Ow my brain.

I think the best way to qualify what I just woke up from was a “defrag dream” (thank you Jo for finally giving them a name), partially because it was a weird “will it blend?” of work, the conference, family, and hell, anything else my brain could come up with, and partially because after two awesome awesome awesome days of An Event Apart: Seattle, I have a hell of a lot to defrag.

I’d tell you about the dream, but I can’t remember it because of the end of the dream. And it’s really the end of the dream I’m writing about because I want to know if this happens to anyone else.

Last night, I went to a rockin’ party, where I didn’t drink (only relevant because we’re talking about brain behavior), came back to the hotel, watched about a half hour or so of SportsCenter while surfing twitter and catching up on my email, and fell asleep.

I woke back up, got into bed, and turn on the music I usually sleep to. (Look up Dan Gibson’s Solitudes on your music store of choice. No relation, btw.). I don’t remember setting an alarm.

Normally, that would be a massive error on my part. I regularly sleep through my alarms at home, which is why I set three of them when it’s something important.

As an added bonus, I neglected to actually plug the phone into the charger. It was down to below 45% charge when I went to bed, and I was playing music at the time. It had no shot of living to morning.

So I’m asleep, and I’m dreaming all kinds of crazy shit about trying to get something work-related redesigned using css3 on my iPhone while waiting on the tarmac of the plane back to Philly, except the plane won’t take off because the runway is packed with people who got off their planes to go to the IA Summit and decided to just sit down in the middle of the runway to eat lunch… there were many dogs involved, something about us actually being in Japan, I was being followed, a few bits were animated, the plane has hotel furniture in it… see? Defrag dream.

Anyway, the phone in the hallway of the hotel (which was somehow in the plane) (and which looks really cool, I’ll try to grab a pic shortly) starts ringing. I know it’s my sister, in that it’s-a-dream-you’re-psychic way, so even though I’m in a hallway of a hotel inside an airplane in Japan, I answer it.

Here’s where it gets weird.

(Don’t give me that look.)

The voice on the other end sounds like a hairy monster. Pick a male muppet not voiced by Frank Oz, make him sound gruff, turn him into a faceless scary thing (that’s only about 2 feet tall). He screams about four words at me. When I say screams, I mean THIS BIT OF THE DREAM WAS 10 TIMES LOUDER THAN THE REST and I didn’t even know dreams had volume controls. I can’t understand any of the 4 words because they’re cut off like bad cellphone connections.

Instantly, I wake up. And it’s the exact time my first alarm would’ve gone off, if I’d set it, on the iPhone that’s dead anyway.

So here’s my theory: Rational Brain and Emotional Brain are working together to clean the house, and Emotional Brain (which by the way is better at cleaning) is in charge. Neither of them is watching the clock, but Rational Brain slipped Dinosaur Brain $20 and a bottle of Bacardi Mojito earlier to make sure we get up on time, because it knows we’re in trouble. Dinosaur Brain is very good at keeping time, so when the alarm needs to go off, it cuts in Matrix-style and violently disrupts the dream with extreme loudness. But since it’s Dinosaur Brain, it can’t talk to me in words, so Emotional Brian translates the entire mess into the next closest thing: a bad signal from AT&T.


Taking the good with the not-quite-as-good

After arriving safely in Cambridge and dropping off our stuff at the big fancy hotel, the gang I’m traveling with and I took off for downtown Boston, where we wandered the streets following the Freedom Trail and generally being tourists for as long as our feet would hold out. We made it from the State House to the USS Constitution, and then had to double-back a good distance to get back over the Charles River and pick up the T (which appears to be the fancy name for the Subway system here).

After that adventure, I checked into my room, and went down to a very nice welcoming reception for UIE, where we were able to pick up our registration materials and meet other folks coming to the conference.

And after that, I went back downstairs a third time to watch the Phillies play the Dodgers on one of the TVs in the hotel’s restaurant. Munched some food with the guys and returned to my room because honestly, I’m flat-out exhausted right now.

(We’re currently down 7-2 in the 7th and threatening — as much as any team can threaten down by 5 — and I’m watching the massive flat-screen TV in the mirror so I can type at the desk, which is really breaking my brain. Ryan Howard tagged up and moved from 2nd to 3rd after a fly ball a moment ago and in the mirror it looked like he was booking it back to 1st base. Ow my brain.)

Anyway, I’m in a big fancy hotel with big fancy features far from home. I’m traveling with people I like and I’m going to learn a ton, if I can stay awake long enough to absorb any of it. I’m pissed that my team melted down in the 1st inning, and I’m pissed that we’re not batting better, but I’m too tired to stay up and finish the meltdown. At least I get to make a giant pillow nest with the 6 pillows on the king bed, which will hopefully rest me up well, because I’ve got to be up at 7.

It’s good, and not always good, but good enough to take.

Oh good, it’s not my imagination – my brain really is getting tired.

Turns out that making decisions, no matter how small, is brain-taxing. This explaind why when I have a really rough cognitive day at work I physically burn out about 15 minutes into my martial arts. (I’ve learned to grab a snickers bar at 4pm on those days.) I’ve run into this same problem when I tried to play a game like Brain Age right after work, too. I can actually feel my brain avoiding simple addition because it’s too hard.

I think it also explains why when little kids (or puppies) are tired, asking them to choose things is also asking for big trouble. When you’re little, everything’s a decision – is this edible? should I follow Mom? Should I stay here? Do I want that? No wonder Chance sleeps so much.

Ironically, I came across this (removed) link while cleaning out my email after a week’s vacation. Every single message is a tiny decision on whether I have to act on it and when. It’s no wonder I’m grouchy and hungry and it’s not even 12:00 even though I had a huge breakfast. They mention lemonade in the article and I’m salivating at the thought of lemony sugar. Email is just too many decisions. Of course, the problem is how to get rid of them!

Tales of a 31-year-old white belt: 3 lbs of furious wattage

So things have been a little crazy the last few days or so….I have a major project due on Monday at work and it’s brought with it a lot of new challenges, particularly around project management. The root of the issue is that when you take a new businessperson and team them up with a new information architect (me), and a few other individuals who haven’t necessarily ever filled their exact roles before, and let them loose on a project with a vague scope, well, there’s a lot of cat-herding going on.

And I’m not afraid to say that I panic easily, am terrified of upper management as a general rule, and get obsessed with having pixel-perfect wireframes (yes, I know that’s a contradiction in terms). The end result is an all-nighter last Friday into Saturday (along with a few other assorted hours throughout the weekend) to get my wireframes done, crazy hours Monday, crazy hours again yesterday, and crazy hours today.

And OH MY GOD I’m exhausted.

The problem is I’m so exhausted I forget I’m exhausted. Case in point: I was smart enough to go home Monday after work instead of going to martial arts because I knew I couldn’t get through the calisthenics and I’d collapse. So that was smart.

What wasn’t so smart was not realizing that I wasn’t any better off yesterday.

Yesterday, I ate a healthy breakfast, ate a healthy lunch, and then spent four hours in an intense stress-filled situation cramming to finish a presentation that I then had to give to upper management (see point A about my feelings on management above). As soon as the presentation was over, I literally ran to my car (choking down a York peppermint patty on the way) to go to martial arts, which is in another building down the road.

At class, we did the usual warm-ups, then this cruel thing where you go from standing, to a squat, to kicking your feet behind you, do a pushup, back to the squat, then stand back up, then do it again. Ten of these. This was new exercise to me. My heart started pounding.

Then 50 jumping jacks. OK, I can swing that.

Then we went from standing into a squat, into a jump to tap our partners’ hands, back into a squat, like hyper frogs, for a total of 60 seconds. I think that’s probably when I started to lose my breath.

Then what I’ll call “laps” up and down the room – front kicks, then side kicks, then this cruel thing where you hop on one leg while kicking the other.

OK, look, I’m 175lbs on a good day and I’m 5 foot 3 when a generous nurse runs the scale. I’m built like a fire hydrant. Hopping on one foot sideways is freakin’ impossible to begin with, forget all the way up and down the room. Each lap I fell further and further behind the rest of the crowd, breathing harder and harder, heart feeling like it’s going to explode, which because I’m one bullheaded sunovabitch, just made me push myself harder. If all these other folks can do it, then the problem is I’m just not trying hard enough.

And I continued with that attitude until the edges of the room started to get kind of fuzzy and both Mr. and Mrs. Robinson made a point of saying “If anyone can’t handle this, you can bow out” while looking pointedly and directly at me.

Even I’m not dumb enough to ignore that particular mix of signals. Which is good, because by that point I was panting so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath at all. I think I might have been hyperventilating. Thank God I have a class of caring intelligent people — one of our highest ranking red belts came over and talked me through holding my breath just to slow my heart rate down so I could breathe again. And I got a good (positive, effective) talking to from both of my instructors, which I totally deserved for being so dumbass stupid and bullheaded.

But I couldn’t figure out what the hell happened. Yes, I’m out of shape. Yes, I shouldn’t try to keep up with people who have been practicing since 2005. Yes, I’d totally screwed my sleep schedule over the weekend and skipped not one but two workouts since the previous Wendesday. But I haven’t had a full breakdown of physical mechanics like that since college, when I discovered that not eating for an entire weekend is not conducive to crossing campus Monday morning.

And then tonight Nighthawk and I watched Human Body: Pushing the Limits, which we’d DVR’d, and something clicked. We were watching the episode on the human brain, which talked about the need for sleep, the need for cooling, and the need for energy. Turns out this three pound lump of grey matter between our ears uses on average 1/5th of our energy in a day. That’s right, the brain’s a giant energy sucker. And I ran it ragged for 4 hours.

Even though I’d eaten a good 1000 calories or so yesterday, the same amount I usually eat, and I’d had plenty of water, I’m now realizing that I’d burned through a lot more energy than I thought I had. (Keep in mind that if I eat more than 1550 calories in a day I gain weight. 1000 calories through lunch is actually *high* for my slow-ass metabolism.)

By the time I got to class, as my cousin would say, my stubbornness was writing checks my body couldn’t cash.

When I finally did catch my breath, by the way, I recovered enough to practice forms with the rest of the class with no further issues except for the blister I got on the bottom of my big toe. (Apparently they are not yet made of iron.) But I popped that nasty thing and it’s healing nicely, so I should be fine by Monday.

Monday — when I have to give two more presentations and hand over this project. Yeah, I’m thinking that had better be a 2000 calorie day.

In other news, I think I’m going to have all my ducks in a row without resorting to another all-work weekend by Monday, and then I might just get to revert back to a normal work schedule. As an added bonus, my brother and I are going to the Phillies game tomorrow, so life is really damn good. You know, if you ignore the screaming thighs, angry toe, and pure flat-out exhaustion.