Wed. Feb. 27
Grocery shopping with housekeeper
Work on Quarter Notes + own blog post
After lunch: drove Mom’s car to Walton’s
took care of low tire pressure
was informed – they also perform Volvo
My car – advised to wait until 75,000 mileage
Short nap at home
Took more pictures of bedroom for current blog
Next: outline this blog post
The above is a recent entry from a document I have on the desktop of my PC, which I titled “Daily Info Dump”, to help me recall of my daily tasks and compensate for my damaged short-term memory. Besides keeping track of physical objects around me, I continue to struggle with recalling what I’d just accomplished each day, and keeping intact what I’ve yet to tackle. You can’t see it here, but in a Word document on my PC, I list my completed tasks in black, while what I still need to do are in red. Without something to help me organize it, daily life quickly deteriorates into utter chaos.
Projects that I’d recently worked on tend to slip in and out of mind. It takes a while each to resurface, and for me to recapture any progress I’d previously I’d made. I encounter additional trouble recalling these tasks at the times when they are needed, along with the bits of information associated with them. Even when I jot them down on paper whenever I can, I later struggle to locate where I’d placed them.
That’s only the beginning. While working on anything that involves a significant amount of thinking, my short-term memory fills up quickly and begins to overflow within minutes. Then I feel the need to step away multiple times; move to a different setting, or shift to an unrelated task – to help generate additional “space” for new information, and bring back my clarity of mind. This is why, most of the time, I enjoy running simple daily errands for my parents, or being assigned other menial tasks to perform by my colleagues at work. Examples scattered throughout my “Daily Info Dump” document include:
- Trip to 3 local banks – deposit checks and withdraw cash
- Pick up Mom’s prescription at pharmacy
- Take Mom’s car out for oil change
During this time – as well as any other time I could grab or find alone — my mind goes to work, capturing all recent experiences by generating a constant flow of words. At the same time, I start shaping and molding these words into the form of phrases, then sentences, then rough paragraphs. I fiddle with word choice, word order, and ponder most effective ways of presenting those words to others, if necessary.
Finally, I find time to pin them down on paper, or on the computer, for further refinement: grouping similar ideas and topics together, identifying causes, pairing them with their effects, and polishing my words until they begin to resemble the novel format that is familiar to my long-term memory.
This process is vital for the accurate storage and retrieval of my memories.
But each time I step away from a task when my memory becomes too full, whatever I’d been working on before also disintegrates into separate pieces — making it a challenge to recapture my previous momentum! Other tasks and reminders also tend to surface at this time, and grasping them before they vanish into thin air can further throw my memories into disarray.
I attempt to prevent all of this by spend lengthy amounts of time organizing my daily schedule, often working late into the night to prepare the next day’s agenda before going to sleep. For I still wake up on most morning to a mess of jumbled thoughts and impressions, requiring the organizational process to begin anew.
Keeping track of what I’d just accomplished day-in and day-out is a constant struggle. So is recalling the tasks I’d yet to perform for myself. Whenever I allow others to approach, I need to let go of this organizing process and shift my attention to fielding spoken words, which tend to wreak havoc on my memory storage and retrieval. Then, when others witness my resulting mistakes and misjudgments, it’s all too easy for them to assume my incompetence. Their subsequent interference with my preferences, along with the methods I’d adopted, tend to exacerbate my emotional state of mind.
The only way to make this process work is to severely limit all personal interactions, ruthlessly cutting them short when I’d depleted the words that I’d prepared for the occasion, or when my memory runs out of room to process new information. Then, the best conditions for my mind to organize everything is during time alone, while I am busy performing tasks that do not require much thinking.
One of the most attractive ways to refresh my memory, when stepping out of the house moving to a new location isn’t convenient, is, for a few minutes, to dive into the pages of a book whose subject matter is familiar to me. Thus, I have collected plenty of these over the years, storing them on shelves throughout the house:
But another problem often surfaces: each time step away, I tend to have trouble recalling where I’d left off upon returning! (The same happens after running errands.) My memory is attracted to visual reminders. To compensate, I developed a habit of leaving paperwork, books, and other physical objects untouched while I step away to refresh my mind.
More often than not, people around me see this mess before I am able to pin down words for the material and file them into my memory. Assuming my incompetence, they spew their criticism, assume that they know better how to run my life than I do myself, interfere with the methods I’d developed, and wreak further havoc on my memories and state of mind.
Throughout all of these processes that I’m describing, new thoughts – important or not – surface at random moments to vie for my attention. Grasping onto any one of them, however, has the tendency to knock other chunks out of my mind. I spend countless hours throughout the day trying to unearth previous ideas, and, when they surface, attempting to capture and place them logically (physically and in my mind) , so that I can locate them later.
Hence my attraction to anything that provides a structure for me to follow. This is the part that I miss the most from my years as a student – being given tasks to complete on a schedule, receiving feedback, and having classmates simultaneously undertaking the same experience to provide context. All of these structures infused a sense that my life was going somewhere. So, over the years, I’d enrolled in numerous courses, most of them on the writing process, and others to boost my general skills:
2001 ~ 2002 — Writing Your Life Story workshop — Torrance Adult School
2001-2002 — Novel Workshop — Writer’s Digest University (incomplete)
July through Sept. 2002 — Intermediate Course in Novel Writing — UCLA Extension
July 2003 — Product and Process: Structuring Your Story and Your Life —
August 2004 — Facing the Challenge of Memoir Writing —
September 2005 — Query Letter Workshop — Writer’s Digest University
Oct. 2005 through Jan. 2006 — Audacious Memoir —
July ~ Sept. 2007 — Meeting the Muse: Building a Writing Practice —
Oct. 2007 — Pitch, Publish, & Platform —
And I haven’t listed all of the courses that I’d taken online since then – after finding the costs and the commute of on-site courses too overwhelming!
Through the duration of each course, having to read and respond to other students’ assignments took copious amounts of time and concentration away from my own focus. The feedback that others left my own work also tended to be careless, with no real effort exerted. And course instructors
generally discouraged further explaining our written words to others, in favor of allowing our writing to leave their own impressions.
Then, as soon as these classes reached their conclusion, the freshness of their content dwindled, along with my incentive to move forward with my own writing. Eventually, it was their costs that deterred me from continuing on this path.
Only recently did I try another online course – this one titled:
THE PRODUCTIVE WRITER
One of the first lessons, titled “Time to Cut the Crap”, advised us to focus on our task at hand, cutting from my life everything else while writing. The same mantra was taught by many other books I’ve read on the topic.
This time, I could identify my problem with it right away: shifting to other tasks outside of writing is what allows my mind to process, clarify, and retain what I write. My problems are fending off interference while I am taking these breaks, keeping my trains of thought intact, and sustaining my momentum upon returning to my writing.
Daily schedules that I set for myself also have the tendency to slip and slide within my memory. To prevent others from interfering (however well-intentioned), I follow my instinct of keeping a safe distance from all people – severely limiting our interactions and cutting them off whenever my memory runs out of room.
Hence another habit of preparing for all face-to-face meetings beforehand, by anticipating the words I may have to express; capturing them on paper, taking hours, days, sometimes even weeks to process them visually; until a good portion of it has sunk into my long-term memory. Then, I need to do more rehearsing, to make sure the appropriate words and ideas will surface at the times when I need them.
This still leaves my situation at home unresolved, for I am unable to obtain significant distance from my parents. Not only do I need to translate everything into Chinese to communicate with them through speech; they lack the ability to understand me though my writing. Even if I have this writing translated, I doubt that they would take it seriously – with all of my daily mistakes and miscalculations that they witness.
So I continue to battle parents’ ways of thinking, and struggle to overturn their negativity and resistance. My father and my brother Jason have returned to Taiwan for the time being, but my mom still wears away efforts to organize my short-term memory.
After the departure of our housekeeper Livia, Mom had continued to reject the own simple meals that I put together for us at home. So, for the first weeks of February, we fell back into a habit from previous years, before employing any help in our household: ordering take-out from local Chinese restaurants. Without the interference of the male members of the family, I was encouraged to encounter some success on these attempts.
Fri. Feb. 8 New housekeeper arrived for interview with her friend
Mom found the conditions they demanded unacceptable (higher wages, all weekends & holidays off; plus paid transportation to & from the San Gabriel Valley on days off…)
Fri. Feb. 15 Another housekeeper was supposed to start work; never showed up – misunderstanding
Sun. Feb. 17 This latter housekeeper started working for us
Within days – her mother was hospitalized in a medical emergency;
I arrived home from work the following day – Feb. 18 – to find Ms. Yang back inside our kitchen! I couldn’t believe that Mom had actually allowed her to return. But Mom was convinced that Ms. Yang had learned her lesson, and won’t repeat her previous behavior.
Then, hardly a day had passed before she was already demanding a higher salary from Mom!
Despite her anger, Mom admitted that at least Ms. Yang was still familiar with all of our household procedures, and with mom’s preferred food preparation.
My own shackles were raised when this housekeeper promptly resumed her habit of talking on her cell phone late into the night, after I’d gotten into bed in my room next to hers.
I’d recently gotten up and pounded on her door, then told her to move into the room across the hall from me if she wanted to continue.
The next morning, Mom criticized me after Ms. Yang claimed that I had disturbed her by making too much noise – when it was actually the other way around!
I encounter frustrating situations like these whenever I allow others to get too close. Besides continuing to maintain distance from others when I can, I’ve shift attention to recording daily tasks that I’ve managed to perform successfully, however insignificant these tasks may be. Forming words in my mind and recording them in my Daily Info Dump is a start. I am also placing physical notebooks throughout my house, to keep within reach – so that they are within reach for me to update and refer to.
The current lesson on my PRODUCTIVE WRITER course is titled:
“Build Your Idea Handbook”
It’s a good reminder to view everything I encounter as material for my writing. (Giving the painful experiences a purpose helps soften their sting.) Obviously, I still need to find better ways to organize & recall all parts of my ongoing experiences. Perhaps this “Idea Handbook” lesson will help.
Anticipating the interference she is sure to raise, I still have yet to work up the courage to tell Mom about my plans to go to Europe with the LMU Choruses in June! Maybe an opportunity will arise in another week or two.