Hello Dear Reader,
Got being on time?
I knew I had to write this essay when a friend told me she was having trouble lately getting to places on time. “Lately,” because just lately her life has become rough. “I had to write,” because textbooks and society are innocent about these things—and this offends me.
The physical skills are straightforward, and you know them: Use a calendar, a day-timer, plan the route, plan what time to leave, et cetera, et cetera. But my friend’s struggle is not physical, and not covered in Business Management 101. I know this about her because I too once struggled, and then found success, but only because the “hacks” I used were “from the street,” not from society’s wisdom.
Hack: such a useful concept. It comes from the computer world. A programmer might write you a letter that begins, “Forgive me for writing you such a long letter, I did not have time to write a short one.” The long letter, un-polished, un-concise, would be a “hack.” Computer code is supposed to be as short, clean and elegant as possible, but a long ugly passage of code, just to get the job done, would be a hack.
If a computer printer cover breaks in half, and instead of waiting for a spare part you use duct tape, then that is a hack. When your polished pretty coat hook falls off the wall, and you merely hammer in a spike—that’s a hack. A hack, then, is something crude, even ugly, which has a virtue: It works. At the same time, if your mother-in-law comes over, you might want to stand in front of the duct taped thingy to hide it.
My favorite hack for getting up in the morning, which I have never tried myself, was told to me by a guy who put a mechanical alarm clock in a tin basin… and then put the basin in front of his brother’s door.
In my own rough family, growing up, being on time was elusive for all of us. My dad had a 15-minute commute to work: I’m not saying he charged out the door every morning like Dagwood Bumstead, but… I once heard family members say that the folks at work must have had no-money bets each day on whether he would be on time.
Years later, when Dad was a senior citizen, I went to see him, intending to later drive him somewhere. I realized: he hadn’t changed a bit! He still couldn’t pick a time to leave, announce it, and commit to it. Therefore other people could not synchronize their preparations to all leave at the same time. Sounds spineless, I know.
When I was in eleventh grade, I had a little backbone: I was practising the bagpipes daily for one hour, plus a further half hour. Not something I ever did in earlier grades, and not something that anybody else in my family ever did—not ever. In contrast, I know a man who beat an African drum for just five minutes every day, right when he came home from work. At the end of a year, he could play the drum. Only now, as an adult, do I look back and realize something about my family: No one ever spent five minutes a day regularly on any art or craft or hobby or textbook. (At least, not that I can recall) Weird: This means I grew up in a family of drifting, spineless jellyfish.
As I have blogged before, it was not until my mid-thirties that someone clued me in that I had “abuse issues.” I didn’t realize this when I first moved away, I only knew I had “low self esteem or something,” and that I was “stupid or something.” How rough. Hence my big problem with getting to places on time, with catching busses on time, and with leaving my house on time. What I needed? A hack!
Here’s what I promised myself: I would walk out my door, walk along the sidewalk, and not run to catch the bus, not even if I was nearly close enough to touch it as it rolled away. I walked right to the bus door as if I was merely out for fresh air. So I missed several busses, until my subconscious learned I was not bluffing.
From the bus line I would then walk down to my destination or activity, such a community centre show, even if I had missed my earlier intended bus. I’d walk to the destination… and if I was even a minute late, then, you guessed it: Turn on my heel, and walk back up to the bus stop. I missed out on a few things, until my subconscious got the message to shape up—for I surely wasn’t going to run. The hack worked.
I am the only one in my eight-person family to finish a university degree. I guess I succeeded because I didn’t register to start classes until I had all my hacks lined up in a row.
I know Canadian universities are all tough because nobody up there needs to put the adjective “good” in front of “university.” All of them are good.
Meanwhile, it’s been documented: Canadian immigrant and visionary Jane Jacobs, author of Death and Life of American Cities, said that society was organized, with student loans and so forth, so that Human Resources departments, for job applicants, would use “having a degree” as an initial screening device. Not to show an applicant’s knowledge, (Unless for a specialty career degree) but to show they could handle the demands of a degree.
Have you heard of “writer’s block?” I think, unknown to society, there must be such a thing as “term paper block.” This would be when you fearfully look at blank paper and cry “I can’t do this! My other term papers must have been a fluke! I can’t do university! I’ll just have to quit in shame and despair, and then, as Pooh’s embarrassed friend Piglet would say, “run away to sea and be a sailor.””
So guess what I did about my term papers? Not what normal students did, when their nerve failed them. The student newspaper once did an “advice to freshmen” article about how nearly every professor would grant an extension, which nearly every normal student would ask for, at one time or another. But not me. I didn’t dare.
If I came from a pond of spineless jellyfish, then asking for an extension was asking for trouble. Not just because an extension would be merely punting my problem down the road, but because a lifestyle choice to be a jellyfish was just too despairing. My hack: To look at my blank term paper and promise: “On the day it is due, I am handing it in, no matter what.” Even if I only had two paragraphs written. Or even just the title and my name. Seriously? Yes. You can’t bluff yourself with these things, you have to mean it. That’s the only way this hack works. The subconscious gets the message.
You are probably wondering if I ever handed in a two-paragraph term paper… No, I may have gotten a C minus-minus, but I always passed. (In fact, I was in the top half of my classes)
Too crazy? Too rough? You might be suspecting I had low self esteem, self hatred, self sabotage or something like that. If so, then… of-course-I-could incorporate these negative qualities into my hack, right? My friend, hearing my examples of how to be on time, liked the idea of incorporating qualities that society doesn’t like to talk about. I mean, unless for a textbook on managing salesmen, I haven’t seen any business books that talk about self esteem, have you?…
Lastly, unlike my dad, it helped me when I dared to have clarity to face up to announcing to myself, even unto writing it down, what normal people call “a time to leave.” For me? Make that a “go no-go” time.
Dear reader, I sure hope you won’t need the same hacks as I did, but if you do try to improvise hacks (besides mine) then you would have to come up with some on your own: You just can’t count on society for these things.
~A mental reason for being late to a community centre: You subconsciously fear the judgement of yourself or others that might arise when you there, so you somehow fritter around at home, without knowing why.
~If you say, “I really ought to jog” then your problem is apt to be mental, not physical.
~A hack for getting up early on weekends to join the crowd at the jogging club: Don’t, in despair, start setting your alarm early, earlier and still earlier. Instead, set the alarm for only 59 seconds before you absolutely have to get up. Make that your launch window for “go no-go.” Then you can’t kid yourself. And if you choose to sleep in, then you have at most 59 seconds of indecisive recrimination. Enjoy your life.
~Any businessman who tries to tell you “self esteem” cannot be raised, doesn’t exist, or that it’s a ‘woo woo Southern California thing,’ shouldn’t be allowed to manage the sales department. Maybe he could be a marketing manager—No, that wouldn’t work either, for a lot of advertising begins with a smack to people’s “self esteem” (Parrot: “Squawk!-You’ve got ring around the collar.” Deep voiced announcer: “But don’t be afraid! You need new exciting Brand X, now in a new improved zip top box…”