It’s been a while since I’ve scribed anything of any sort over the last god-knows-how-long. I wonder sometimes if I’m experiencing the addictive satiation of social media that everyone with a smartphone seems to be so haply skewered by, whether it’s reducing my cognitive and spiritual capacity. As of late, I feel often unfocused, tired, and unwilling to engage in much beyond the reading of newsfeeds, science and education articles, because there’s always something critically important just beyond the next scroll downward.
Perhaps I’m simply getting older. It’s harder to get myself out the door for a run (it is “winter,” if you can call what NYC has been experiencing thus far as such, but still). It is harder to feel compelled to respond to emails from anyone asking for my time and energy for things that don’t relate to what I need to get done tomorrow. Or maybe I’m just simply depressed.
Full disclosure: last month I discovered myself standing in the middle of my living room weeping, not entirely certain why. When I examined the blubbering’s antecedent, I had just gotten off the phone to my parents. So I guess I realized just how much I miss my family, way out there on the West Coast. I’m not a sentimental sort of person, so this was surprising to me, this missing of family.
And maybe I just felt overwhelmed and stressed at work, because Novembers in any school year are always hard.
Or maybe I was just feeling old. I’m nearing what statistically speaking could be determined as the median of my life’s parabola.
Perhaps it was also that I realized, 8 years into living in NYC, that I’m lonely. I know people, but I don’t know people. Hell, I don’t know myself anymore.
All of those things.
So I’m growing a beard. The un-manicured kind. It now feels like a ginger mat of fur splayed out my chin, which is fun to rub.
I furthermore obtained a set of tabla drums, and assuming I can force myself to haul them downtown on a Thursday night, I’ll begin taking lessons. I’ve decided that my brain has been getting too set into narrow ways, and I need to wire some new connections.
Teaching is certainly a rewarding profession, but I’m missing having any sense of self or capacity that extends beyond the work that I do. Which brings me back to this.
The toughest damn thing in the world.
If it was easy, I would have written that book I was supposed to write 4 years ago already. Writing a blog post that nobody ever reads is hard enough as it is.
I know enough not to make myself any promises, but it’s clear that when I fail to write regularly, I lose an essential connection to myself. It is through this mundane connection that I no longer feel alone.
Here’s to continued future scribblings of the soul.
I’ve decided I will no longer apologize–neither to myself nor to my anonymous audience here–for failing to write on this blog. Part of getting older entails sacrifices and necessary shifts from idealisms of youth and hobbies once held sacred. Writing for most of my burgeoning life has been a method for me to cogitate and develop independence of thought, but most importantly, to relieve myself of loneliness and give voice to an inner life long held silent.
But now I am married and professionally immersed. Though I don’t have many close friends in NYC since I moved here five years ago, I don’t generally have time to feel lonely. I continue to develop and refine my philosophies, but that development now either takes place amongst discussion with colleagues at my school, at education conferences or events, or on my professional blog, Schools as Ecosystems.
So while I do miss the personal and introverted creative explorations/exorcisms I once performed regularly here on this blog, I won’t allow myself to be burdened by guilt that I am compromising some essential aspect of my existence. The reality is that I am developing in other ways, and such is as it should be, because it must be, and it will be.
I’ve been neglecting this blog even more of late, since I’ve been dedicating a lot of energy and attention–the little that remains at the end of most days–to my professional blog, Schools as Ecosystems. Unfortunately, my personal life in general has taken a big backseat to my professional life, and I can sense my creative capacity withering as a result.
In one way, I like losing myself in my work. It keeps me positive, focused, and motivated. I’ve been making some great connections with like-minded people. But I also feel that there is a danger in losing my sense of self and keeping myself grounded and focused on the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is god or nothing or all-is-one or whatever moniker we can come up with to rationally address something wholly irrational.
One way I’ve been trying to maintain my centeredness is through daily meditation. I get up at 5 and sit for 20 – 30 minutes, and this helps me to prepare for the stressful day that ensues.
But for most of my life, writing has been a necessary form of self-therapy, an outlet for catharsis, reflection, and discovery. In some senses, my professional writing performs these functions, but as excited as I am by my nerdy quest to create a new lens for education reform, the reality is that I need to write–just to write–to focus within and shed, or transmute, some of the psychic detritus of my daily existence, and to keep myself rooted.
To face the void that sits before me, the blank screen, and to charge myself with scribing words across that vast space, is a terrifying thing. It is belittling, it is demeaning, to sit and stare, fingering keys and knowing that nothing I could possibly ever say will be good enough, complete enough, to encompass the utter magnitude of one moment entire. Perhaps the proper word is humbling. This is why, I’m sure, my ego rears and kicks and strains to be elsewhere, anywhere, captivated in mindless consumption, reading Twitter, watching a show on TV. It takes humility to recognize in written form the great nothingness that is one self. To know that one self is nothing except as a part and parcel of one whole–that any accomplishment that one could possibly achieve is a mere subsidiary of a stream that is falling headlong into itself to realize itself as the ocean. Eventually, however, words must be chosen and strewn across the screen. And in the breadth of a sentence, perhaps, a glimmer, a sheen, a reflectant hue of the truth may lie. One can only hope.
It is the rush of words, the passionate night embrace of a drunken beauty that all too often ends solely in lonely morning, that drives the written dirge. The swelling of the tongue, the Dostoevskyian splay in the struggle to voice an ideal, the Wintersonian sexing of a passion for what can never fully be captured–it is this bloody, full-throated play that compels my quest to wrestle the unknown into this, ullage of words.
I will return to this space to spackle some more of my life here again. Because it is of necessity that writing occurs.
In order to write something, anything, my mind strives for some overarching purpose. But what is the overarching purpose of my life? Could this be defined? And if it could be defined, would it be worth writing?
It is better, perhaps, for me to recognize that writing itself, like life itself, is purpose enough, worth enough, to enact for it’s own sake – for my own sake – here within this very moment of being. I can write, so I will. I am alive, so I must live.
Writing is an act of transcribing waves of thought into the structured symbols our ancestors developed to amplify their minds. Through this amplification, they – and all their subsequent generations to the point of me at this point of now – enabled this text that sits directly before you on your phone or your tablet or your laptop or your desktop monitor, ferrying this current of my thought to you.
There are so many ways to amplify our minds in this day and age – due only to become ever more exponentially electrified – that it bears questioning as to what occurs when there is much amplification of little mind? Springing from that visualization (big waves circling outwards from a small pebble) comes the possible insight that the eventual zenith of all of this streamlined jetsam and flotsam is no mind. No mind as the end game of much effort applied towards mind amplification. This sounds koan enough that there must be some truth to it.
And as Meta as all of that sounded, it really is just an outgrowth of the overarching purpose from which this thought flow had begun, which of course could not be uncovered until I had allowed it to unfold without consciously steering myself to it. I commenced writing here on this post in order to calm my mind, which was preventing me from achieving the “no mind” of sleep. And in allowing myself to tap, however superficially, into the wellspring of my existence within the here and now, which is being for the sake of being, via writing for the sake of writing, I have found a sort of quietitude that will hopefully allow me to slip into the cover of my dreams. Buenas noches.
In which I am struck with insomnia, and reflecting therein on practices I had been neglecting, and an outline thereof of vowed goals to sustain in el futuro.
I’ve been struck, unfortuitously, with a bout of insomnia tonight, which I have been fortunate not to have had in quite some time. Before moving to NYC and plunged headfirst into a whirlwind of frenetic work and survival, I used to get insomnia a fair amount. I tended to utilize such times for writing. Which may be one reason, come to think of it, why I no longer write as frequently as I once did as a West Coast whippersnapper. During college, I wrote sometimes multiple short pieces a day. Now, many moons later, it’s more like once a month.
While I can’t really help that my cognitive and emotional space is spent on other also fairly important things, like teaching kids, I do miss delving into this personal creative space, just as I miss other creative or emotional outlets I used to devote some time to, such as playing my hand drums or hiking/running up the sides of mountains. And I know that every day that I no longer do these things, I am slowly losing the chops that I once had.
I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s Outliers at the moment, and his argument about success as attributable mainly to extensive practice, as opposed to talent, made a lot of sense to me. I remember my cross country coach in high school (a terrible math teacher, but an excellent running coach) telling us that after two days of rest we would begin losing a certain percentage of our fitness. And I remember reading an interview with John McLaughlin–one of my favorite musicians and world renowned for his lightning fast licks on the guitar–in which he stated that he could tell that he was losing his skills after only two days without practice.
While at a conference recently in Seattle, during a roundtable discussion with other educators about “hybrid” roles for teachers, one teacher who was currently in that role (1/2 time in the classroom, 1/2 time doing policy related work) commented on how during time spent away from the classroom, such as the 2 days we had spent at this conference, he felt his connection to classroom practice slipping away.
I don’t know if 2 days is some magic number, but the big idea here is that without nearly daily practice in something, we begin to lose the skills and capabilities (one could even call it a type of ‘muscle memory‘) we had worked so hard to build. Furthermore, I’m reflecting on the notion that mastery is not some peak that one reaches and plants a flag in and retains from there on out for the rest of one’s life. Mastery has to be built through a lot of hard work and practice (Gladwell says roughly 10,000 hours), and then sustained.
Though I do think that there are certain tracks and pathways that, once formed, can be more easily re-awakened, even if they haven’t been practiced in a while. For example, I’ve been running for many years, but l’ll go through sometimes long periods where I don’t run at all, for reasons such as work, the season, or travel. But when I do begin running again, after a short period of initial soreness, it’s pretty easy for me to ease back into it to the point where I was before. Of course, I ain’t a “master” runner. I don’t run races or anything. But my point is that if you’ve invested a fair amount of time in something in the past, if you begin doing it again, after a short re-learning period, you’re back on track fairly quickly based on where you left off.
All of this is essentially to say that I’m realizing that I have to get much more disciplined about investing more time back into activities and practices that are important to me to develop and maintain, such as writing as an avenue of self-exploration, reflection, connection to a larger community, and expansion of thoughts and feelings.
So here is an action plan, which I am hesitant to lay out as I hate promising things that I don’t follow up on, and I also doubt that anyone really cares about my personal goals, but I feel like it’s better to lay out concrete, explicit goals if this is really important to me:
- I will write by hand in my journal 2 nights a week before going to bed (writing by hand forces me to produce a substantially different style of thought and writing, since I’m mainly accustomed to writing on a keyboard)
- I will publish 1 blog post a week
- I will play my hand drums once a week
- I will hike at least twice a year
There it is. Now I’ve got to do the much harder work of holding myself to it.
Struggling to write something, I write about the necessary struggle to write.
I don’t know what to write. I spluttered out a few meagre sentences that fizzled before they could even hit a period. And as I stared at the blank screen, bereft, I recalled observing this struggle in my 5th grade students as they sat “brainstorming” something to write in class. It’s all right, I would tell them, this is something every writer experiences. There’s even a name for it: writer’s block! Just write down anything that comes to you, the first thing that comes to mind, and keep going with it. You can always go back and edit it or start something new.
And perhaps there is some smidgen of wisdom in those encouragements, even though all I’m really doing is trying to force them to write because I need something to quantify, something to show, something to assess. The wisdom being that we can’t wait for genius divine inspiration to strike – we have to just put it out there, now, while we have the chance, however imperfect and trivial it ultimately may be, or else we risk saying nothing at all, and holding it in, and losing an opportunity to better develop our capability to articulate what is within and to be understood. These opportunities seem like they should be legion, yet they really are quite rare. There is always something demanding our immediate time and shallow attention. Errands, family, TV, Facebook, email, video games, news, books. Something for us to become immersed in, for us to consume. For us to not be lonely, bored, depressed. For us not to confront the dire reality of our own solitary existence.
To create something out of nothing is indeed tough work. It demands humility. It demands that I lay down my pretensions and measure my distance from my own self and from others and step forward into the light of temporary understanding, thus opening myself to misunderstanding and belittlement. But beyond this threshold of fear lies love. An acceptance of my frail attempts to formally communicate myself. An acceptance of my humanity, however proud, however blind, however imperfectly stated. An acceptance that even though I don’t really know quite what to say, or how to say it, somehow I’ve still arrived at a better shore than the one I left but a moment before. And can now go to sleep feeling better relieved, slightly more whole, like I’ve taken one small step towards re-finding myself in the dark empty night, renewing the self that had been sleeping, hidden in the everyday veil of my movements. Enough. I think I’ve found something to write about.