Life living

September 15, 2008

My dear friend Michael has brought to my attention words that I had written some time back and with the revisit I can feel the bubbles of lifeexpansionfreedom well up inside of me.  I am in my last semester of graduate school and feel the closing of an era that began with a plunge into the standardized test of the GRE and will now finish with the search for that first job at the professional level of librarianship.  I feel unsatisfied.  I have projected a life path that includes the safety of government work and am close to acquiring a degree that will strengthen my ties to career that has moments of satisfaction but still leaves me yearning for more.  I’m sure that I am the first human being to ever be in this predicament (Ha!).

In that first post written a year and a half ago (referenced above) I was struck dumb by the words of a YA author who let go of the known and plunged into the churning rapids of the yet-to-be-determined.  In his story I saw my own life and eventual future of chances not taken, fields left unexplored.  So I mustered up enough gumption to write my blog post to the world and then dutifully returned to the writing of a paper dictated to me by an educational system that encourages well-thought-out passive responses to pre-fab questioning.  And I received an ‘A’ on that paper which made me feel quite good about myself, like I actually accomplished something substantial rather than demonstrating what a nice obedient puppy I truly am.  I’m a smart doggie.

Zoom to this moment and my dogness (no offense to you canines out there, I appreciate a good fetch session) has become even more ingrained as I take the next step of holding up that piece of parchment that proclaims to the world, “Yes I am ready to join the working ranks of those that have chosen security over risk.  Please welcome me with open arms, um, how many years until retirement?”

I admit that I’m allowing drama to infuse this post but I know that there is a ripe kernal of truth at the heart of these frolicking words.  I’m already looking ahead, glazing over the process inherent in the now, trying to find that job description that I can match to my perception of me.  There is a certain thrill there, the chase of that elusive next job that overshadows a deeper longing for a life purpose that will remain unfulfilled if all of my days are restricted to the library field.  I know this to be true.  And yet one must work and financially it makes sense to try and move up the career ladder.  Blah.

The difficulty of my situation is that my dreams are cloudy unformed things that are elusive and cause me to shrink back into other more comfortable arenas.  I consider writing for a bit and then sit down with a book.  Or watch a movie.  I’m fascinated by the creative process and then abandon it personally to become one of the audience.  I read about the lives of authors and calculate their life trajectory with my own.  At time I’m a pathetic silly man surrounded by books yearning to be on the other side of the words.  But to this point the insistence of the dream comes in spurts and I can placidly go about my life for weeks at a time with only a faint recollection of what it is I truly should be doing (At least that’s what I suppose, I am welcome to life injecting an alternative purpose).  The beauty of modern life is that everything is so busy and one can easily be submerged into the flux and forget what it is one ought to be doing.  My yearnings get caught up in this flow and the cloudy dreams easily disperse to reform in a different day’s sky.  I’m conflicted and know it and these words attest to that fact.

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Italy updated

December 21, 2007

This is an approximation of the email I sent to Florence today. A follow-up to this earlier post.

Dear Ms. ____,

I did not want to have to write this letter to you. When I told you two weeks ago that I was still interested in the position I had the sense that any obstacles that came up could be overcome through either will or grace. Today I have given up my quest and must withdraw my acceptance of the internship.

When I applied for this post back in August I had no idea the difficulty in securing visas for family members. I thought that Europe would be fine with wife and child and we could just go about our business for a year in Florence and then come back home. They can come with me but they cannot stay. Three months on and then three months off.

For a short time I entertained the idea of going it alone, leaving wife and child for eleven months while planning short visits home for me and to Italy for G and babe. I imagined back to a time when an opportunity like this would be cause for the dropping of all responsibilities. I thought back to more care-free days when I could be ready for this trip within days. But I have changed and so too has my life situation. I could not imagine leaving at this crucial time when the family adds a member and moments return to immediacy.

My wife, darling that she is, allowed me to mull over the possibilities and did not try to sway me into making a quick decision. She knows of my fading regret of not going abroad during my undergraduate study.

So what is left? I have these words to thank you for the consideration. I hope that you find a new candidate who can make this commitment and find a way to work it all out.

Sincerely,

Matthew

**I know its kind of a bummer but I’m so lucky to have the life I lead now. When it comes down to it there really was no chance of me going unless the whole family could take part in the experience.

Carry to the Med

November 16, 2007

A few years before my extended hike on the Appalachian Trail I happened upon a different hiking trail in southern France. Called the GR-10 (I know, romantic) this footpath stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea covering the length of the Pyrenees Mountains. Leading up to my hike I had been staying with a family in a small town near Toulouse. One night I met a British gentleman who told me about his dream to hike for a week each year and eventually finish walking the GR-10. He was about halfway through. I spent the rest of the night picking his brain about the specifics of life on that trail and by the next morning had hatched a plan. I would make my way south until I found the trail, take a left and walk towards the Mediterranean. Here are some of the things I either carried or wish I had carried on this foray into the French Wilderness:

Carried

  • Heavy wrinkled corduroy pants that weighed me down and kept me warm on cool fall mornings
  • A belief that I had enough stamina and good luck to navigate and last until I touched my toes into blue water
  • The essentials of backpack, tent and sleeping bag–my holy trinity of backwoods essentials
  • A trust in the spontaneity of life that put me on the trail

Wish I had carried

  • More socks for those poor toes that suffered the fire-burn of neglect
  • Another disposable camera–one does not cut it when every day is glorious
  • Gifts for the kind souls that forgave my butchering of the French language and helped me along my way
  • Everyone I knew to share in the reality of being wide awake within a dream

More Scribblings here.

Learning on my own terms

September 19, 2007

I am writing this for the September Write-Away Contest at Scribbit. The prompt is learning.

It started towards the end of my Junior year in college. An itch inside the head, a malaise spreading across my landscape–the knowledge that my education would soon be ending and a realization that what I had learned did not matter. Oh I had learned some things alright: how to teeter the edge of drunkenness and oblivion, how to get by with B’s by doing the absolute minimum, how to always move in the direction of pleasure at the expense of self-knowledge. I had been caught in the machine, taught that high school must precede college and from college to a good-paying job and if I’m lucky a nice girl to settle down with.

But something happened that Junior year, when the stories I had been told no longer made sense. When the frustration grew so great that the only movement that seemed possible was self-oblivion. Either I die or give up. This game that I had been playing, that was playing me had to stop. I started to read. Not just the text I had to for classes but what called to my heart, what helped me make sense of the mess I now found myself in. I looked with eyes that were beginning to focus on a reality that could be explored freely with a questioning spirit.

That summer I locked myself away. I was still living with my family but I moved in a sphere that kept them on the periphery. My routine: Wake at 3PM, eat and go to the back room and read. And write. I would break only for sustenance and return to Dostoevsky and Castenada, Hemingway and Steinbeck. Midnight to 5AM were the magical hours, complete silence and me seemingly the only one awake in the world dreaming wide-eyed while the words of the masters flitted before me.

I lasted like that in my cocoon of learning for a month and a half until my mother awakened me to my responsibilities. I found a job as a cook in a practically empty bar and could read for hours in the back of the kitchen. In the fall I returned to school more myself than ever though I easily slipped back into old routines. Drunken nights with old friends, study and regurgitate, repeat. There were times I would remember what I had learned and the notebook would come out and I could reflect on my loneliness and my betrayal of the soul. A man caught between what he knows to be right and the inertia of shallow friendships projected upon the backdrop of degree pursuit.

Not until I left school could I begin upon the journey towards true knowledge. I found myself on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the winter, no friends from any of my previous incarnations, a man ready to begin anew. There was no weight of expectation that I brought with me, to be anyone other than myself, that ever-changing glorious manifestation of the divine. My Outer Banks acquaintances did not know the beer-chugging frat boy. They did not have any memories of my past selves and I could slowly release those alternative characters I played and let shine through what was dying to come to light: me.

What gives

June 12, 2007

Amazing how easy it is to get caught up in the flow of life–events come and go and the sun rises and crosses the sky yet again.  With so much doing the time for reflection is always a moment hence.  I give myself over to activity and forget to return to the words that provide a mirror to this flurry of being.  I imagine that is why I am drawn to writing prompts because then I will take the time at least once in the week to stop reading and begin to write.

I do write quite a bit now but most of it I would let fall into the category of buzzing activity.  Sunday I spent analyzing the innards of a research study all the time just wanting to go outside and play.  Last night I had four hours of class melodically accompanied by bird songs heard through the open window.  The difference between my academic writing and these lines is that here I can chart unknown courses and let fly what is aching to be let out.  In academia I am given the assignment and obediently follow the given protocol to produce the desired result.

Which leads me to wonder why I have chosen to devote so much of my time in pursuit of this degree while writing here on an inconsistent basis.  In which direction lies my bliss?

The age-old conundrum of practicality vs. dreams.  The practical is so much easier because it does not involve true risk.  Dreams require soul inflammation and a path of open intention.  Not that I feel that mine or any life sticks to just one of these two paths.  There are many shades between and in any one moment that choice exists where new ground can be trodden and old routines left aside.

This degree is my move towards the practical–a writerly paradise where the creative inspiration fits into a nice neat little box.  Perhaps I’m not ready for that great leap-whatever it might entail.  I’m giving myself a dose of fitting in with the crowd so that the flow of life just glides me right along.

Who knows, by tomorrow my mind might change.

Life Being Lived

April 10, 2007

At the wedding I attended this weekend I met an interesing man who shares the name of a famous french novelist.  He also plays the saxophone and made the wedding song special with his heartfelt solo.  I’d had a brief conversation with him before but we never really talked outside of pleasantries.  So sitting by the wife while talk was swirling around me I spied him alone at the coffee station.  I hesitated briefly and then went up to him to share goodwill and comment about his famous name.

We had an amazing conversation that ranged from the future of education to the subversion of the church in a young adult book.  Our talk only lasted about ten minutes and reminded me of the necessity to take a risk and step forward.  Now this may not seem like that big of a leap (approaching someone you barely know) but it is symbolic of what I call life being lived.  I could have easily just stayed in my seat and within my own comfortable little realm (and I almost did) but something shifted and I had to heed its call.  What that something is…

Now I’m not going to try and convince you that my life has been dramatically changed.  Something though is different.  I don’t know if the greens of the leaves are a bit greener or my smile comes a bit easier–life has been enriched by embracing life and discovering what needs to be discovered.  For my moment it was an enlightening conversation with a like soul.  In another moment it could be something remarkably different.  If I’m paying attention I will heed its call as well.  Will you?

I like the passion of my last post but I’m not sure if that is an altogether honest assessment of my situation.  It is a picture for that moment.  And this is a new moment and I have new feelings and thoughts regarding the life situation.  For one thing I have not completely gone the fear route and given up the dream.  The dream being to write as a way of life.  Realistically there are many ways to go about that and having another job does not mean that I am giving up the dream of writing.  More like I’m working so that I can support myself and sometimes I write because of this deep necessity to do so.

Where I get hung up is the quotes. “Quotes?”, you might ask.  Well it goes like this: I love to read and in the process of reading I’ve come across inspiring writers who invariably talk about their craft.  I’m mystified.  I take their words and try to translate them into my life.  And of course there is much lost in the translation:

1. These words may be inspiring but may look entirely different when the thing behind the inspiration manifests in your own life.

2. These words have more to do with the writer than the reader (not entirely sure about this one but I’m sticking with it for now)

3.Words although beautiful can be quite clunky: these symbols that point to something are quite difficult to grasp. 

So I read these wonderful sublime writers and I continue to read their loveliness and so on through the night until it is time to go to bed and I conveniently haven’t left enough time for my own writerly ruminations.  I’ve gotten way too used to being the intake valve instead of giving myself over to the creative outflow.  I can see that it requires a reorienting of the mind and in a sense this life. 

Perhaps that is why these words are here and this is a part of that shift in energy.