Metaphor for My Brain

Walking home from the bus stop tonight, I came up with a metaphor for my brain.

You see, I’m often frustrated by the way I work. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and mulling, rewriting article leads, figuring out in what order things should appear, trying to determine which things are more important than others. But most of that happens upstairs, so to an outside observer, I haven’t really done much. I can be quite advanced in the progress of an article without much more than a few notes or even a blank page to show for it.

I got home, ate dinner, put Ellie to bed, and was sitting with Kim on the couch when I said out of the blue, “I’ve come up with a metaphor for my brain. It’s a deep closet.”

Without skipping a beat she said, “Things get lost in the back and there are dust mites?”

Obviously, she knows me too well. But that wasn’t the part I was focusing on.

Rather, most of the time I have all (or most of) the information I need in my head. For example, I’m currently updating my book on iMovie. I’ve been using iMovie ’09 heavily the last week since its release while writing the review for Macworld and an article for TidBITS. I have a pretty good idea of what sections of the book will change, and how to change them. But I’ve only started on the formal outline that breaks out the changes.

So my job often feels like I’m in that mental closet, pushing things aside to extract the right ideas and words and sections that belong in the book.

It will come as no surprise that the real closets in my house, as well as my home office (in fact, especially my office) resembles that situation physically.

Maybe if I cleaned up the real clutter it would help with the mental clutter. That’s the idea behind the Getting Things Done system of organization (I started reading the book but never finished; does that tell you anything?): you write down all the junk in your head so that you can free yourself from the burden of it.

My problem – or maybe it’s just my approach – is that sorting through the mental closet is when I do better work. That’s my “zone,” even if I’m not picturing it in such concrete terms.

  1. Edsger Dykstra wrote most of his EWDs longhand, and apparently made his students write with pen rather than word processing, so he could see if they had thought out their answers before they started writing.


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