My name's Dave. I'm working on it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Year of the Exploratory

All right. That's quite enough of that.
A friend of mine remarked recently that he hates blog entries in which the author apologies for how much he or she hasn't written lately. He wished that the author would just get on with it and write something, already. No good comes of further delaying actual work by bemoaning the various reasons for the lapse. And I agree with him: it is more or less pointless.
If I am to give in to some backward-looking lamentation and offer some explanation as to why I've been silent these past two months, believe me when I say that it is inextricably connected to what I have to say now, and bears on what I will say in the future as well.
And now I hardly know where to start.
Writing things down, for me, has always served one or two functions. First, it provides a record of my life, thoughts, and progress. Documenting each day gives that day the feeling that it has not been lost, and no matter what specific details and observations I write, it is heartening that they have been set down.
But secondly, and far more importantly, is the fact that writing things down acts as a buffer against the incoming tide of new information: like Dumbledore's pensieve, it lets me take each day's barrage of information and store my thoughts and experience somewhere else than in my head.
I forgot how important this was.
I've never really believed that I would one day go back over my old journals and re-read what I'd written. Even if something was particularly profound or clever, I knew the odds were good that I'd never give any of it another glance.
I can see, in hindsight, that the real value of daily writing is not anything that I wrote on any particular day, but the sanity purchased by simply doing it.
And this is where the silence comes in.
When you slip from a discipline (I better speak for myself here - when I slip from a discipline), it naturally gets harder to pick it back up the longer I wait. Not just because I'm giving in to procrastination like any normal person - if that were all, it should be relatively easy to cope with. But in my case, the longer I wait, the more keenly I feel all the unrecorded days weigh on my mind. Inertia intensifies. The number of specific things I'd intended to say blur together until I feel fairly choked by the prospect of cracking the massive exterior that's grown over the period of lost time.
So it seems entirely appropriate, then, that another new year is upon us.
In years past I've downplayed New Years Day as just another day, dismissing the notion of resolutions. It was probably no more than this: at that point, I found myself in a strong enough place to make such claims. I do not find myself in such a position now.
Admittedly, I'm less interested in tiny, specific resolutions than a few general gear shifts. It's not just what I will or will not do; it's how I'll try to approach them. I know all too well that part of the reason I've been so paralyzed lately is that my standards for myself are quite high. I don't practice writing very much at all, and yet being unable to express myself perfectly right out of the gate (as foolish people like me expect to do) has made me doubt myself, write less and less, and so on and so forth. As 2008 comes to a close, my discipline is in a bad way.
A few years ago I audited a course at Reed College. My professor, Ken Brashier, would give us our daily reading assignment, but in addition, we were each to prepare something written for the next days discussion.
He called it an exploratory.
In the framework of the class it sounded very serious, but really it amounted to simply writing down your thoughts, unformed and raw as they were, about the reading. A simple idea, but an effective one: it forced us to come up with something, anything, to say about material we were still processing. And then to go on. It would never be perfect. It would just be a rough sketch meant to catalog our progress each day.
So, I've been thinking.
No resolution that obliges you to turn your life around with 100% success can be expected to be met. To say that this year I'm finally going to get rid of such-and-such behavior, or finally do that thing I've been putting off, is a bad beginning. I know, at this moment, that I'll fall again and again. It's crazy to think otherwise. But a resolution to try and do better than I have while allowing for this? Well, that sits with me comfortably enough.
The exploratory is the first step. Practically, it will take the form of more frequent updates in this blog (if you guys can stand it). I'll write, and try to let go of my perfectionist grip on the things I do. I'll write, and it'll be crap a good bit of the time. But it's a good start.
Thanks Ken.