Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dead Men Tell No Tales, Or Do They?

Literally, of course they don't. But what about the dead men (and women) who've written so many of the books that sit on your bookshelf at this very moment?
    The books that one reads can say a lot about a person. I, for example, might come off like a nihilistic maniac cook with what's on the bookshelf I'm looking at right now. I have several bookshelves, but this particular one contains almost exclusively books written by Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, and over a year's worth of Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazines. It also includes Orwell's 1984, also a nonfiction book about a 19th century serial killer from the Chicago World's Fair, some Dostoevsky, and a couple other nonfiction books and novels.
    I can't imagine anyone could really call me a maniac just for having so many Stephen King books. It's not like I've marked them up with devious little notes and furious scribbling. I suppose I just prefer getting a scare from a book than from a movie most of the time. And as for the Leonard books, I don't think there are too many people in this country who don't enjoy crime dramas, though they may get it on television instead of from a book with shows like NCIS, CSI, Law and Order, Detroit 187, Psych! (a comedy, but still a crime-related program), among myriad others. However, not to leave anyone out, many people do get their hankering for crime drama from a book, like those by James Patterson, Sue Grafton, and James Ellroy, to name a few.

The $64,000 question is, then, is it permissible, and more importantly, is it accurate
to judge a person by the books on their bookshelves?

What if I were to say that I had Jane Austen and all the Adventures of the Bailey School Kids books as well as Mein Kampf or The Communist Manifesto? Would that make me a communist? Or a racist? Or just peculiar, for still having books I read when I was eight?
    If we take Morgan Freeman's character (in the movie Se7en), to have given us a fact, we would have to consider the possibility that the US government tracks what books are checked out of the library for these kinds of suspicions, and according to this assumption, certain books are flagged--like Mein Kampf. Maybe it's movie bullsh*t and maybe it isn't, but if you're doing a paper on dictatorships through history, or even rituals and peculiarities of cults or Druids or something, you could feasibly come across one of these books that's "flagged." And then you get put on a "list." And nobody wants to be on that kind of list.
    While I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone ought to stop reading, or even that people should be more careful of what they read, some stuff is trash, but some stuff is "bad trash" (the way that Stephen King tells us his mother used to refer to certain literature). In other words, some stuff is worth reading, and some isn't.
    In any case, I don't think that what you read gives some deep, psychological insight into you as a person. I know there are plenty of people who do think exactly this--some psychologists, for example. While I don't think psychology is completely irrelevant, sometimes they reach for something that's just not there. Perhaps too much Freud addled their brains and caused them to see everything as a sign of the Oedipus complex or penis envy.
    I think if you read a book, it could be for a class or for enjoyment or plain curiosity.
But when something terrible happens, we want a reason. An answer. It's our nature.

Example: 'But why can't I eat from the tree?' 
'Because I said so.' 

But that's not reason enough. 
    We want something more concrete. And sometimes, we suffer the consequences when we go digging for those answers. But psychologizing everything is not the answer.
    Sometimes, ladies and gentlemen: sh*t happens.
    There are crazy people, and there are mean people, and there are people just trying to get attention. And then there's Maude. Just kidding ;) And then there's the rest of us just plugging along, trying to get from start to finish, without too much fuss in between.
    Since I'm starting to wonder what my point is, I suppose I ought to sum up. My point this: sh*t happens, and coming up with irrational and ridiculous reasons to try to explain it isn't going to make it un-happen. We move on, and we do our best to be aware enough, and brave enough, to see the signs and prevent the sh*t from happening the next time. It is not impossible. But you can't look the other way and pretend it's not there and then say, oh, what a shame, when it happens anyway.
    Participate. Be engaged with the world around you. You never know, you could do something really helpful, worthwhile, and even, perhaps, heroic, the next time the sh*t does go down.
Mindfulness, consideration, and courage, dear friends, courage.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

To Stay the Course or Cut and Run

Is it better to stay the course or cut bait and run when you know you should?

A question our previous commander in chief might have considered, or at least, ought to have done.
   Tuesdays have become quite terrifying for me, because they require a focus on school for such a large portion of my day. I only actually like one out of the 5 school-related blocks of time I have to attend on Tuesdays. But Mondays and Wednesdays are fine, and Thursdays, while occasionally rushed, are not too bad. Tuesdays are the new Mondays.
    I have seriously considered whether I've bitten off more than I can chew this semester. Theoretically, it seems manageable. I'm only taking 9 credits--the minimum for full-time coursework at the graduate level here. However, because one class is a teaching assistant position, I actually have to attend both sections of the class, making the credit load seem like 12. Additionally, there are office hours, adding another 3 hours each week doing school-related work, pushing 12 credits to 15--a maximum coursework load for graduate level students. Being that the teaching assistant position is unpaid (since I am beginning in the middle of the school year--both unfair and unfortunate), I am also working about 20 hours a week to keep an apartment and afford myself other necessities.
    It occurred to me today that perhaps I ought to drop one of my classes to ease up the work load a bit. But, the only one I would be able to drop is an evening course that cuts 3 hours out of my Tuesdays, time that might be spent doing homework or grading. But I like it. It's interesting. It's even a little bit... fun. And the way things are going, with regard to mental stability and stress allocation, I'd rather drop the teaching assistant class, considering it cuts into my time more than anything else. So, do I stick with the class that's promising full financial aid for the next two years, despite the mental anguish it's causing in the meantime? Or do I drop it and hope I get the aid anyway? Or, do I drop the class I like and hope that that extra three hours will help?
    It's an unpleasant position, no matter how I look at it, but I haven't had to deal with this kind of stress level in a long time, and I'm really not coping too well at the moment. So it seems something must be changed to alleviate some of this stress.

   To make matters even more confusing, not only am I wondering if I should drop a class, I'm wondering if maybe I'm not cut out for grad school altogether. I know it's only the second week, and maybe I'm jumping the gun with that supposition, but stress can do that to people. I question anything and everything all the time. It's what I do. It's what school has trained me to do, in fact. But while I continue to ask the questions, I do not often arrive at any answers. Too often, I maintain the status quo--I finish what I start. And at this point, I'm wondering, questioning, if that is the best policy. I'm not a quitter. Overall, I follow through, and things usually turn out all right. But in the long run, in this particular case, is grad school going to help me achieve my goals; is finishing going to make me feel better about myself and my place in the world; is becoming a part of the academic world going to contribute to the world in the way I want to contribute?
    These are not small or easy questions. And just because I bring them up now does not necessarily mean I haven't been thinking about them for a long time. I've been thinking about grad school for about two years now. And these questions have popped in and out all through that time, but now that I'm actually here, taking classes, participating in them, doing the work, they are more real and present than they were previously. As such, I feel now is the time to seriously think about them and actually try to answer them in a way I was unable to before because I did not have the experience of it to affirm or deny my thoughts and feelings about it. I didn't know if I would be able to handle the workload or understand the readings or if I could handle it and understand things, whether I'd want to continue with it or whether I'd want to chalk it up to experience and pursue another direction.

Do you follow through for the sake of not being a quitter, not giving up, 
or do you stop when you realize things may not be as cut and dried as you thought? 

As we like to say, the unexamined life is not worth living. So at least I'm doing the examining, even if I'm not doing a good job of it, or coming to a conclusion about it. A for effort, I think.
Redemption can be like one step forward and two steps back. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The First Day of the Rest of... This Week

People throw around that saying: "The first day of the rest of your life," and expect you to take it to heart.
    In fact, that phrase is pretty terrifying. Because you're always going to be wondering, what am I doing right now that is contributing to society? Or worse, what am I NOT doing?

  • Is reading this blog worth my time? 
  • Is watching videos on YouTube or trolling Facebook for hours on end worth my time? 
  • Is it helping anyone? 
  • Is it helping me? 

    Trying to point your life in a good direction is no easy task, and I can't say I've mastered that process either. For starters, I just finished my first week of graduate school. This topic is supposed to be in line with this 'first day of the rest of my life' philosophy. Going to school--again--to be able to begin a career in something later on is what the original idea behind this choice was. But I've been out of school for a year, and out of work for most of that year, and while I was excited to get back to school at first--back to something I'm good at (this is before classes actually started), now that I'm back, actually going to class, taking notes, talking to professors and other students again, I somehow feel like I'm moving backwards. Or moving towards something that it suddenly occurs to me I'm not sure I want to be heading towards.
    The classes are challenging, sure--hey, it's grad school. But it's not the homework or the thinking that scares me. I love going to class and learning and thinking, making some small effort to broaden my horizons. What scares me is this: is this [grad school] going to help me do what I want to do for the rest of my life?
    And sadly, the answer is no.
I, the Constant Writer, would like to do just that--write, and make a living at it, for the rest of my life. But, dear readers (if anyone bothers to read this, that is), I'm sure you know as well as I do, your dream job--and mine especially--isn't always easy to come by.
An early life crisis--to say the least. 
    It's only the first week, after all. Maybe grad school won't turn out to be so terrifying after all. Maybe I'm headed in exactly the direction I'm meant to go. But, I'm sure if you continue to check in with me, I will always constantly and inevitably question everything: myself, the world, and many, unfortunately too many, of the people in it.
All for now. Off to a start. Perhaps a crawl. But that's fine by me. 

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