual killifish eggs off Ebay, but they ended up sitting in his mailbox in the freezing Canadian winter for several days because of a mix-up. Recently, he was doing some spring cleaning and realized that he hadn’t actually gotten rid of the packages, so he dumped them in some water, just to see what would happen. After just a few hours, there were a handful of healthy fry swimming around in that tub, because honey-badgers apparently have nothing on baby killifish.

I choose to believe that all these random interests and distractions are good for my creativity muscles, because they’re not gonna go away anytime soon, so I might as well embrace it.

Last weekend, I went to… Skagit? I wanna say. Not 100% sure where we were, honestly, but I bought a candle that smells like antique drawers and took pictures of a cool old ramshackle building. (Edit: I was in La Conner, in Skagit County, apparently.)

Writing days this past week: 2 (I’m being generous with myself and counting extensive mental planning as writing work done. If all goes to plan, it’ll be written down tomorrow.)

Reptile Zoo Pictures

I went to a reptile zoo on Sunday, and it was awesome. It was hailing outside, and warm and humid inside, and I got to see all sorts of cute beasts.

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This albino alligator is an excellent creature, and I wanted to boop his giant nose. My boyfriend managed to capture my look of wonder.
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Monkey-tailed skinks look like wise old Star Wars characters.
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A large monitor, possibly a water monitor, but I wouldn’t swear it.
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An amiable box turtle buddy.
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African bullfrog, also known as the pixie frog. It looks like this fella may have been a rescue or caught an infection of some sort in his eye, but he seemed extremely happy and healthy in his dirt.
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The black mamba was very active. I think he wanted to come out and cuddle.
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Ornate uromastyx are gorgeous lizards.
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Gaboon vipers are super cute.
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A great and toothy boy.
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Green basilisk and his bromeliad.
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Blood python. I hold a grudge against these guys, because we had a couple at the store I used to work at, and they were snappy little jerks. Hopefully this one is more even-tempered, because she is very large.
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A savu python, I’m pretty sure. Apparently, their babies are plain terra-cotta colored, and they grow into this lovely iridescent sheen as they mature.
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Gotta have a bird-eater in any good critter collection. I’m pretty sure this one only eats roaches, though.
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This sulcata tortoise was busy contemplating his hay.
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Soft-shelled turtles have a special spot in my heart. I caught a Chinese soft-shell in a creek in San Jose as a kid, and they are really fascinating. This one was a florida soft-shell, I think.

What You Don’t Know You Know

English has a lot of rules that most native speakers know on an instinctive level, but could not explain to a non-English speaker. Order of adjectives is one of those rules, and it’s pretty neat to see how it works. If the order of descriptive words in a sentence is jumbled, it will just sound weird and confusing. The average person could correct the order so that it sounded right, but they likely couldn’t tell you why it was wrong in the first place. Sometimes the order matters, and can change the meaning of the sentence, but often it’s just a particular flow that we’ve all learned through exposure.

The key thing is, most people were not aware that they were learning it, and don’t know they know it until it is pointed out to them. Obviously, not everyone speaks the same way, and I’m not making any argument for the virtue of these types of grammatical rules. I’m just saying that this is an extremely pervasive thing in the English language. It is part of us, and most of us aren’t aware of it.

That’s why it makes such a great example of how prejudice works. If you can know how to order your words according to rules you never knew you learned, you can learn a whole lot of other things without ever being aware of them on a conscious level. Not all of these things are harmless, and many are not based in fact, but they are taught to us all the same, in a million subtle ways.

It’s easy to get angry and say you’d never choose to be racist, but the thing is that you never chose to order your adjectives the way you do, either. It is simply the way speaking is done. In fact, there’s no possibility of choice being involved if you aren’t consciously aware of learning something. You do not need to be a grammar snob to follow the basic rules of English every time, and you don’t need to be a hateful person to experience the instinctive fears and prejudices that are a part of our collective culture. Choice isn’t involved until someone makes you aware of what you believe, and the consequences of what you believe, and that’s not a pleasant experience.

It’s tempting to rely on your conscience to alert you to these sorts of issues, but that’s no good. Consciences aren’t magic. They’re actually pretty terrible judges of what is wrong and what is right. They’re much better judges of what is familiar and what is foreign. They’re formed on the same instinctive level as language, at around the same time. It happens when we’re children, and what we learn is generally reinforced for the rest of our lives by our environments. A person can be loving and generous, and also harbor terribly harmful beliefs about others. The only way to change that is to be willing to handle the shock of having those beliefs challenged. It will often feel, not just uncomfortable, but wrong. Incorrect. Against the proper order of things.