January 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm (happiness)

It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by—words like dutyhonor, and country—really mean? Am I happy? …

The very rigor and regimentation to which you are quite properly subject here naturally has a tendency to make you lose touch with the passion that brought you here in the first place. I saw exactly the same kind of thing at Yale. It’s not that my students were robots. Quite the reverse. They were in­tensely idealistic, but the overwhelming weight of their practical responsibilities, all of those hoops they had to jump through, often made them lose sight of what those ideals were. Why they were doing it all in the first place.

“Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz

Something I worry about when I let my mind get to wanderin’ is whether I am still here at all.  Is this program, which has been nipping at my heels constantly since the beginning of September, not keeping me busy but instead just an excuse not to think?  I find it absurdly difficult to take the tenets of this program (so rosy!  “we’re going to change the world!  we’re leaders!”) seriously.  I find it absurdly difficult to take anything seriously.

I never take myself seriously.  I especially never take my craft seriously, and that’s really my biggest concern.  Can I survive the remainder of my life ignoring my craft and my desires?  Frankly, I probably can. More than probably.  It’s natural to me, and I’m too goddamned “sensible” to keep myself from pushing art to the wayside.  I like to push myself to the wayside, like my own thoughts and my own emotions are worthless.  As though they prevent me from moving forward.  But shouldn’t I have the mentality that my craft is an aspect of my life’s work, just as is working performances or updating a website?  And that paying attention to myself and thinking critically is just like studying for an exam or editing a press release?

The nature of my employment should actually foster this sort of activity.  I’m working for a small, innovative, and forward-thinking arts organization that should be spending at least some of its time cultivating some original and alternative thinkers.  I don’t feel that way very often.  More frequently, I just search for the best answer I can find in the smallest amount of time and do it.  And try desperately to do it well.  I feel an underlying desire within my work to have these conversations about art and about life and about death and everything else, as though everyone can feel the importance of altering our mental framework.  But the fact is that we have bills coming in every day, and we have to write up contracts, and engage in partnerships, and write snappy little eblasts.  How can we balance?

How seriously should I take myself?  How seriously should I take my work?  How can I take things seriously without becoming depressed or having some type of nervous breakdown?  How do I know what’s important?  How do I exist?  How do I manage everything while still managing to exist?

I think the last question is the most important, and the most difficult.  It has always been my system to allow myself to disappear in favor of completing tasks and being able to function in general.  But the more and more I delve into meetings and websites and other people’s art, I forget about the art of being myself.  I forget about tending to myself–not only do I not eat well or sleep very much, but also I forget that there is even a “me” inside to tend to.  I forget to make sure I sit alone in an armchair by the window with a cup of coffee.  I forget to make sure that I explore knitting or sewing.  I forget to make sure that I discover and cook new recipes.  I forget to read books and take walks and make photos and look at other people’s art.

I think the fact that I ignore my own creativity and don’t take it seriously is because I am unconfident in it as a whole.  My craft does not make it to the forefront of my to do list because it’s not as important or as “real” as my other work.  If I don’t believe that I will ever publish, then there’s no sense of urgency.  I don’t have to focus my time on myself or my own work–what does it matter?  I’m just doing it for fun.  For something silly to do on the side.  And while I don’t know that I ever want to make writing my life’s work, it’s more than just a silly side thing.  It’s a cathartic experience that sometimes is required for me to exist.  Sometimes I know there is something underneath my fingers and inside my bones that I have to get out.

But when I’m rambling on and on about HOW DEEP MY WRITING IS–am I even fucking saying anything at all?

Does writing more make me more real?  Does writing long and rambly paragraphs all about myself increase the fuzzy reception of my little silhouette?  Or does it just turn up the static, feel like white noise grating across my body?

I don’t know anymore, in all honesty.  All I know is that in the process of this 10-month program, I have begun immersing myself so closely in things that are important but things that are making me lose myself.  I am lost; and don’t know if I shall ever return.


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not existential nihilism… I think.

July 10, 2010 at 3:35 pm (focus, unfinished thoughts)

I am sometimes unexpectedly bowled over by people’s actions, both in good ways and in bad.  It’s much more likely that I will be surprised that someone has acted in a redeeming manner, since it’s quite rare for me to expect that of folks.  I recently received a telephone call regarding a job I interviewed for several weeks ago.  Unfortunately, that job interview was also the day that I found out that I was accepted into the interview round for a rigorous and competitive fellowship.  The pay for the job is three times the amount of the fellowship, at least, and has much larger benefits (e.g., insurance, vacation, etc.), not to mention, it would be easier.  Still quite challenging, but easier.

The fellowship I have about a fifty percent chance of getting.  If I do get the position, it is going to be HARD.  I know that I can do it and that I am a very strong person, but in all honesty, I know that it is going to be a very difficult year.  After doing more research on the program, it is interesting to note that this fellowship is considered by some to be a bastion of socialism and everything that is wrong with the world.  I’ve always been hesitant to put anything on my resume that outright states my political beliefs (perhaps this is ironic, as a political science major), for fear that it will deter other potential employers, or worse, incite them to engage me in some political discussion that I likely care about much less than they do.  This fear has been partially founded by past experiences.  In my last semester, I was petting therapy dogs at school when I told one of the dog owners that I was a political science major.  She proceeded to go on a fifteen minute tirade about the government and everything that was wrong with it.  I stopped listening halfway through.

I believe in social change and in the great capability of nonprofit organizations to help people as individuals and as communities.  I didn’t realize that this was such a radical viewpoint.  Maybe I’m blowing all of this out of proportion.  I’m panicking at the thought of something new and something changing my view of this potential fellowship.  I always do this kind of thing—I wait to do more in-depth research until after I’ve already committed to something, and then panic at what the position, or the work, or the stance really entails.  You’d think I’d be better at cursory research by now, having had to write all of those papers during undergrad.

At any rate, the woman who called me to offer me the job is possibly one of the nicest women I’ve ever met.  And she told me to go for it.  She told me to do everything in my power to try to get this fellowship.

It was striking to me to see how clear-cut the answer was for her.  She was just as unsure about what to do as I was, after I explained the situation.  After all, she had spent quite a bit of time on me—interviewing me, checking my references, looking over my resume more in-depth—and was absolutely willing to take me on, train me, and have me start in two weeks.  If I didn’t take the job, she apparently did not have a second choice or a backup.  She would have to start over again.  Yet after a brief pause, she told me that absolutely this fellowship was the way to go.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about focus, in small ways and in large ways.  You have to have focus on the little tasks in life, like washing all of the dishes before you move onto another task or remembering to cook yourself dinner.  But then you have to have this big focus about what you want to do with your life and who you want to be.  You have to focus on what is absolutely best for you at that particular moment in time and in the future.  Like what type of graduate study to take up or what job to accept.  Having a Five Year Plan and all that.

I have neither of those types of focus.  Not in a real sense, anyway.  I feel as though I have this odd, fleeting, messy focus (that I suppose wouldn’t be considered focus at all, given the description.).   The thing is, I’m not completely all over the place.  I do absolutely have the capability to be tunnel-visioned on a project, working diligently amid all sorts of distractions in an attempt to get this one project Just Right.  I even remember to cook myself dinner on some days.  I’ve been typing this entry uninterrupted for quite some time (though I have been taking breaks to look at the sunset!).  If I am properly engaged, I have focus like no other.

The problem is the rest of it.  I’m so damn wishy-washy and crazy and distracted that I couldn’t have a clear grip of The Big Picture if my life depended on it.  Sometimes in high school I would lay awake at night, my fingers and toes tingling because I could feel all of the possibility in me.  I knew that I could do great things and that I could probably do anything.  And it wasn’t a cognitive knowledge, necessarily, because I was and am so humble and backwards—it was an internal, guttural, feeling.  I don’t get it anymore, but I still hold onto the memory of that.

Cal Newport just posted an entry about focus, in which he cites the book Rapt by Winifred Gallagher.  So, what I’m doing right here is posting about another guy’s post about a book I haven’t read.  I know.  Just bear with me, I might be able to make this come full circle.  It’s about focusing hard on aspects of life in order to feel more fulfilled and less stressed (THE focus theory, just framed in a different manner.)  Cal and Winifred write about our minds being gardens, and about how we have to take care of them, tend to them, and potentially hover over them like a worried first-time gardener.  (Like me and my dill plant!)

Sometimes in life we need someone else to look at the wild, overgrown, and potentially prickly garden we’ve built for ourselves.  They can see that there’s a dill plant quietly thriving in the middle.  What’s more important is that we realize how much of a mess our own mind is and we put on some damn gloves and pull some of that out.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be someone with amazing focusing skills or that I necessarily want to be.  (The fact that I frequently lose my shoes or keys in my tiny one-bedroom apartment is always cause for laughter!)  But what I do need is to realize that time is running away from me and it will seem to move much faster as these important years move on.

I’m always so afraid to make the wrong decision, to come to the wrong conclusion.  I think that this fear itself is the wrong decision.  In some ways, there are no wrong choices.  We can regret, yes, that we didn’t go to that Ivy League school or that we didn’t work for that company that just took off in growth.  It’s natural; we cannot do everything.  (This is obviously My Brain talking, not My Heart)  But even if it’s not always the straightest path (which would be rather boring, anyway), we’ll always get to where we’re meant to go.  That last phrase is sounds so lame, but it’s kind of true.

I tend to believe that life is a little bit predestined, but that doesn’t mean that we just sit back and keep staring out the window.  Our big-change decisions to move to a different state or to join the circus are just as predestined as it is to decide not to change.  That doesn’t mean that we cannot better our lives.  It simply means that there is No Wrong Answer.  Life is life, and as easy as it is to get wrapped up in both big and small decisions, worrying about every possible outcome, the truth is that no matter what we do, bad things will happen and good things will happen.  And a lot of those things are out of our control.  The human imagination will always be wondering What Could Be and What Could Have Been, which sometimes is a curse.  It’s much harder to keep in mind that one must make a choice (even if the choice is to do nothing) in order to have What Could Be and What Could Have Been.  Whether we like it or not, whether we follow or not, life moves on, rushing through our veins and our living rooms.

It may not be the right mindset for everyone, or for most people, but coming to this conclusion is comforting to me.  You have as much control as you want to have, but you cannot have all of it.  In my case, I think that the proper balance between passive and active involves being mostly passive, but extremely active when it comes to only certain things.  This is especially important because I am a really low-energy person.  Feeling as though I have to focus for most of the day on many different things is extremely stressful for me.  For instance, I should learn to be comfortable having some friendships, some potential romance, and most possessions to come and go.  But when it comes to finding a project I really love (like finishing a story or nurturing this blog or going to grad school), I should be able to use all of the energy and focus I’ve saved up on that given project, or rather, direction.

As usual, I’m not sure where all of this is going.  I’m not a good advice-giver, and if you’re coming to read these posts in order to find something like that, I must apologize and politely advise you to ask your favorite search engine for some alternatives.  But if you’re in a similar state and you want to know that you are not alone, and that even though everyone else has figured it out, you still don’t know if you’ll even end up with a clue, you’re probably in the right spot.

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July 3, 2010 at 10:11 am (unfinished thoughts)

The end of June has passed, right about… now. After I was laid off in the middle of May, I promised myself May and June to take off of work, to get some perspective, take a rest, and to try to get a job doing something I actually like. Over that period of time, I applied for roughly forty jobs (certainly not a record), interviewed twice, and came up fantastically empty.

Interestingly enough, as infirm, wavering, and humbled as I may seem in this blog, I would say that I seriously believed that I would get the jobs I applied for, up to eighty percent of them, even. A few days ago I sent in to do some preliminary web work for someone in my neighborhood, and I was literally planning out how I would get back to the city from my hometown in time to start, as opposed to worrying over whether I would even be contacted or not. It’s interesting, how even when we have no self-esteem, we still have this odd element of pride, even if it’s this twisted pride of being bad at things.

In the past I had a friend who would consistently have to have a life that is worse than everyone else’s. We’re still friends, but firstly, we are not close friends, and secondly, she has made leaps and bounds in this area. For at least part of the time period in which we were very close friends, I was dealing with a particularly deep relapse in my depression. I hesitate to write that out. Someday I will address this further, but I am perpetually hesitant to disclose this particular fact about myself, even as an anonymous writer on the Interwebs. Most of my closest friends (in the past and today) do not know that I suffered (I also hesitate to say that I am, or ever will be, cured!) from depression for a rather significant portion of my life. Anyway.

It was, essentially, intolerable for me. She would complain constantly about her supposed friendlessness, her bodily ailments, her family, her job, her life. Again, I hesitate to give away more details for fear that she will someday stumble upon this and recognize herself. Suffice it to say, she strongly believed that she had just about every ailment for which there was an advertised pill (except, thank goodness, ED, considering the fact that she is, indeed, a female). She believed that she worked harder than any of us, academically, and so on and so forth. There were so many times in which I would be ranting about her online to friends (friends who did not know her in person), full of spite and resentment and frustration.

It of course became a huge strain in our relationship. And eventually I realized that the fault lied with both of us: We were both too prideful, but we showed and viewed our pride in such diametrically opposed ways. Either way, we both found ourselves to be quite important, as I suspect nearly everyone does. We both wanted to be “the most fill-in-the-blank.” She would complain about her legs hurting, and I would think that she couldn’t understand leg pain until she had been up crying half the night with pain (I’m an only child who evidently is quite accustomed to doting. I simply had growing pains in my legs as a child. I should re-title this blog “Wendy the Whiner.” Though if you’ve had those sorts of aches, you know they’re rather painful, really.). I thought if she REALLY had issues, she would hide them away, like I did, because That’s What People With Real Problems Do.

Everyone has this—well, maybe not THIS specifically, but “a”—sense of pride that we can’t shake, nor do I necessarily believe that we should shake it. There has to be a reason why humans have confidence and pride, if only so that they don’t throw themselves off of bridges. I just find it so incredibly interesting to note how it shows up, and how differently, as well.

I’m stopping this thought unfinished, partially because I want to post something before the evening is through, and partially because I don’t know what else there is to say. This is a post that I will probably look back on and think, “Why the hell did I publish that?” I want to finish it; I want to think about it more… But for right now, I want to finish this entry and attempt not to a) break any more plates b) step on any more sunglasses c) break any more rings d) burn any more tomato sauces or e) destroy any more frozen treats for the rest of the evening, at least.

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An overlooked bondage

June 29, 2010 at 3:52 pm (Uncategorized)

“If you were in my place would you chuck the whole thing?”

“What do you mean?”

“I wonder if it’s worth being a second-rate painter. You see, in other things, if you’re a doctor or if you’re in business, it doesn’t matter so much if you’re mediocre. You make a living and you get along. But what is the good of turning out second-rate pictures?”

It seems that sometimes God (or Fate, or whatever) throws in some clever little reminder that things aren’t entirely, entirely random, or if they are, you shouldn’t notice that. I’ve been reading (off and on) W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. It’s a great book, yet one that, plotwise, I’ve yet to see really come to fruition, it seems. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, for the outstanding writing, the plot is simply standing. On the other hand, one cannot help but admire a man who can make such seemingly dull and inane and overly-touched-upon activities (going to school, trying to find oneself, growing up, religion, etc.) seem quite relevant, even about a hundred years later.

Yesterday, as I was reading, I came upon this chapter. And it nearly bowled me over with how I’ve been feeling as of late, and how in-line it was with the other things I’ve been reading. The above quote was especially hard-hitting. Sometimes in life, especially today, actually, I feel so outstandingly second-rate. I am confident that I have skills, great skills, and a wide array of them. I can write and read and edit and cook and clean and design things and knit and sew and the list goes on. But again, I cannot help but feel as though I am simply not great. I cannot do any of these tasks so well that people really take notice. I can write but I sure cannot finish a story. I can read but can’t make a living off of just that. I can edit, but I don’t have an English degree and I certainly don’t understand any proofreader’s marks. I can cook, but no better than most people. I can clean, but I don’t want to be a maid for a living. I can design things, but I cannot draw. I can knit but I cannot design patterns. I can sew (by hand), but I cannot use a sewing machine to save my life, nor do I really like to keep up with the latest fashions.

And just now, as I write (I will never learn how to focus), I am sifting through thousands of job listings, unamused. I cannot say, like many do, that “there are just no jobs out there,” because it’s a downright lie. There are plenty of jobs out there, and I’d say that I could probably perform about one third of them. That’s at least 1,300 jobs on one website alone in my area that I could apply for. However, while I can totally do the tasks required of me (Data entry! Mail sorting! Copying!), they are decidedly on the (infinite and never actually “listed”) list of Things I Do Not Want To Do.

“D’you remember my telling you about that chap I met in Brittany? I saw him the other day here. He’d just off to Tahiti. He was broke to the world. He was a brasseur d’affaires, a stockbroker I suppose you call it in English; and he had a wife and family, and he was earning a large income. He chucked it all to become a painter. He just went off and settled down in Brittany and began to paint. He hadn’t got any money and did the next best thing to starving.”

“And what about his wife and family?” asked Philip.

“Oh, he dropped them. He left them to starve on their own account.”

“It sounds like a pretty low-down thing to do.”

“Oh, my dear fellow, if you want to be a gentleman you must give up being an artist. They’ve got nothing to do with one another. You hear of men painting pot-boilers to keep and aged mother—well, it shows they’re excellent sons, but it’s no excuse for bad work. They’re only tradesmen. An artist would let his mother go to the workhouse. There’s a writer I know over here who told me that his wife died in childbirth. He was in love with her and he was mad with grief, but as he sat at the bedside watching her die he found himself making mental notes of how she looked and what she said and the things he was feeling. Gentlemanly, wasn’t it?

“But is your friend a good painter?” asked Philip.

“No, not yet, he paints just like Pissarro. He hasn’t found himself, but he’s got a sense of colour and a sense of decoration. But that isn’t the question. It’s the feeling, and that he’s got. He’s behaved like a perfect cad to his wife and children, he’s always behaving like a perfect cad; the way he treats the people who’ve helped him—and sometimes he’s been saved from starvation merely by the kindness of his friends—is simply beastly. He just happens to be a great artist.”

Philip pondered over the man who was willing to sacrifice everything, comfort, home ,money, love, honour, duty, for the sake of getting on to canvas with paint the emotion which the world gave him. It was magnificent, and yet his courage failed him.

Of course, the question now becomes, “If you know all of the things that you don’t want to do, what do you want to do?” And the answer is…

Well, I think that a lot of people in life are still searching desperately for that answer, whether they are twenty-one or sixty-one. And how does one ever find it? Maybe through trial and error. Maybe through a lot of thought (though I’ve been trying that approach for the past few years now and I’ve come up empty). Maybe you just randomly pick something and decide: THIS IS IT. THIS IS WHAT I’M DOING, SO HELP ME. AND I WILL SUCCEED. I think that has to be a part of it.

You know, as I’ve been spending all my time alternately cleaning, eating, worrying over my plants, and reading productivity blogs (Ahh, the glamorous life of the unemployed), I realize that they make it sound so easy. They say, “No, no, believe me, I know it’s hard. But here are three simple steps.” And I know that they’re right, at least partially—after all, they’re the ones with money, and I’m the one who is attending psychology experiments to get fifteen or twenty bucks.

I’m an infamous hem-hawer. Decisions are like torture. I honestly cannot even decide what to eat for dinner tonight. I’ve been thinking about it since I woke up. I haven’t quite decided what to do with my day and now it’s five PM. I can’t just pick something! What are you, nuts?!?! I know nothing will go wrong if I just pick corn on the cob and a hot dog instead of some pasta with red sauce. And still the idea of decisiveness is terrifying me. And here, something could go wrong if I make the wrong choice—I could actually end up even broker than I already am, which is to say, even more than $40,000 in debt. Not that I’ll die, or anything.

But it will be a change, and as you’d expect from an indecisive girl, I’m also quite resistant to change. Graduating was terrifying. And now that I’m used to being unemployed, the idea of actually getting a full-time (or, hell, even part-time) job is absolutely mortifying. It’s not that I won’t be able to handle sitting in an office for eight hours. I’d probably actually like it. It simply means that I won’t be doing nothing all day. And that, my friends, is quite scary, as absurd and sad as that sounds.

I know I just need to be a Man (even though, quite literally, I’m not…) and decide and just grab life by the balls. Life has many more balls than I do, in essentially every sense one could make out of that statement. I have to decide on something, before it’s too late. Before the world decides for me. But just like I’ve been waiting for it to rain all day so I don’t have to water the basil, I’ll be waiting for the answer to fall into my lap so I don’t have to make a tough choice.

“I wonder if you’d give me some advice,” said Philip suddenly.

“You won’t take it, will you?”

Philip shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

“I don’t believe I shall ever do much good as a painter. I don’t see any use in being second-rate. I’m thinking of chucking it.”

“Why shouldn’t you?”

Philip hesitated for a moment.

“I suppose I like the life.”

A changed came over Cronshaw’s placid, round face. The corners of the mouth were suddenly depressed, the eyes sunk dully in their orbits; he seemed to become strangely bowed and old.

“This?” he cried, looking round the café in which they sat. His voice really trembled a little.

“If you can get out of it, do while there’s time.”

Philip stared at him with astonishment, but the sight of emotion always made him feel shy, and he dropped his eyes. He knew that he was looking upon the tragedy of failure. There was silence. Philip thought that Cronshaw was looking upon his own life; and perhaps he considered his youth with its bright hopes and the disappointments which wore out the radiancy; the wretched monotony of pleasure, and the black future.

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22 June 2010

June 23, 2010 at 12:14 am (Uncategorized)

(An excerpt from my paper journal.)

My life is so absurdly messy.  There are clothes and crap and, frankly, bugs everywhere.  I found a worm in my pastina this morning. So I’ve been reading all these minimalist and organizational blogs and it mostly is just making me depressed.

Hand in hand with minimalism comes that whole “quit your job! blog to be rich!” mantra, as well.  An the more you read it the more you want to do it, of course.  And I have discovered/surprised myself yet again (this happens about twice a year) that I am a good, strong writer.

But the problem is that I am not particularly amazing at anything (including/especially writing) to be able to blog about it.  I know the Cal Newport logic here is to just pick one thing I am pretty good at and work to be particularly amazing at it.

I just always hesitate at that part.  What if I cannot be particularly amazing at anything?  What if I am destined to be some kind of odd semi-queen of all trades, except it’s more like the queen of all mediocrities?  Especially since grueling and dispiriting nine-to-five work provides me with a nice, comforting routine.  I was happy two summers ago to work eight to four then come home slightly exhausted then rest then eat then go for a walk or read or write and then go to bed.  I was the happiest then than I ever had been, even at the point where I was averaging four paper cuts per day.

I just need structure and routine and especially to be pried from my house with a crowbar and maybe even a meat cleaver.

Things I Could Maybe Be Good At:

  • Knitting
  • Web design
  • Writing (??)
  • Advice on being broke (real broke, not just “my dad cut off my access to his credit card” broke) in college
  • Cooking?
  • Selling body to science
  • Whining about how much I miss Italy
  • How to repel friends and detract all potential suitors
  • How to accidentally be (and attract!!) a creepy person
  • How to be an almost-alcoholic on the cheap

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