Dreaming of the shadow

I’ve had a very interesting dream:

I’m away from my family because of work. I’m working on some large project and many people report to me. Someone reaches out to me on behalf of a person who requested my attention earlier and I realize I’d forgotten all about it. I go there immediately, feeling like I’m losing threads of the whole operation because there are too many things to worry about.

The colleague who requested me is showing me how he’d painted a wall and there I am standing and thinking “Bloody hell! These people will tear me apart to brag about the smallest of things when I never get to brag about the great stuff I’ve been doing lately.” I tell the guy good work and leave. I leave things unfinished and I just get out of the building for some fresh air.

I’m supposed to be somewhere, but can’t remember where. So I go to another place, like a luxury hotel. Inside is a brothel and I enter. I partake in the various pleasures it offers. I don’t give in to it fully, just enough to have some fun.

I enter a shower with one of the ladies. I’m fully aware that by being there I’m betraying my family and cheating on my wife. Not to mention how I’m neglecting my responsibilities at work. We turn on the shower, but the water is scalding hot. The temperature regulator is broken, but it’s possible to make the water seem cooler by turning the dial that changes the way the water flows out of the shower head. We successfully set the temperature, but we leave the shower and go behind a table made of either concrete or marble (like an altar) that’s in the shower.

The woman who is with me is asking me some questions and I answer and then she says “Now I’ve made you feel really good about yourself, but from now on you shouldn’t speak about yourself any more.” The “session” was about to start.

Then the woman is startled by something and says in a worried tone of voice “The police are here for you. Where have you been?”

I turn around and indeed, there are two uniformed men telling me I’m needed outside. I tell the woman that these are my colleagues from work and not the police, so she wouldn’t worry and I turn back to the people who’ve come to fetch me. I’m still wearing the work clothes (including the long coat) that I have never removed and I exit the shower. People look at me and I’m embarrassed. Many of my colleagues are there and some are fondling the girls in the brothel and that makes me feel a bit less embarrassed because it makes me feel that I’m among equals, people who have similar vulnerabilities as myself. The look on everyone’s face says the exact same thing “I won’t judge you because I’m equally weak.” I’m invited to sign some statement – completely unrelated to where I was found – which I do.

Sometime just before I wake up I decide I should apologize to my colleagues.

I don’t literally patronize brothels, but a brothel is a very powerful representation of what I am doing. The dream is telling me a deep truth in a very revealing way; it is telling me that this is something that I should deal with as soon as possible. Because although I don’t go to brothels and thus cheat on my wife, betray my family and myself, and shirk work – what I do feels (and in a way is) exactly the same, down to the last nuance of emotion.

For some time now I’ve been filling up my Google Calendar with things that I should do during the day and I’ve been holding on to it quite well. Each day I plan out is a fine balance between work and family time. But an element of my self is undermining that schedule and that balance. I watch a TV show when – according to my schedule – I should be sleeping. I play computer games when – according to my schedule – I should either work or sleep. It’s not a dramatic problem yet, but I know it’s bound to become such, because it’s become such time and time again in the past.

It’s another pattern. I dedicate myself to the things in my life that I know will advance my family life, my career. Then something happens – usually at work which makes me feel resentful. Like some fool disrupting my focus, my line of thought, my project… because they want to brag about their minuscule accomplishment, or because they are incompetent. And some part of the whole situation is of my making as well. And it happens enough times that I completely lose thread of what I was doing. And I allow it to happen. And then, instead of picking up the threads, I just drop everything I’m doing and go through a long period during which I do nothing but undermine all my efforts on all fronts.

I first noticed this happening at college. Although there are a few things to say about college – not least of which is that I had to dedicate a lot of my time to things that I wasn’t even remotely interested in because the curriculum was such as it was – I’d often go through similar periods of explosive work, then absolute laziness. I’d have no measure by which I could make some kind of balance between work and leisure. I’d either work extra long hours and eventually burn myself out, or I’d let everything – including myself – go. I’d either work, always tending to every last detail, solve problems that would never arise, respond to every last prompt from anyone, no matter how insignificant and/or intrusive; or I’d completely give up and end up in a metaphorical (and sometimes less metaphorical) brothel, like Pinocchio when he ends up on Pleasure Island where he (almost) turns into an ass.

But then something happens. Something kicks my butt and I’m forced out of the mess, embarrassed to have given in (yet again). I’m wondering at that question that the woman who clearly plays a role in the shadow part of me asks. First she says, terrified, that the police are here and then asks “Where have you been?” But her question is not about my time in the brothel. She’s asking because she wants to know why people – people she thinks are the police – would bother me while I was with her in this private part of the brothel! But these people are there because the part of my life that involves work and responsibility requires my attention. Where have I been? What have I been doing? What did I promise these people that they have the right to intrude in such fashion?

So in the end – not only did I get nothing out of the brothel (I only just set the water to the right temperature) – I also needed to go back and deal with issues that have come up while I was gone, because I was gone. And the first thing I do when I get out of the brothel is – I sign something. And I don’t even know what it is. I remember wanting to read it, half-understanding what it said, then just signing and thus committing myself to it, whatever it is. Because I’m still distracted from the brothel and the way I was ripped out of it. I sign it because I feel guilty for abandoning everything and now I want to make up for it somehow. It doesn’t matter what it says on the paper that I’m signing. I have kept everyone waiting for so long that I feel I can’t allow myself the luxury of setting or changing terms.

And this is how I put myself in a weak position in many a negotiation. I fail to achieve a proper work-life balance and then at all times one or the other is suffering. And then I fail at work, and then I fail at life, then I fail at work again, and so on in a circle, ultimately causing me to fail at being my true self.

When the colleagues come for me in the brothel, I turn to the woman and tell her that it’s not the police. But she isn’t interested. She isn’t listening. I need to disappoint her because I’ve been shirking my duties at work by spending too much time on leisure. But she isn’t someone else, she is an aspect of me – an aspect that wants to have fun in a very particular kind of way, with the water temperature set just right. She isn’t interested in being disappointed yet again, regardless of who is interrupting. She turns her back to me to demonstrate her disinterest in my excuses. She did not get what she wanted, because I’ve failed – at work and at home.

She asks “Where have you been?” as if I was lost before I came to her, and now, whoever it is that’s come for me is someone from that other world that I do not belong to. “Where have you been that these strange people are here asking for you?” Implied in her question was that I was lost and that this was where I belonged. The brothel was part of a hotel and in this hotel something related to my work was going on – it might have been a conference of some kind. It is a symbolic representation of the fact that I am using work as a way to excuse myself from family life, when I’m not actually working, but rather taking some time for myself.

I do this to avoid what has repeatedly happened in the past: taking some time for myself with my wife’s knowledge invariably resulted in her using this as leverage in any argument, and making me feel guilty about it. By lying to her about what I was really doing the guilt remained, but at least she didn’t nag incessantly. BUT my work suffered and consequently so did my family. Obviously, I must find a way to better handle this situation.

I could never find the right balance between work and leisure when that was all I had to worry about. It was always a cycle for me. I’d have a burst of enthusiasm about work, then I’d have a long spell during which all I wanted to do was play games and climb mountains. Preferably naked. People told me I’d burn myself out and perhaps this lazy period was my way of dealing with a burnout, but I find that when I pace myself in either direction – work or leisure – I always miss the target, which is balance in the long run.

When I got married… wow! I’ve already written some things about my marriage. Long story short, I wasn’t big on self-knowledge when I married my wife. I was weak, I submitted to my wife’s every frenzied demand, I’d steal time for myself from either work, or from being around her (and the latter was a greater relief). Sometimes, especially after she’d have a “yelling spree” I’d wait for her to fall asleep at night and then I’d go out and walk for three hours at least. Sometimes she’d wake up and text me some fury-laden message. Sometimes I’d reply, but sometimes I’d just turn off sounds and vibration on my phone and deal with any messages when I thought I was calm enough. Walking was my way of coping. But things really only started changing when I grew a spine large enough to bring her divorce papers. And let me be clear – had we no children at that point, I would have divorced her even if that meant I’d be left jobless and living in the street. (I wouldn’t have been jobless, or living in the street, but I’d have divorced her even if that was the case.)

When I got married to her, my lazy-workaholic cycle was – to put it mildly – constantly interrupted by her incessant barrage of screams, yelling, demands, emotional blackmails, and whatnot. When I was lazy, I felt embarrassed and thought she was right and that I was a good-for-nothing. When I was being a workaholic she kept convincing me that I was being used and underpaid at work. The painful truth is that she was partly right on both counts. I’m actually being paid well for what I do, but the problem with work is that the work environment does not offer any opportunity for personal growth. I suppose my boss/father said it best a while ago, when he said that he would never invest in an education of his employees because they would then leave and use that knowledge elsewhere. What a “lovely” sentiment! Did I say my parents are the reason I don’t blame myself for my past mistakes? I mean, I try to take responsibility for them, but I feel absolutely detached from them, as if they were made by someone just trying to hold onto his skin in a torture chamber.

It was very easy to lose motivation for work in such an environment and by the time that happened I’d already felt I was too old and too out of touch with current technology to look for work elsewhere. So, I got lazy, thus continuing the cycle I’d identified at college. I started to move my “lazy” out of my marriage and into my work. I’d go days without writing a line of code. It was both a silent revenge on my father who kept me locked up in this unrewarding place where my coworkers laughed at me when I proposed better coding or business practices – and a way for me to get a breather from the life of someone who is being pushed around in all areas of life. And it wasn’t because everyone else was so great at everything they did, but because they were so vile and thirsty for dominance, and I was weak, frail, and submissive. This was me digging the hole deeper, giving everyone ever more reason and opportunity to push me around.

The reason this question “Where have you been?” is so incredibly interesting to me now is because I’m feeling that I’m entering this lazy period again. I keep calling it “lazy” period, but that’s not exactly what it is. I’m not lazy during this period. I’m just not doing the things that everyone else is expecting me to do. Like study. Or work. Or spend time with my family. I’ve recently reviewed some of the backups of the things I’ve done while at college and much of it wasn’t even remotely related to college. Backed up, I have a number of photos, some edited and enhanced, some videos, I have hundreds of texts (stories, poems, outlines, spreadsheets, charts, even some stickers I printed when I was involved in gay rights activism) and although I never backed that up because I never really got anywhere with it, I remember I tried to make some music. Not to mention the software projects I’d started and abandoned at various stages.

This mess, this jumble of things barely started points to another thing that I know about myself, which is that I have so many ideas that I have no idea what I want to do with my life*. One certain thing was that I wanted to have children, so now I do. But these “lazy” periods have always felt like I was sick and tired of living a life by someone else’s rules and now I wanted to cast my creative net out and wide and see what gets caught.

I’d already forgotten most of the “projects” I found in my backups. But two actually stand out. One is the novel I’ve already written about. The other is a software project I catch myself thinking about every now and then even though I’m not working on it.

But I know one thing for sure – when I set out to work on and finish these two things, I’ll still have to balance out the amount of time I work on those and the amount of time I spend on leisure. That problem will remain unsolved.

And it’s not just a problem of time management, but also of interruption management – as the dream suggested. I find that when I’m in my “lazy” mode I have the ability to simply ignore others’ demands for my time (at least while nothing’s gone from simply bad to absolutely catastrophic). I count that as a useful skill, but I definitely need to curb the “lazy” mode somehow, before I use it!

As I’m entering this period during which I’m being lazy, I’ve made a rather simple plan. I give in to it, but under one condition. I take one hour of my time and spend it on focused work on one of the projects. The rest of the time I let the net be cast wide. If that doesn’t work, I take less time on focused work. As I’ve been writing this post for several days now, I concocted this plan a couple of days ago and started implementing it already. Yesterday it worked. Today I’m implementing it again and going for two hours of focused work. Let’s see what the upper limit is.

There is another reason why I try to tend to every detail of large endeavors, not just because I’m often the only person on the project. I’m a perfectionist. It’s also the reason why I often solve problems in my project that are never going to happen. I’ve actually found a way to get that under control and it seems to work. So far.

I’ve been going through some financial dire straits recently and I had to cut spending. One of the things I quit spending my money on was a budgeting application. The reason was – I can make an application like that on my own. And so I began from structuring the database. Only the most necessary things at first: adding an account, setting the balance, changing an account, deleting the account, viewing my accounts – it’s a simple set of functions called CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete). That gave a nice overview of how much money I had on my various checking and savings accounts, as well as how much debt I have left to pay off. Then I added transactions – expenses, incomes, money transfers (from one account to another), and currency exchanges. Again: create, read, update, delete.

Then I added scheduled transactions, but I realized that those won’t work unless I had a live database somewhere – my computer can easily be turned off at the time when the scheduled transactions need to be processed. So now I process them manually. Then I thought it would be great if I could see what the balance of the account was after each transaction on that account. So now I’m in the process of adding that to the “read” part of transactions.

I only add the functionality that I find I need at any particular time. I use the application, I know what it’s for, I know what I want out of it, so as my needs surface, I satisfy them. Although I lack the proper user interface, I now have more available functionality in some respects than the software I was paying for (i.e. it didn’t support currency exchanges).

On projects that I don’t use, but am instead making for others, it’s a “simple” matter of outsourcing the usage part and seeing how happy my changes make the user.

* As I’ve been writing this post for more than a week now, some things have transpired in the meantime. After I wrote that line about having a lot of ideas which I had begun and then given up on, an ad on Facebook popped up about altMBA by Seth Godin. I don’t have the money for the course, but consequently I watched some videos by Seth and one of his thoughts struck a chord with me. I’m not going to quote him literally, as the idea is spread out through more than one video, but here’s the gist of it:

You don’t need to be more creative, you need to ship. You have plenty of creative ideas, you only need to commit to one and see it through.

Ruminating on this, I realized that I have a fear of committing to something. It’s all the usual reasons – what if it doesn’t work and such – but also something that is much more troubling to me: what if it works? What if it becomes successful and then I realize that I don’t like doing it? I will be facing a rather uncomfortable choice of either quitting and disappointing a whole lot of people, or becoming a slave to my work. Or worse – given how well I know myself now – I will neither quit nor commit, and whatever it is will forever be in some state of decaying limbo.

And only now that I have this fear brought to my conscious attention do I realize that this is a false dichotomy. If I realize I don’t like doing that work, I can easily outsource it.

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