Saturday, October 28, 2006

Exercise for School

This morning, I took a taxi to Bookpeople to do some long overdue browsing. I really haven't done anything personally indulgent since starting school a couple of months ago. Indulgent really is the word. I took the taxi because I was a bit constrained for time due to a meeting scheduled with my mentor later in the day and wouldn't be able to make it on my bike and get back in time, but it felt really luxurious to let someone drive me around. Just call me Ms. Daisy. When I got to the bookstore, it took me a long time to settle into a normal pace of bookstore browsing. I think I am so used to being pressed for time and approaching every task with a clear-cut goal, so I just walked the aisles, looking around at what the rest of the world looks like on a Autumn day at 9:30 in the morning. I know that I do my best thinking before noon, so I rarely do anything but work in the mornings. It felt strange to have my thinking brain primed but only using it to observe the world.

As I wandered through the store to get into the groove of book browsing (and usually, buying), I realized that I feel very disconnected from the world right now. Cassie says it's lack of sleep. I think it might partially be that, combined with very little news (I haven't read an entire newspaper since school started), but mostly I think it is because I don't feel like I'm in touch with the circle of friends I realize I have come to rely on so much. I've realized that if I had a question or problem, there was always someone who could help me. I realize that I have set up my world so that I wouldn't have to deal with my weaknesses. Now, in school, where I am personally responsible for everything, I have become acutely aware of my weaknesses, and frankly, it's messing with my brain. I have been seriously knocked down a couple of pegs in terms of my self-confidence. I can't tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Of course, we all benefit from being challenged, but I wonder if I am too set in my ways to be able to tolerate a great deal of upheaval in my life. Lack of sleep and a daily roller coaster ride of emotion has left me feeling continually drained and dumber than when I showed up at Acton.

At the same time, I have been amazed at how effectively I have begun to use my time. I have found that I operate pretty well on 5 hours of sleep, which is stunning. I hope that I can keep that habit when I leave school so I can squeeze more out of every day. When you are close to turning 40, squeezing more out of your day is a big deal. But I'm still a work in progress at this point. I still find myself distracted by e-mail, instant messages, web sites, audio files, phone calls and general tomfoolery. I still haven't completely shaken my Gen X Slacker heritage, although I could only feel whispers of it as I climbed the stairs to the second floor.

Out of general habit, I always tend to find myself first in the Business section of any bookstore. Cassie tells me I have a love/hate relationship with school, which is true. I also have a love/hate relationship with business. I want to be successful in business and yet consider most successful business people to be shallow and somewhat suspicious. I soothe my anxiety about performing well in school by reminding myself that Jeffrey Skilling, the Enron guy everyone loves to hate, finished at the top of his class at Harvard Business School. I scanned the titles. I saw books that I had on my list, books that had been recommended to me by friends, classmates and teachers. I didn't pull a single one off of the shelf. I moved to my next usual stop in bookstores, the self/help and creativity section.

Here, I actually looked at a few books. I grabbed a book about journaling with watercolors and prose. The illustrations were beautiful. I admired the paintings of coffee cups and the negative space around messy tables in the author's home. I looked at that Eckhardt Tolle book I haven't ever gotten to finishing. I looked at that book about Neurolinguistic Programming I have always meant to get around to reading, Twyla Tharp's book on creativity that people have recommended to me for years and I flipped through that Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain book - again. All those little projects I never seem to have time for. At that moment, I began to feel overwhelmed by all the books around me, all the ideas I want to explore, all the experiences I still want to have, all the ideas I want to consume. There's just too much. I sometimes wish someone would prescribe me Ritalin so I could focus just a little more, or maybe I could be like one of those folk artists who work over and over again in some limited medium, like Mr. Miller, the man who made whirligigs in rural Georgia. Sometimes the possibility is just too much and I feel frozen in contemplation of all there is.

Then, I heard an employee say, "Here they come." And I heard the little voices getting louder as they came up the stairs. An army of school kids, here to listen to some rock star children's author. Ah, the things you miss when you're always working at 10 in the morning. I enjoyed watching the kids as they listened to a rather uninspired author as she read from her book. They were so engaged and mostly deeply engaged in every word this person said. It was encouraging somehow. For a minute, I forgot the troubled world these kids were due to inherit from us, or maybe I just thought they could save it.

I continued my cruise through Cultural Studies, Graphic Design (I flipped through a fascinating and seriously creepy book on Russian Prison Tattoos), Comics, Architecture, Fine Arts, all those futurist books and the bargain tables. I ended up where I always do if given enough time: poetry. I read a couple of comfort pieces: e.e. cummings and Allen Ginsberg. Sometimes it feels good to be slow again.

I left without spending a dime in the store. Cab fare: $12 round trip, tips included.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Something I Need to Keep In Mind...

"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

– Steve Jobs, in a graduation address at Stanford in 2005.