Fifteen years ago, not long after I learned how to type without looking at my fingers, I came to the realisation that I would very rarely see a blinking cursor on my screen. There was always something to type, be it on IRC, a development IDE, or just a simple word processor. While away from the glowing CRTs of yesteryear, my mind would be constructing a giant buffer of characters in my head that would be dumped out in rapid-fire succession as soon as I could sit down in front of my keyboard, chilled can of Dr. Pepper on the left. Sentences would flow from my fingers like water from a spigot, and code would take its shape on the screen before being compiled and transferred to the Palm PDA that I loved to develop for. The computer was most certainly waiting for me to tap at each key, but that blinking bar that tells us a computer is ready for us to hunt and peck away at the keyboard so rarely alternated between visible and invisible that I started to find it unnerving when I eventually began to notice that my computers were tapping their feet the only way they knew how.
Like most people on the planet, I have a number of responsibilities at the day job that require me to be in top form each and every day. I can't slack off. I can't phone it in. I can't even procrastinate with any real zeal unless I wish to be harassed by eight higher-ranking people who want to know "what's going on". Deadlines are often shorter than what is reasonable, and I perform all of the paperwork on my own computers1 as there just aren't enough in the office during regular working hours for me to use any of theirs. Keeping the inbox empty is a daily challenge, and one that I take quite seriously. Every item in the inbox is an incomplete task, and incomplete tasks must be processed as quickly as possible in order to appease the many levels of bureaucracy that separate me, the teacher, from the student, or client. To the best of my knowledge, this is the way things work in millions of offices around the world.
So why is my cursor blinking? Why can't I find the motivation to get this stuff done?
The cursors on my various glowing screens has blinked more in the last two weeks than they have in the last two years. I'm not staring at the screen anymore, but through the screen. Getting anything done is an extreme trial in perseverance interrupted by the various bells that symbolise the start and end of a class. At various points throughout the day, I'll need to stop whatever half-finished work I might be in the middle of in order to walk into a classroom to help people with various business or personal skills. The context switching isn't helping me remain focused on any single task long enough to actually get it done ... but I see this as an asinine excuse. Context switching is something I've long since learned to do, and it doesn't come with such a noticeably high cost anymore2.
Is this a new kind of burn out? My usual burn outs looked similar to this, but there's something different about this one. In addition to not having the motivation to accomplish anything, I'm finding it very difficult to keep my general frustration in check. The chest is getting tighter with each passing day, and I'm more aggressive when surrounded by people. Neither of these things are good signs. Maybe I should take a break? A real break?
According to my most recent pay slip, I have 14.5 days of paid leave available. That equates to 4 hours shy of three weeks. In three weeks I could walk a pretty good distance and get lost in my thoughts. Perhaps this is something I should seriously do before the winter chills hit. I could find a preliminary destination, make my way there, then walk to an ultimate destination, taking in whatever sights I might observe during the trek. My work will still be here when I return, and nothing I'm working on will result in people dying if it's a little late ... right?
I wonder if I could actually shut my mind off long enough during such a trek to truly enjoy the experience. Heck, walking a few hundred (or thousand) kilometres would make an excellent subject for a mobile podcast, too. There's no reason why I couldn't be both creative and disconnected ... right?