Musings on Time Pressure

I hate doing things under time pressure, but I have to admit I do a lot more things when time pressure exists. One of the things is writing. Another is posting the things I write. They aren’t very good, but they’re better than writing that doesn’t exist.

(in case you forgot, I’m still posting this pretty much only because I made myself post once every weekend)

It’s interesting that I can impose time pressure on myself by declaring commitment devices by fiat and it works. Other people have developed other methods of doing this — I recently discovered The Most Dangerous Writing App, which puts time pressure on you to type every five seconds or it deletes everything you wrote. There are many other ways it’s done.

Of course, there are more organic sources of time pressure, like school and work assignments. But it occurred to me today that other people starting a discussion on something I want to comment on also provides time pressure. If I put off commenting too long it means I’ll miss the discussion and be necroposting, which is an online faux pas, except when it’s a funny anniversary or a forum game. So suddenly I find myself writing and writing (and hitting backspace a lot, and taking walks around my apartment).

This seems like a source I have little control over, but there is probably some way to take advantage of it or amplify its effects to make myself write more and think more, which I can’t think of right now because I’m writing this right before the deadline (Sunday, 11:59 pm, Hawaii–Aleutian Standard Time?) as usual and it’s too late for my brain to function.

The weird thing is that when I sit down to write anything, I almost inevitably end up realizing something I didn’t before — maybe because it allows me to follow a complicated train of thought to its conclusion, maybe because it lets me see the flaws in an argument more clearly after I have it all written down — and it feels pretty good. Yet I can’t internalize the feeling enough to want to write for its sake, and have to come up with these hacks to make myself do it. Brains are weird.

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Spontaneous Thoughts on Teaching

(Disorganized and probably incomplete blog content, posted as part of a daily posting streak I have openly committed to; standard disclaimers apply)

Okay, I’m actually going to try starting this blog post and posting it in the same day.

Story: As a sort of extracurricular activity slash side job, I taught a math class after school once a week to six fifth-graders. It was nominally geared towards some Australian Math Competitions, which my math teacher administers in Taiwan, although in the end I don’t think I achieved this end very well.

After writing this brain dump I realized this was a pretty terrible hackjob; I had absolutely no idea how to teach fifth-graders or how to organize an after-school class, and I still mostly don’t. Parents did most of the organizing, really. And provided refreshments.

And I get paid for this????

Bulleted list of other thoughts:

  • Wow, I didn’t realize / remember how serious the gender gap between elementary-school students is. I don’t mean the difference between their performance (that might have been the case, but I don’t think I felt a significant enough difference to conclude anything); I mean how fifth-grade boys and fifth-grade girls don’t like to mingle.

    When given the opportunity, they would pick team names like, “[members of my gender] Rule, [members of other gender] Drool!” They wouldn’t discuss with each other either. If prompted, they would sometimes point out mistakes in each others’ work, though.

    I think this is a phase that people grow out of, and I probably did it myself when I was young. I don’t remember when it ends, but in any case, ugh, it’s so unproductive that boys and girls separate themselves for any length of time at all.

    Sigh.

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Fiction

“I like fantasy books! I used to read a lot of Eoin Colfer.”

“What does that mean, used to? You don’t read anymore? That’s so sa-a-a-ad…”

Our teacher and I had this conversation during our first English class, and I realized I agreed with her. Well, no, of course I still read: news articles, r/AskReddit threads, and the books we get assigned in class. But not fiction, almost. As I later mentioned to my teacher, I followed Sam Hughes’ Ra avidly (something I highly recommend). That was it.

What does my present self still think of Eoin Colfer? Although I adored the Artemis Fowl books when I was younger, my interest faded, but not before I had recommended it to my sister. The conversation spurred me to get out the seventh Artemis Fowl book, which I had stopped reading halfway through a year ago, and finish it. It was still true that I didn’t like it as much, because I couldn’t feel the high stakes strongly in the book and I found that the joking asides compounded the problem. But a few days later, when we took a trip to the Taipei library, I found the eighth book and borrowed it, plowing through nine-tenths of the book before we left. The ending seemed to be happy but still felt counterintuitively poignant for me. In any case, I had closure.

So what’s the lesson? Authors vary in output too. I was naïve to suppose that because I found this book boring, I had outgrown all books that were even vaguely similar. In the same trip, I also borrowed a bunch of other random fantasy books, plus a realistic fiction book about a teenage pregnancy, just for kicks. It turned out to be surprisingly good. In a week, I read four books, cover to cover, despite a typical load of homework and chemo.

Any excuses I made before about not having enough time simply don’t hold water. Still, I have yet to figure out if this sort of reading is sustainable, because not every book is so engrossing. Far from it…

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