Brain Drain

Portrait of a weary writer.
Portrait of a weary writer

I don’t know about you, but as I get older my brain seems to burn out more quickly than it used to. Or, maybe it’s not age, but stretching my ability to comprehend the stuff that I work on. I’ve been working on developing a fairly complex software system in the day job, and so far, it is one of the things I am most proud of in the 26+ years I’ve been working there. But it taxes my brain like nothing else.

Take yesterday, for instance. I started work day reviewing a list of issues that came up the previous day and that I intended to fix before my first meeting of the day. I was committed to getting it done then, because my first meeting was the first of seven I had throughout the day, including one stretch of five hours without a break.

I was hacking my way through elegant (yet convoluted) lines of code, like an explorer making his way through a jungle. I was just getting a sense of how to fix a particular problem when I was distracted by a completely unrelated problem on another project. I had to mentally switch languages, and then dive into that problem. I’d made it about halfway to the solution before I had to give up. It was meeting time!

Over the years I’ve gotten careful about meetings. I don’t like wasting other people’s time, and the meetings that I had scheduled today were necessary and very productive. I will say this, however: it is never a good idea to schedule seven technical meetings on the same day. I do this by accident from time-to-time. On Monday, for instance, I realized that we needed some design work and began scheduling meetings, looking for time on people’s calendars, and noticed that my Thursday was getting booked up. No worries, I told myself, It’s not until Thursday. You don’t have to think about it until then. After the first two meetings today I began to wonder, not for the first time, how I ever thought all these meetings were a good idea.

(I am reminded of similar experiences in college, pulling all-nighters. An all-nighter is appealing, and even exciting right up until about 3:30 or 4:00 am, at which point, the very idea of an all-nighter is appalling.)

These technical meetings take a lot out of me. I don’t know about you, but it is not easy for me to hold all of the technical connections in my head and see how they fit together. I can do it, but I feel like I’ve been through some kind of mental marathon afterward. I want to lay down and not think at all.

I made tacos for dinner, and have no real memory of making them. When dinner was over and everyone raced from the table, I looked at the dishes piled up by sink and considered, briefly, just leaving them there. All I wanted to do was get in bed and read.

Once everything was finished, and I got this post written, I knew I could finally get in bed and read–only my brain felt so worn out, I didn’t know if I’d comprehend what I was reading.

I don’t have as many meetings today as I did yesterday–mere four compared to yesterday’s seven. But four is a lot for a Friday. And these are all technical meetings. And then next week are the rehearsals for our second milestone demo which I am giving in a week.

At least, this project should wrap up in April. On the other hand, there are other projects queued up that I’ve been asked to work on. I’d say I could look forward to a vacation, but with the pandemic we haven’t planned any vacations for this year yet.

You want a good description of just how much mush my brain is right about now? This is the seventh attempt at a closing paragraph for this essay, one that tries to tie things neatly together in a funny or amusing way, as is my wont for pieces like these. None of the six previous attempts worked. Four of them didn’t even make any sense.


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