“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“distringit librorum multitudo
(the abundance of books is distraction)”
One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There's always more than you can cope with.
I’M COMING AROUND TO THE VIEW THAT EVERY WRITER SHOULD DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS.
MAYBE WE ALL SHOULD.
I have no idea whether IOSD really exists—or ‘Writer’s Syndrome.’ Since shrinks seem to make a great deal of this stuff up as they go along—I thought I’d follow their example. What I can say is that striking a balance between what you need to know and the mass of other information out there—much of it interesting, but irrelevant—is both difficult and stressful.
For a host of reasons—including the deaths of people I cared about (such as my much loved stepfather) whose condition seemed to deteriorate after their treatment—I don’t hold psychiatrists in high regard. And I have had some personal experience of the breed.
Medical Definition of PSYCHIATRY
: a branch of medicine that deals with the science and practice of treating mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders especially as originating in endogenous causes or resulting from faulty interpersonal relationships
When I was very small—approaching five—and my mother found she couldn’t handle me, I was taken to a series of shrinks in the hope I could be made more biddable.
I soon formed the view that they were basically con men. One shrink’s party trick was to put the child in a room where he could “let go of his inhibitions.” In practice, this meant you could throw sand around, write on the walls, splash paint—and so on. I thought it was bizarre. I didn’t feel inhibited. I just thought I was being beaten too much—and I wasn’t going to take it.
The shrink was very proud of this room. I guess it earned him a great deal of money. Anyway, after I was led into the room, he looked down at me and said something like, “Little boy, you can do absolutely anything you want in here.”
Young though I was, I had already learned that adults lied a great deal –and I was fairly sure he was lying in this case. So I looked up at him and said: “May I break the windows, sir?”
The shrink turned brick red with rage and he snarled. “No, you—may—absolutely—not!”
I recall that occasion with the greatest pleasure—and regard it as one of the high points of my life. I was to pay a high price for it.
Why was I so difficult? I don’t think I was really—although I was intensely intellectually curious, and probably was a pest with my questioning. But the real issue was that I had been brought up by a nurse, May, who I loved to bits—and when she was suddenly fired some months after my fourth birthday (because mother became jealous) I resented it. As far as I was concerned, May was my mother.
My real mother responded to my defiant attitude by trying to beat me into submission—daily—which only made me fight harder. For instance, I refused to kiss her goodnight—you fight with the weapons you have. But underlying that was the fact that mother had been an only child without a father—my grandmother had been widowed early (grandfather had made it through WW I and had then died from cholera in Burma)—and had no idea how to bring up a child, let alone a boy. In addition, she didn’t really want an overly inquisitive child hanging around. She was still a young and attractive woman and wanted to have fun—nightclubs, men, alcohol, and sex—which was why I was sent to Red Lodge (which I have written about previously) and then boarding school at the age of five (where I was the youngest and smallest boy in the school and thus a predictable target for bullying). The next years would have been intolerable—except I learned to read and to write. And when you can read, you can escape. I was physically in boarding school, but, that technicality apart, I travelled the world.
This is a sad story really—well, until I reached the age of 10. I suddenly grew—and I started to write and win prizes.
Still, abusive treatment during childhood does seem to foster creativity—and I am truly grateful for that gift.
Incidentally, I do believe it’s worthwhile talking out your troubles every now and then. In my case, I normally talk to friends—though I have also had considerable success with two outstanding pastors. My dislike of organized religion doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate that some very fine people work for such organizations.
Back to the topic at hand.
The good news is that, somewhat to my amazement, I do seem to be making some progress at managing it. Enough progress? Possibly not—but at least the situation seems to becoming more manageable.
Why so? The most effective technique seems to be to set limits. To paraphrase Parkinson’s Law, browsing expands to fill the time available unless you set limits. Be ruthless.
- I have been limiting my areas of interest with some success.
- I have become more familiar with the websites I need
- I’ve become faster at searching online so am storing less.
- I rarely browse at random. I’ll do a search and when I find what I’m looking for, I’ll stop.
- I’m using software that works well—specifically Evernote, Insightly. and Google Contacts.
- I blog daily, but limit my involvement with social media.
- I rarely text.
Well, so much for the good news. E-mail (which I love—except for the volume, and its remorseless nature) still remains a problem—but I guess it does for most of us. Sanebox.com –which is trainable—does help (but still needs a great deal of training).
I’m completely mind-boggled by the amount of work involved in coming to terms with all this. There is so much to learn, and it changes so fast.
I don’t resent it. It’s fascinating in its way. I just wish I was better at it. Still, given that I was brought up in the age of the dip pen—though I graduated to the cutting edge of writing technology, a fountain pen—I’m agreeably surprised that I have adjusted as well as I have.