Man, Compartmentalize Thyself
Sometime ago, my wife came home and was aghast when she looked at the chaos in the kitchen where I was trying to:
- Chop vegetables and
- Grate Cheese and
- Feed the pets and
- Clean an iron skillet and
- Empty the dishwasher (while dirtying more dishes) ….
All this was happening while I tried to stay informed about current events by watching a news show replay on YouTube….not that many moments after scrambling to pick up the kid from school.
I was visibly stressed as I communicated all the things that I was trying to do and that I was doing them “all at once at once.”
I added a comment, “I’m not Superman.”
She replied “You don’t have to be, though it would help if you became better at….”
I thought she was going to end with “multi-tasking” and was already preparing my response, “You know, that multitasking, isn’t really something that humans can do, because…”
But she said, “…compartmentalizing.” That stopped me in my tracks.
There is much truth to that. While I am capable of strong focus under many circumstances, life is full of circumstances are that are less than favorable.
The world is so full of distractions, that even when we plan to be distraction-free, life finds a way to distract us find us. Phones ring, kids cry, solicitors knock at your door (CAN’T THEY READ THE “NO SOLICITING” SIGN?!?).
In my case, things can get particularly silly, if I am trying to complete several home-related tasks for myself, or my family and they are without a stringent deadline, if there is a deadline at all.
Sprinkle in some work-related pursuits, and some unexpected pet mishaps, and soon my life can look like this:
In this scenario it becomes way too easy switch to a different task, if the task at hand becomes even a little bit frustrating. “I’ll get back to this later.”
It doesn’t take long before there are several tasks that I will get back “later,” with each task stealing focus from the others, such that none of them get done well, if they get done at all.
Not long after the observation by my wife, I read astronaut Scott Kelly’s biography. Kelly, famously spent 520 days aboard the International Space Station. There are so many notable things about about the book and Kelly’s career, but it was his mention of the importance of compartmentalization that struck a chord with me.
Kelly described how he often has no choice, but to compartmentalize.
Astronauts’ days are scheduled at a particularly granular level. Each and every day is planned for them in incredible detail. There is usually not that much flexibility in their day, and if there is unplanned task, it is rather likely it is due to a critical equipment failure that requires expeditious repair.
Given my description of the chaotic kitchen scene, you might find this surprising, but I think I’d be pretty good at astronauting. In space there are few choices but to compartmentalize. If you are called upon to repair the carbon dioxide scrubber for the space station’s ventilation system, then you can’t let anything in the cosmos distract you.
“I Am Not Superman”
After making the decision to write this blog post, I ensured that I had allotted sufficient time and sat down in space where I wouldn’t get distracted.
Of course, I got distracted, because I am not Superman.
Though I didn’t mind distraction so much because it’s helpful to loosen the compartment boundaries while I’m brainstorming. Once I began to think about space travel, it wasn’t long until I started thinking about, Star Trek.
This made me think of my youth. Naturally, that led me to think of sports and superheroes:
Few things (other than spacemen) have brought me greater joy in my life than comic books did when I was young. Before I collected them, my older brother did.
After I stopped, my younger brother started buying them. They were always in the house.
Men of Steal
DC and Marvel, the two largest comics companies, have a long history of “borrowing” character ideas from each other. There is much written about who stole what from whom.
There is also a lot of internal sampling within the companies. For example, there are several characters in the DC universe that have a very similar superpowers portfolio as Superman (a reminder we’ve already established that I am not Superman).
- Supergirl, who is a cousin of Superman, and like him, was born on Krypton. She has identical set of superpowers.
- Wonder Woman is invulnerable and has super strength, speed, and stamina.
- Shazam possesses the powers of six gods from Greek and Roman mythology. The sum total of all the powers from these is gods is roughly equivalent to Superman.
- Mon-El lives in the 30th century (perhaps ” ‘will’ live” is more appropriate) where he is a member of The Legion of Superheroes. His powers are so similar to the Man of Steel, Superman once believed him to be a relative.
- Ultra Boy is another member of the Legion that has all of same powers as Superman/Supergirl with an interesting limitation (more on that coming).
Here are Mon-El and Ultra Boy to introduce themselves:
I Am Ultra Boy
Yes, Ultra Boy has all the same powers of Superman and Supergirl. But….he can only use one power at a time.
One. Power. At. A. Time
I remember a comic book scene years ago, where a villain, disguised as one his allies, asked Ultra Boy to lift an object that weighed several tons. The affable Ultra Boy switched off his invulnerability to activate his super strength.
At that point, BAM! The bad guy, conked him with a metal bar rendering him unconscious.
Ultra Boy’s weakness isn’t Kryptonite. It’s multi-tasking.
Ultra Boy is all of us.
We all sometimes try to do too much at once,;things we’re good at, things we’re learning, things we’ve planned for, and unexpected things at the same time. I don’t do that very well. Because I’m not Superman (Supergirl, Shazam…).
But I can be a pretty convincing Ultra Boy.
- I have the strength to carry bins full of Christmas decorations to the basement, OR wrestle a large office chair from the backseat of a tiny car.
- With my super-vision I can spot a turd–that a 7-lb dog left n the carpet–from several yards away, to avoid stepping in it, OR I can view a webinar on the couch and say “I’ll clean it up later, I ain’t got time for that shit right now.”
- I am fast enough to chase down a cat, who has the evil intent to scratch furniture, OR to write a response to a recruiter.
- My stamina is great enough to shovel snow or clean an entire kitchen, (and occasionally a cluttered garage, etc.)
I can do all those things. I just can’t do them all at once, or any two of them at once, for that matter.
We can all be heroes. Even if we have to occasionally become vulnerable to use our other powers.
This post took an extraordinary amount of time to write because I was listening to a lengthy news story on the radio.
I have seen the enemy and it is multitasking. Though I will defeat this villain, for I am Ultra Boy.