I have published a new post five times this month, which is probably as much as the last three years. It’s on purpose. Sometime around 2012 or 2013, my habits of mind changed, and not for the better. A lot of things in my life have gotten better, and I would never in a million years choose to go back, but I feel less in control over the information that goes in and what I do with it than ever. That’s what I would like to go back to.
Although I am not Christian anymore, the spirituality of my childhood is still there, even as negative space. The trinity can be a lot of things, but the god in three persons can be a metaphor for ourselves as minds/intellects, bodies/animals, spirits/life-forces. One of the beautiful things about being human is that we all relate to these parts of ourselves differently.
I am someone that is very rooted in the spirit, roots too much of my ego in having a sharp mind, and struggles a lot with being a body. This shows up in so many different ways: I rarely, no matter how old I was, had a sense of wanting to go to sleep when day was done. I always fought exhaustion until I was overpowered. I was a very well-behaved child because I was so good at sitting still and repressing the body’s natural urge to move. I made it to my early 20’s until it became clear to me that I had to try and develop a different kind of sensitivity to the soft animal of my body or I was going to dissociate myself into an early death.
This is a very woo-woo way of getting to this: I worry about the body a lot, I don’t worry about my mind as much.
From the vantage of early 2019, though, something is not right with the mind either. I do a lot of shallow reading, and less and less challenging deep reading. I have to go to a theater to watch a movie, I won’t pay attention at home. I have access to hundreds of hours of streaming video or music or games or reading material, and two times out of three when I sit down to watch something I scroll through the menu for 20 minutes before giving up and shutting it off.
I’m living life like I’m in a waiting room 10 minutes before a doctor’s appointment. (Spoiler alert, that doctor’s appointment is death!)
This sounds very despairing, and I really don’t mean it to be. But I do want to exercise some control over all this, and that means time traveling a little bit to a time when this part of my life was a little better balanced and seeing if there are some different choices I could have made. Not all of the choices are going to be different. I’ve fantasized about going back to a dumbphone, but that’s not a real option. I really loved the era where I lovingly tended to an iTunes library, but a lot of that was sustained by piracy and even though the economics of streaming is precarious, I can’t imagine restricting what I listen to to albums I pay for.
Here’s what I’m thinking:
- Exercise choice whenever possible. Don’t let recommendation engines take over the drivers seat. Choose something to listen to or watch before opening up the streaming app.
- Demand more of what gets my attention. Renting four movies or going to the wonderful second-run theaters in my neighborhood costs about as much as a streaming service subscription, but they get to be exactly the movies I want to watch.
- Write, and let the writing be messy and unfinished and unpolished and bad in every way writing can be bad.
- Go for dessert first. Get really good at listening to what thing feels shiny and is calling out.
- Take my own responses seriously.
I was listening to a beautiful On Being interview with the poet Mary Oliver, who died last week. Mary said that she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a poet, and that meant she also knew that she wasn’t going to have a life where she had the nice things, the nice family portrait with Junior with the straight teeth. And it was a little kick in the gut for me, because it reminded me that if it’s true that I am chasing a different kind of lifestyle, the lifestyle described by Heather Havrilesky as:
…lean[ing] into reality–the dirt and grime of survival, the sullen, grim folds of the psyche, the exquisite disappointments, the sour churn of rage, the smog of lust, the petty, uneven, disquieted moments that fall in between. The artist embraces ugliness and beauty with equal passion. The artist knows that this process is always, by its nature, inefficient. It is a slow effort without any promise of a concrete, external reward.
which is such a headfucking difficult thing to put into practice because the mean little bureaucrat in my soul that manages survival says that there’s no time or resources for inefficiency, and I hunger so deeply for those external rewards. But I can feel the undertow pulling on my attention, constantly dragging it away from what is meaningful and what needs attending. So I’m following the instructions you would give to someone swimming in waters where there are rip tides:
DON’T FIGHT THE CURRENT. SWIM OUT OF THE CURRENT, THEN TO SHORE. IF YOU CAN’T ESCAPE, FLOAT. IF YOU NEED HELP, CALL FOR ASSISTANCE.