Pure signal.


I have a strange problem that I have been, so far, unable to solve myself — so I am putting it out into my freindspace to see if anyone can give me a hand with it.

I love doing math problems. I realize you probably think that is the problem right there, it isn’t. I also love writing poetry. I find, in either case, that the experience of sitting down to work is profoundly satisfying, that it stops time, that it leads to feelings of self worth. Both activities are inherently pleasurable to me, and both result in my growth as a person.

So far so good.

The problem isn’t choosing between them. Thankfully, I don’t have to. What a lucky lover who has to choose between equally beautiful and attentive partners, how much more lucky they that do not have to choose!

My problem is that setting down to work, besides producing all of the positive things I have described, produces an intolerable anxiety in me. Sometimes it prevents me from being able to sit down at all. Other times it builds slowly over the course of a week or two, until I am not able to sit still and I experience such intense symptoms of physical distress that I would do anything to get away — I watch TV, I go out, I drive around. But the break always turns into an abandonment of the project — the break is not a respite, it is an avoidance of a terrible anxiety produced by the thing that I love.

Then once I am lost in whatever self indulgent escape I turned to, I experience a sense of worthlessness and disappointment. Please do not misunderstand me — I am not doing either of these things (the math or the poetry) for anyone else. I am not ambitious at all — I am not looking for reward or external gratification. I am experiencing a genuine approach avoidance, where I feel a genuine love for a thing, and a nauseating anxiety produced by the very thing that I love.

Besides the obvious observation that I am just stone fucking neurotic — what on earth is going on with me?


December 12, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. This thought just hit me while I was noodling over some similar thoughts in my journal: what if the problem is the love that you have for the work.

    If you love it as you say, perhaps it’s something like a parental concern. When you sit down with it, knowing it and loving it the way you do, you want it to turn out to the best that you are able, or that it is able given what you have to offer it. If that makes any sense.

    The difficulty, and difference is that it’s not a living thing, in the sense that you can’t just feed it something–an idea, healthy food, whatever–walk away, and see it grow all on its own, then tweak it a little more later as necessary.

    But then again, maybe it is?

    Comment by Sak | December 12, 2008 | Reply

  2. Perhaps you don’t love what you claim to love as much as you think you do.
    Alternatively, some psychological disturbance might be triggered/activated precisely at the moment when you intend to devote to what you claim to love -consult a psychologist, or read self-help books.

    To begin with, it seems like you’re talking about these things in the wrong light/context.
    You speak of “sitting down to work”, as if you took these decisions in a planned way.
    Like “I will right a poem today”.
    I myself enjoy solving math problems and writing (haven’t written much poetry in the past years though), but I do NOT sit down to do so at arbitrarily decided times. They just HAPPEN. Perhaps you could call it “inspiration”.
    The point is, maybe you’re “trying too hard”. If you’re not inspired, you’re just not and maybe you shouldn’t force yourself to be.
    I can easily see how forcing yourself could cause anxiety.

    Second, you don’t have to “sit down” to do these things. You can start putting together a poem (or a solution to a math problem), in your mind, as you walk, ride the bus, or talk to someone else who blabbers so much nonsense that you can ignore them as you nod and actually think about something more interesting (like poetry and math).

    Third, you don’t have to write a poem or solve a problem in ONE sit. You can add a single phrase, at any time (perhaps with days of separation), “as they come” to you, and that hardly involves any sitting down (you really just scribble the last occurrence on any piece of paper and then take a minute or two to add it to the poem, and verify whether it all works together or not).

    Wow, this is quite an old post. I hope you’ve gotten over this issue by now.

    Comment by Jesús Galaz | March 20, 2011 | Reply

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