A somewhat meandering essay on the limits of parallel pursuits, namely about three. Containing examples of how this applies, how it doesn’t apply why three may be quite wrong. Woven in with a long overdue account of recent events, which have some small bearing on the topic at hand, and why I’ve been preoccupied and silent for a rather long time
Idea put down 2008-02-22 and slightly expanded 2008-07-06; most writing from 2008-09-20 and 21.
I have a theory of sorts, that a person can really only do three things at a time with any degree of quality. (You might have seen an indirect reference earlier.) This was based on simple empirical observation. In college, programming got replaced with game playing. Afterwards, working and martial arts pushed out game playing and then game making. The harp didn’t long outlast getting more involved in the Condo association.
In spite of this, I was trying to do four again; five if you count general reading and education.
During the winter I had a pretty good run at CGD. However, despite the fact that I enjoy the programming, it seemed like I was always running a little behind on everything else. Now, the CGD project was a deliberate attempt to do more programming and less of everything else, so I can’t complain too much, but it does point to the limits of multiple pursuits.
Furthermore, that backlog made things almost, well, stressful. I’ve begun to theorize maybe it really is four things, but the fourth is leisure, which everybody needs a little bit of to stay sane.
The CGD project actually got put on hold for a while. Up until late August I was in the shadow of martial arts testing again. Since then I’ve been alternately recovering, catching up, or simply out of the habit of writing and several other things. I did attempt to learn from the last testing eclipse two years ago, by starting to work on a bit of new curriculum, the Kwon Bup – a set of 57 specific defense techniques derived from Kenpo. I successfully wrapped my head around it in a couple of months, using a few minutes each day, which did have benefits, in terms of being able to teach the material. When it was decided to make our 5th form a combination of the Kwon Bup (making for a huge form) my preparation also laid the foundation for putting the pieces together in a fit of inspiration into the optimal processes – a combination of cards to record the results and computer programming to calculate the future.
That brings us up to November 2007. This was about the time I started getting serious about programming. With the immediate task of the Kwon Bup out of the way, I mostly didn’t think about the martial arts stuff too much. Finally, earlier this year (you might notice that a lot of these essays were conceived around February, and are still getting written) I started looking at the latest version of test curriculum and realized that one of the changes was huge – 34 Kenpo techniques – and probably wouldn’t be covered in class. I did start working, on my own time, early. There was a bit of a lull at work at the time, and I did wrangle the particular beast that concerned me. However, the test was still ‘six months away’, so I continued with my original plan of making a great tour of all the material I knew.
Then my paid employment got busy, amidst the rest of the summer onslaught. By the time the next lull came along, the test was immanent and I hadn’t yet gotten to the specific material I was due to be tested on. One of my lessons from this experience is to do the essential stuff first. In any case the other ‘things’ started getting pushed out, and by the last month I was pretty solidly in 2-thing mode.
The test itself went fairly well, with only a few small slip ups; many of my weakest areas never showed up. The preparation was the real killer. I don’t plan on testing again for some time after this; it just takes too much time. The funny thing is I do kind of like to focus in on things, but there is no balance to take up the slack – there are classes almost every week now, and some weekends.
Despite enjoying focus, I must have some tendency towards being a jack-of-all-trades, because I picked up the harp again after the test was over. Music is something kind of foreign to me; I think one of the main attractions may be that I don’t like having a hole in my understanding. However, it puts me up to six things, without counting leisure.
I’m not a very good jack though – I usually find myself caught up short in conversation because the few topics on which I’m fluent in aren’t of general interest. I’ve considered that perhaps I ought to find a like minded social network, but of course that would make seven. It also runs against my homebody tendency; South Elgin doesn’t exactly evidence being a hotspot for programmer types, and something has always bothered me about traveling for companionship.
Am I contravening my own law-of-three? We’ll I’m cheating a little bit. Leisure is still a bit up in the air. I’ve gone to a 4-day work work, and I’m contemplating 3. Some things, like the condo association, come in short bursts, and others, like reading, are highly elastic; things like programming and harping are elastic in a pinch.
It’s interesting to draw a distinction between the things that are (or feel) hard, and those that are elastic. The hard ones I barely dare touch involve other people – employment and martial arts. Employment also touches on another sort of virtual thing, which, like leisure, is so pervasive that it hardly counts. Survival. Eating, sleeping, showering, finding shelter and food.
The elastic, or soft, ones only ‘matter’ to me. If I stop, I don’t die (unless we give an awful lot of weight to stress or depression) and the only reproach I fear is my own. Still, they matter, to me, and since I’m the one one making my decisions, I’m attempting to arrange my affairs so that I can pursue them.
There is a deep conflict here, or at least I feel one, between the things society values – the products of my labor which I’m paid for, and teaching at the martial arts school, which taught me and forms, unfortunately, my only real community, on one hand, and things only I value on the other hand.
Nothing’s that simple of course – the general reading has indirect feedback effects on my job for instance, but in it’s broadest sweep, you have the things I do of my own volition, and the things I do for money or peer pressure. This is a pretty deep topic, and I think it deserves it’s own essay – I suppose writing is another ‘thing’, which I’ll have to fit in somewhere.