South Park Self

tyrannosaurus text

I seem to be going through a stage of oh-god-I'm-tired-and-I-hate-work. The important thing with this, I've realised, is the focus on "going through a stage". This is a phase. It too shall pass: the brain chemistry or the hormones or the sleep cycle will re-synch, motivation will wake up from its cave, and life will be liveable again. It will probably pass more quickly if I eat chocolate, hit a lot of niskaru very hard with a prismire sword (yup, replaying Amalur), and browse the internet for interesting kipple.

But I've also realised that the nub, the locus, the emblematic pivot of the state is my bloody inbox. The email inbox is the curse of the modern age. It's particularly pernicious, because in the abstract I rather like words, I write with a great deal of facility, I'm murderously fast touch-typing on a computer keyboard, and at base I rather enjoy the sense of achievement that comes from answering all a student's possible questions ever and spreading sweetness and light in three short, pointed sentences and a link. But the damned things keep coming. The end of term is in sight, and I'm seeing probably fifteen or twenty queries a day about admissions, incoming exam angst, course-dropping and the generalised existential panic which is the default state of the student under stress. No matter how torrid my love affair with words and how boundless my sympathy for the common or garden student in its natural habitat, there comes a point where typing another sentence is not something into which I spring with glad cries.

My backlog of unanswered mail goes back three weeks. It'll take a day of intense focus to clear them all. And clearing a backlog is not without its own horrors, mostly due to my dual overabundance of empathy and guilt, as a result of which I read a month-old plaintive plea for help and immediately feel like the Worst Person Evah for not having answered immediately to put this poor fellow creature out of their pain. Because the reality is that, while to me the individual mail is merely one of a shoal of its fellows which circle my hapless form nibbling like goldfish (some of which are piranha because it's All My Fault), to the writer it's a huge chunk of concern and fear which occupies their personal horizon like a stormcloud of doom. I have the power to make it go away. I haven't exercised that power because I'm tired, or busy, or overwhelmed, or cruising the internet, or they asked me to "kindly" answer at once. I am a Bad Person. There will be coal in my stocking.

This is thus, like the majority of blog posts in the history of ever, not a post so much as it's an avoidance, a bizarrely counter-intuitive retreat from text into text as I try to reassert my ownership of, and investment in, the process of writing. In this act I insist that writing is not always about someone else: sometimes it's about me. I wave my tiny flag defiantly. It's been scribbled on extensively. It's distracting me from my bloody inbox.

I also bring you the results of the aforementioned internet-cruising. I stumbled across this old but kick-butt series of posts on The Awl, about women and power in the images of geekdom and sf. Bits that struck me: killer robots are women, or, perhaps, women are killer robots. "They're servants that won't serve, beings that we let into our homes because we thought they'd regard us as their superiors, whose compliance we took for granted until it vanished." It does explain the backlash. Also, a love song to Ripley and Buffy and River Tam, women who fight back. And feminist utopias: "Speculative fiction is sociology's dream journal; nerds want a place to belong; on the Enterprise, nobody cares if you're into space travel." That last statement made me strangely happy.
  • Current Mood: apathetic tired, disinclined
Easier on the guilt
If the Stormclouds of Doom (TM) really were looming that large on the hapless email-writer's horizon, they would either have sent more, increasingly meeping mail, or phoned someone.

I always clear backlogs from the most recent backwards - because (a) the person who's been waiting a month already thinks you're inefficient, another day or two really won't make a difference and (b) If it was really important, they sent another, more recent, more urgent mail to which you will then respond soon, and
(c) The recent ones then get super-efficient service, which outweighs the not-quite-as-efficient-service as the ones waiting a month got.
(d) By the time you get to the mails you would feel REALLY guilty about, you're all buoyed up with a feeling of efficiency.

Easier on the guilt 2
Email is a blessing and a scourge of modern life. Unfortunately it has been a significant factor in creating a culture of entitlement and instant gratification.

As an example, L and I have recently been treated to various emails from disgruntled tenants, addressed to the letting agents and then forwarded to us, most of which demanded a reply "before 12h00 today".

The fact that the tenants' view of reality became more and more incomprehensible as the months wore on is probably irrelevant, this is undoubtedly something they put in all their business emails too.

Before email one did not expect an instant reply. One was aware that a mail recipient would require time to give attention to the matter and formulate a response. Before cellphones one did not expect everybody to be instantly available. One was aware that people had commitments and would sometimes not be available. Why has this changed?

As far as mail is concerned, it is perfectly acceptable to write a response acknowledging receipt and promising a response some time in the future.