Sunlit Water

January 21, 2008

Doing Stuff

Filed under: Culture,Personal — by teofilo @ 1:05 pm

I’m not sure that this comes down to “trusting the world,” exactly. Certainly that’s a part of it, and people that are inclined to get out and do things tend to have a more trusting, less suspicious attitude in general, but I think there’s a more fundamental personality divide at work. Speaking as a person who is generally disinclined to do things, I think a lot of the reason is just that I don’t value activity very much as such. Not that I dislike doing things with people, but what I like about it is being with the people, not doing the activity, and I rarely do similar things by myself. That is, it’s the people, not the activities, and I would often prefer to just hang around with the same people rather than go out and do stuff with them. By the same token, doing stuff with people I don’t care for is much worse than being alone.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that people like Megan (Californians, apparently) like doing stuff for its own sake, so when the opportunity arises they are initially inclined to go for it. My reaction is generally more like “well, we could go do that, or we could just hang out here, seeing as how we’re here already.” Not that doing things isn’t fun, of course.

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29 Comments »

  1. For the record, I want to make it clear that our routine includes lots of lying around on someone’s couches and chatting. We don’t leap into action every single time we’re together.

    But if someone will start the spark, it doesn’t take much to rouse the crowd.

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 1:16 pm |Reply

  2. Oh, and doing stuff with people I don’t care for is definitely worse than being alone.

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 1:17 pm |Reply

  3. So if you were with a person you didn’t care for and they proposed doing something you wouldn’t have the automatic yes reaction?

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 1:25 pm |Reply

  4. Why would I be with a person I didn’t care for? Naw, I’d make my goodbyes and be out of there. The default is “yes”, but it can get overridden in the next few seconds by other considerations, like, ‘no, doing stuff with this person is a drag’ or ‘can’t, I’m poor until next week’ or ‘I said I would babysit.’

    It isn’t that I’m so unreasonable. It is just that I use reasons to talk myself out of things, instead of reasons to talk myself into stuff.

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 1:42 pm |Reply

  5. I don’t think you’re unreasonable, I’m just trying to figure out how your enthusiasm works, because it’s so different from my apathy.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 1:44 pm |Reply

  6. Yeah, this is hard to talk about without sounding like it’s homeostasis vs. thrill-seeking, or stick-in-the-mud vs. fun-loving.* The terms are very laden. But the general phenomena is very real to me, and one of the pleasures of adulthood has been feeling freer to reject other people’s definition of “fun.”

    Not that it isn’t genuinely fun for them, more that these days it’s easier to argue that I really do have a decent sense of what’s fun for me. Of course, there is always room for that to be expanded.

    (*Actually, I don’t think homeostasis is quite the word I want.)

    Comment by Witt — January 21, 2008 @ 2:24 pm |Reply

  7. You know what? It’s also about opportunity cost. Last night I went to the movies with my sister, which I did because it was an opportunity to spend time with her and to see some old friends of the family. The movie itself was mildly enjoyable. If it had been merely “Let’s go to the movies!” I would have said no immediately, on the grounds that the movie alone was way less interesting and productive and enjoyable than any one of a hundred things I could be doing at home.

    Comment by Witt — January 21, 2008 @ 2:34 pm |Reply

  8. Witt knows what I’m talking about. I feel the exact same way about movies in particular.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 3:02 pm |Reply

  9. I’m no big fan of movies. But I still don’t understand what the hundred productive and enjoyable things there are to do at home all day long. There’s what? Reading a book, making a meal, straightening up, checking the blogs all day, taking a nap, and working on some craft for a while. Seriously, if I do those all in order, I am done by four, and I still have six hours to go before I can go to bed.

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 3:30 pm |Reply

  10. You’re clearly not spending enough time on the blogs, then.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 3:41 pm |Reply

  11. More seriously, it’s not that you actually would do a bunch of productive stuff if you didn’t go to the movie, but you might, and if you do go to the movie you can’t. It restricts your freedom of action too much.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 3:42 pm |Reply

  12. Well of course, but eventually I do feel yucky about hitting refresh and hoping something new comes up. Seriously, though. What are you doing that makes the opportunity cost high?

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 3:44 pm |Reply

  13. Nothing, really, but at any moment I might suddenly do something important. Unless I’m sitting in a movie theater.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 3:45 pm |Reply

  14. Hee, you answered my question. Yes, doing something means you aren’t doing other things.

    But if I’m not doing something (wandering my city or playing in the park or something), I’d be home feeling slightly yucky after reading straight through two mystery novels. I love domesticity in medium doses. But how does it last you all day or all weekend? Aren’t you jonesing to go out by the afternoon?

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 3:48 pm |Reply

  15. Sure, so you go out and take a walk or something and come home whenever you like.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 3:51 pm |Reply

  16. Really? Is it really that keeping your options open traps you in paralysis at home, just so that something great could happen?

    That sounds sweet and painfully idealistic.

    Do you think that is idiosyncratic to your not-doing-things, or is it common? What about Capella’s explanation that curling up with a book is what she most wants to be doing?

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 3:54 pm |Reply

  17. At home? Talking on the phone with a friend. Editing a paper for a colleague. Making food. Reading cookbooks and planning menus. Cleaning out my desk and finding lost treasures. Enjoying a new magazine. Listening to music and dancing around the kitchen. Playing with my niece. Washing dishes. Doing laundry. Writing letters. Daydreaming. Napping. Calling distant family members to check up on them. Paying bills. Mending clothes. Shopping online for gifts. Uploading vacation photos.

    I mean, holy mackerel. I could do enjoyable chores for 10 hours and still have another 10 hours of enjoyable and probably 30 hours of un-enjoyable chores left to do. And I don’t even clean very often.

    Comment by Witt — January 21, 2008 @ 3:56 pm |Reply

  18. Well, I wasn’t the one proposing a movie; I don’t like movies anyway. But I’m happy to use the structure of a several-hour block where you are doing whatever you and your friends decided to do.

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 3:56 pm |Reply

  19. Is it really that keeping your options open traps you in paralysis at home, just so that something great could happen?

    Yes.

    Do you think that is idiosyncratic to your not-doing-things, or is it common?

    I don’t know; it doesn’t seem to be all that common, but I don’t know if it’s just my idiosyncrasy or if other people feel the same way. Witt?

    What about Capella’s explanation that curling up with a book is what she most wants to be doing?

    I suppose there’s that, too, but that just seems to be a matter of prioritizing different kinds of activities.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 3:58 pm |Reply

  20. I wish I wrote more letters to friends. But hmmm. Most of those sound like something I would really like for a while. But mostly I would do some, then want to do more outside stuff with other people.

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 4:00 pm |Reply

  21. I don’t thin it’s about paralysis for me. I mean, I can think of a tiny handful of occasions in my life when I was home when I really, actively, did not want to be and felt lonely and upset that I was. When I am home, I’m generally pretty happy to be there, and therefore it takes a bit of a pry bar to get me out. I’m not usually sitting there wishing something exciting would happen.

    But also (and I swear I’ve said this somewhere before), when I do decide to go out, it’s usually to something that I am interested in doing, and about which I have decided to enjoy. Barring a disaster, I usually do end up enjoying it. I have friends who can hardly stand to be home alone on a Saturday night, who nevertheless thought it was amazing and odd that I didn’t just go to UnfoggeDCon but actually had terrific fun.

    Comment by Witt — January 21, 2008 @ 4:04 pm |Reply

  22. Another issue in my case, of course, is that I don’t have a group of other people I can go do stuff with. This is surely related to my dislike for activities, but the direction of causality isn’t clear.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 4:07 pm |Reply

  23. It is true that my interest level in going to my Spanish group on Saturdays does wax and wane a bit depending on how close and congenial I feel to/with the other members of the group.

    Comment by Witt — January 21, 2008 @ 4:08 pm |Reply

  24. Oh, speaking of that, how did your radio thing go?

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 4:09 pm |Reply

  25. Aw sugar. I was thinking about you recently, and your potential move, and how you aren’t sure what the best option would be. I was contrasting that with my sister, who stuns even me, because she will always take a little-bit-better trade. I mean, I’m willing to do some work, but some upgrades just aren’t worth the trouble. But for her, man. She will always make the next upgrade. And then, you wonder, how did she get that most excellent apartment in that fantastic neighborhood with the great roommates, and the answer is ‘well, when she was living in a pretty good situation, the great situation came along and she took it.’ She gets there by busting it out, every single time. It exhausts me to think of it, but then you visit her in her houseboat in Sausalito and get jealous again.

    And I was wondering, what if, instead of you trying to piece together your optimal move, you just started taking things that were better than now. If you did that for a while, where would that get you? (The answer is: tired, and better.) But now that I read that you won’t do anything lest it keep you from the perfect, I think it might be even more on-point.

    Comment by Megan — January 21, 2008 @ 4:12 pm |Reply

  26. Oddly enough, I was just thinking recently about approaching it that way. Maybe get a new job here that’s more in line with my interests. I’m not sure how easy that would be, but it’s definitely something I’m considering.

    On the other hand, the problem with going step-by-step with little changes is that given my personality, I’m very likely to stall out partway through and end up stuck at one stage for a long time.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2008 @ 4:16 pm |Reply

  27. The radio thing was great, and humbling. Thank heavens for my colleague, who was just terrific (though very nervous). She sailed through most of it and I chimed in to list specific resources or provide technical context.

    The parrot-character did a lot to lighten the mood, which is good because when you’re giving people dense information about taxes and benefits, or depressing information about legal issues, you want a little comic relief.

    Although I maintain you would never have a character like that on English-language American radio. At least no show I’ve ever heard.

    Comment by Witt — January 21, 2008 @ 4:17 pm |Reply

  28. Now all you need is to get a phone call from la llama que llama.

    Comment by eb — January 21, 2008 @ 6:38 pm |Reply

  29. Meanwhile, on topic, friends who know me from places where I’ve lived whatever it is that counts as “normal” life tend to be surprised that I’ve done a bunch of travel on my own, and that I’ve spent most of those days of travel going out and doing things. When I’m in a more stable living situation – like in college, or grad school or working steadily – I seem to be less or not at all enthusiastic about “doing things” than when I’m already sort of out the door.

    Mostly I think it’s related to not knowing many people who share my interests – or not knowing that people I do know share my interests. If I’ve already decided to travel alone, I’m more likely to think: “I came all this way, might as well do something.”

    Comment by eb — January 21, 2008 @ 6:44 pm |Reply


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