Thanks, Really

I’m not one for baseball analogies, but here’s one—lately I’ve been fouling everything off. I’m standing in the batter’s box and taking pitch after pitch—sometimes it seems more than one hurler is standing on the mound—and I’m two strikes down, still hoping to connect or at least catch a thread of the ball so it goes foul and calls forth another throw.

That’s why I’m so grateful to have this break of a few days.

When I was in graduate school, my building had a primitive video game similar to the last scene of Star Wars. You flew along a groove, and alien spacecraft popped up over the horizon, firing at you. The idea was to kill them first, but you also received some points for time, for just staying alive. After wasting quarter after quarter, it occurred to me that I could play the game as a pacifist, not shooting at all until the target appeared. I became a master dodger, playing forever, scoring almost nothing, but surviving.

Lately life has been like that too.

On Thursday, my family—all of us—will be home for the first time in a long time, and no one will already have plans, and we will talk and laugh. Okay, maybe someone will spend a little time online or video-chat or watch television or plug into an iPod, but at least we will really be together and not standing in the batting box or gliding between opposing spacecraft, hanging on. We have a chance to live squarely, relatively undistractedly, head-on.

You can apportion your effort so many times everything seems a slivered percentage. The definition of relief becomes thinking about one thing, precious because, most of the time, nothing gets full attention or, if it does, only momentarily.

I play to survive.

Blame modern life, the perpetual over-stimulation that should get better this time of year and sometimes gets worse, but really it isn’t the movies or the games or the music or the television or the advertising or the compulsion to shop. And it isn’t preparing for class or blogging or grading papers or dealing with all the usual raining crap either. Any one of those parts could be manageable, pleasurable even, if they didn’t share one overheated brain.

“You’re too busy,” one of my friends says, “to enjoy anything.” Maybe the real trouble is thinking busy is better. Why do any of us believe that? Why do we need a Thursday in November as an excuse to rest?

I’m so tired of dodging, staying out of trouble’s way, making do with the slow accumulation of points.

Okay, some satisfaction comes of hanging on grimly and holding off the shameful walk to the dugout, but wouldn’t it be nice to really swing away, to feel the ball full-flush on the bat, see the sphere’s compression and the recoiling, shocked spring that sends it out of gravity’s influence? Then I could trot around the bases with nowhere else to go.

I’m so looking forward to relaxing and thinking about changed ways.

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11 Comments

Filed under Ambition, Doubt, Essays, Home Life, Hope, Identity, Laments, life, Meditations, Modern Life, Resolutions, Survival, Thoughts, Work

11 responses to “Thanks, Really

  1. Reblogged this on The Heartbreak of Invention and commented:
    I hope you get time to think and relax as you hope for. I’m looking forward to it as well. Your desire to feel your own life, to swing wildly at the bat, run the bases, has inspired in me a rant. I hope you will not mind my sharing it with you. That I take the take the time to write these responses, only to store them in an electronic file makes me feel a little sheepish. Today I will live dangerously. So here it is. My rant for you, and also a big thanks for inspiring in me so much to go on about.

    I don’t know how it happened, but even though I am still somewhat busy, anymore I feel less so. Maybe it’s a mental shift. I do think I’ve finally acknowledged a lot of things that don’t seem right to me, in my work, in the world…in some sense in this past year I finally found the courage to believe myself and pull away from investing my heart in the systems through which I once felt forced to circulate. I used to think it was me, that I needed to adjust my attitude or become more this way or that, and only then would I feel better. I’m beginning to believe all this effort to right the system, through righting myself somehow drained away my lively energy.

    Our systems denude us. They are not venerable, they are not even neutral. The world is corrupt and most people in power are corrupt, they can’t help it, and nobody in authority takes any ownership because well, they think they are the respectable ones. They think they are as good as it gets. I think of my own colleagues, all very good people, and they can’t even be honest about what they’re doing, they can’t think creatively anymore. Because their hands are tied, and they don’t appear to notice it, they often hurt people. They had to check their own gut responses, which may have been decent before they pledged allegiance to the system that crowed them, at the door. They get to use their jargon and feel like they know everything, when they do not (sorry); but they have their medical degrees, the certainty of their positions. They think that’s enough. It’s like their hearts have been cut out of their bodies. It’s chilling. My only hope of salvation from this catastrophe is that I am the low man on the totem pole, which ironically allows me some freedom to think independently.

    I guess this is a long way of saying, I think until we respect the truth of our own guts we will most likely continue to feel “too busy”. The cleanest and most sustainable brand of authority has always been in our own senses. The smart ones return to their humble master, and find eternity lapping at their boots. Those who secede from the power structures of the day may look like fools to the uninitiated; but I think, anymore, if you want to actually feel your life, if you want to play beyond mere survival, you’ve got to be a fool. I say this because, drastic times call for drastic measures. It’s just physics. The forces in our world have become extreme, like fundamental kind of extreme, and to break them requires some extreme force as well. But we bow to moderates. This is a problem. Moderates know how to get through the swamp, but the radicals understand the direction of things (i stole that from Lincoln, the movie).

    We see films and read books about great people, people who are alive, people who make much needed changes to the world; these folks always, always took serious heat for trusting their instincts. I can only thank the sky that these dear ones exist to remind me that any sense of goodness, any and all decency in this world has always been won by folks who wanted to do so much more than save their own behind. I think of these folks when I am feeling miserable for having to acknowledge I must actually do something to make the world a better place. If I sit back and let the power of the day instruct me, allow my life force to enter its blind veins, well, I am a part of it. If I am mindlesslessly swooshing through the body of this large system, I may well survive, but my time will never be my own.
    –patrice

    • dmarshall58

      I hardly know where to start or whether to start… you’ve articulated a lot of ideas that I’ve been grappling with and others that, up to now, have just been glimmers. I’m not sure I have anything productive to add, just reactions. But here goes:

      “In this past year I finally found the courage to believe myself and pull away from investing my heart in the systems through which I once felt forced to circulate”–’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished… I’d like to know how to divest. In many ways that seems the most difficult challenge of being a teacher.

      “It’s like their hearts have been cut out of their bodies. It’s chilling”–I know people like those you describe but worry that, at least at times, I might be one of those people myself. As you said, they can’t always help it and all of us get co-opted in some subliminal ways. It pays to be on the guard, you’re right.

      “I think until we respect the truth of our own guts we will most likely continue to feel ‘too busy'”–This perspective reminds me of Emerson and Thoreau. Trusting intuition was central to their perspectives. Intuition has really taken a beating in our time, however. As my students are always pointing out, with no assurance any two people having the same intuition, following whims promises chaos. I might not agree, but that’s the current view.

      “If I sit back and let the power of the day instruct me, allow my life force to enter its blind veins, well, I am a part of it. If I am mindlessly swooshing through the body of this large system, I may well survive, but my time will never be my own”–I admire your resolution and wish I had such self-assurance about my convictions. Alas, that’s elusive for me.

      Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments! –David

  2. Thomas

    I have a friend. He was playing to survive…and hated every minute of it. So he quit his job and took a new position in a different field. A field quite far out of his comfort zone. Now he’s loving every minute of it.

    I don’t think that particular scenario works for everyone but there has to be some challenge. Oddly enough, challenge, like true rest and relaxation is about focusing on something entirely and blocking out all the rest of the nonesense.

    Maybe it’s focus that brings us our sense of accomplishment?

    • dmarshall58

      I think your friend has exactly the right idea, and I often think my real trouble is being stuck in the batter’s box, not my efforts to get a solid hit. When my wife and I sit down to explore new possibilities, however, the conclusions seem obvious–we are not in a place (soon to have two kids in college, approaching retirement) where we can make any dramatic moves without serious risk.

      That doesn’t stop my from fantasizing about changing direction or arriving at a new focus though. Thanks, as always, for your thoughts. –D

  3. kthorpe

    This makes me think of the Old Testament commandment to the Hebrews: “6 days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, and on the seventh thou shalt rest.” No chopping wood, no tending the fields, not even any cooking. Food was prepared ahead and only the bare minimum of chores were done to keep everybody alive. When I try to think of a day without the constant stimulus of television, internet, and radio– and furthermore, a day without to-do’s and with family… once each week… I think I’d definitely be a calmer, more sane person.

    • dmarshall58

      We actually had a rousing game of Monopoly on Thanksgiving, and it was fun. It’s hard to know one another when you don’t spend casual time together. It’s so nice to return to that occasionally, to rediscover how natural it is for family and friends to be together. Thanks for visiting and commenting. I hope you had a great holiday. –D

  4. I’m a busy person, because I choose to be. And I don’t feel that I’m too busy to enjoy life. Other things keep me from doing that. But kthorpe is right – we surround ourselves with noise, digital and otherwise. Would we recognize silence if it crept up, would we recognize a free moment if it crept up? Our brains seem wired now to keep taking in stimuli to the point we can’t tune any of it out. When I retire, I know that I will try very, very hard to spend less time wired in to cyberchaos.

    • dmarshall58

      “Cyberchaos” is great word. I appreciate the web, don’t get me wrong, but, as with most things technological, we started out long before we began asking where we’re going. While we may have no means of returning to a simpler life, I’d like to ask more questions and take more control of how I use the stuff that surrounds me. I like being busy too, but I’d prefer being busy on my own terms… if I can only figure out what those terms are. Thanks for visiting, and thanks for your thoughtful comment. I hope you’ll find time in your busy life to come back. –D

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