Tuesday, September 04, 2007

In pursuit of astonishment

Disparate Comrades,

"nowadays we are on a course of steady desensitization"

I've been very happy recently. So happy, actually, that I've not even noticed that my mood has changed. (Here I pause to affirm the fact that happiness is not the same as elation and the two should never be construed.) Right now--and I might still be reeling from all this--everything is simply new, different, and uncertain. The specific reason for this is that I've just quit my job and started graduate school full time. I have no paycheck and am totally uncertain how I will pay next month's rent. Nevertheless, I am meeting new people and having totally different experiences and I've already gained the following bit of perspective that I feel I really want to share with you.

You will notice that you feel really good about yourself when you have the emotional time to feel really good about someone else. Now that I'm not mopping up my own self-inflicted grief inside, I have time to say this: I have two friends who just started teaching today. I was so glad to hear that they were embarking on something today. I was happy for them that they had started something new. And part of it was because I was too, but it really would be different if all my friends were miserable right now. I want very much that my friends are happy.

I was also very happy to have all of you in one room (bar) not long ago. It was important that we all met together once. I think it's still important to meet in person, even if we are scattered here and there by chance and this country being absolutely enormous.

My sister has a little niece, who's a neat little lady. I'm super glad that she'll grow up with good parents. I don't think I said that last I was visiting.

Anyway, people are really awesome. And people from everywhere are awesome. And I wish that more people really understood that.

The second thing is about learning. In order to learn well, you have to be engaged in what you're learning. If you aren't engaged, you won't put energy into learning and you will, of course, not learn much or only what you have to learn. That's much worse than making a mistake and no way to learn anything at all. In order to be engaged, however, you must have some sort of reaction. It doesn't have to be a positive reaction: you could learn from frustration and being challenged. It's a bit of a chore that way, but it can lead to serious motivation. It could be excitement, or a more visceral reaction, a physical reaction. It feels good to learn this thing. It feels good to exercise this part of my mind, or my being. But it's not easy to be in a state like this--it's easier to be sarcastic and bitter, to turn your nose up because you already know that, to show off or develop a parallel agenda. Sometimes it takes nothing short of astonishment to snap out of that way of being. I've noticed this kind of process has taken place recently, making me suddenly realize how I've been for so long. It's like, Anne, when Naeem talked about that one moment when the goldfish jumps up into the air and realizes that she's been in the water all this time. So, I've promised to let myself be astonished as often as possible. (This one has great side effects.)

The last one I kind of already mentioned--in fact it's been a thread all the way through this. Change is essential for growth. Everything mentioned above is predicated on change. Every change is like a miniature version of the goldfish scenario. The Goldfish Principle states that "You can't fully understand where you are until you're somewhere else." There are many layers of meaning to this, which layers require more space and time than is currently available to explain. Suffice it to say here that, along any semantic trajectory you may chose on or through said layers of meaning, the concept is that it is simply not possible to give full context to your present position while you occupy it (whether or not it's possible to give full context at all is debatable, but irrelevant). You must change in order for context to be lent to your previous position. This gives rise to such poetic paradoxes as "you don't know yourself until you change" and is related to "you can't listen if you're talking (or thinking about what to say)."

I won't get into all the ways you can change your routine without throwing in the towel, I'm assuming we're above a pep-talk here. These are still things worth consideration and serious questions like, "what makes me happy for my friends?" and "when was the last time I was astonished by something?" If the answers to those sorts of questions yield little, CHANGE SOMETHING. It could be anything; talk to someone new, start playing the tuba, whatever.

This is probably my first really positive post, but I hope it won't be my last. There's tons to be concerned about, but we shouldn't forget this kind of stuff. I wish for all of you the following things: good sleep, laughs, and lovely dreams.



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