Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gears

One of the dangers, I'm discovering, of posting blog updates after work as opposed to before is there's this whole issue of switching gears.

When I wake up, I have nothing to compare my mental state to besides sleep. Sleep is usually a neutral activity for me. When I wake up, I'm mostly at a blank slate, barring hangovers, illness, shouty neighbors or the like. I sit down with a big damn mug of coffee and fire away, fresh, with no preconceptions or biases.

Not so after work. It's a little hard to sit here and not rave about whatever the hell has been on my mind all day. If I were even 23.7% more of the sort of person who'd brood about work-stuff at home, I'd do just that.

Luckily, I have two things going for me. One, I compartmentalize like a champ. Once the time for doing activity x is done, I move on to activity y. Back in the worst professional periods of my life, it was a skill I developed so I could actually sleep and enjoy free time. Very handy. I don't really need it these days as much because I've aggressively crushed most things which could stress me, but still. It's there if I need it.

The other thing which occasionally makes it hard to change gears is also one of those hobgoblins which tend to haunt me at parties: namely, I code for a living, but write for fun. I have a master's degree in English but program for my day job. Whenever it comes up at a social occasion, I always get the same damn question:

"Why aren't you writing professionally instead of doing computer stuff? I mean, you don't even have a degree in computer stuff. Also, stop humping my leg."

That's a very good question. No, I will not stop humping your leg.

I don't really see writing and writing code as particularly different. They use the same creative sections of my brain. The parts of my brain engaged in composition and choosing words are also firing away when I structure code.

When I program something, I get the same sense of validation I get when I write an essay or a story or a dirty limerick (well, the dirty limerick feeling is only when I have to do something in Perl).

In fact, writing a program really isn't far different in terms of what you need to do than writing instructions for a very literal and kind of stupid audience. I'm convinced, if you walk into a room full of programmers, you'll probably find a higher representation of talented writers, or at least gifted amateurs, than you would in any other profession save for possibly professional wrestlers.* And in the heart of every poet lies someone you could probably train to code, if you used a shock collar and large enough stick.

I find that going from writing in the morning to programming at work is a very natural progression. One serves as a decent warm-up for the other. The downside is, since it's more of the same type of brain-sweat, I tend to lose steam pretty fast mid-afternoon. Luckily, that's why God gives you busy-work, inescapable in just about any profession you'd care to name. I'm fairly sure if you followed Gandalf around, you'd find him bugging out mid-afternoon to fill out a stack of forms.

Still, it's a little hard not to post blog entries in Javascript or Ruby at the end of the day. Probably for much the same reason I have to remind myself not to name all my variables, classes and methods after demons.

* Yes, there's a story behind that choice of words.

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