Taking Stock, 2006
As a warm-up to posting something this afternoon, the last of 2006, I reviewed where this weblog was, where I was as a quasi-public being, at the outset of the year. In the dawn of the year, I read and commonplaced in this space Anthony Swofford's Jarhead. After explaining my frisson at one of his more notable sentences, I observed, "In a million years I could never write that sentence or any like it. And if I accidentally happened upon a sentence so laced with potential, I could never set it in its due context."
I hope that I was wrong, at least insofar as that sentence was a broad lament about my ability rather than a narrow observation about each writer possessing unique and inimitable gifts; in the next two or three weeks, as something like a resolution, I intend to begin blocking significant chunks of time into my schedule to write, and to write. And to write. And to ignore the voices in my head telling me to stop, voices like that reflected in my Swofford post. And to write still more. Until June 31, at least, when I pause to take dispassionate stock of my progress. This is not idle, not this time -- I've designated an entire room in my house, presently occupied by nothing more than a roll-top desk, a (not terribly comfortable) period-appropriate hardwood desk chair, and five lovely volumes of Edward Gorey, as a distraction-free zone, a studio, my fortress of solitude. There, the computer's wireless will always be turned off, the room always silent but for the sounds of cats padding around, my murmurings, and my fingers abusing these keys -- no music, no adornments of any kind . . . maybe a space heater, but nothing more lavish.
But that's next year; this is an accounting of the year poised to expire. This year was exhausting, as I wrestled with a few very difficult realizations about myself.
I am lonely. I don't mean this in its broadest sense. I am blessed with a loving and supportive family, and too many friendships to count, each of which I treasure. But I lack a deep spiritual connection with the fellow traveler I persist in believing I can find. Not only do I cope with this very poorly, my efforts at changing it are largely misguided and wasteful in ways that should be predictable enough to avoid. But I don't avoid them.
I'm no longer young enough to write off my complaisance. Knowing this doesn't seem to make it any better. I am diabolically inventive with regard to diverting myself, not that my diversions are all that creative in themselves. Rather, the invention comes in convincing myself, albeit subliminally, that manifestly unproductive activities (or inactivities) are more justifiable than they really are. Whole tracts of time disappear, as into an alcohol-induced blackout. Hours, days, Seasons.
I have lost the tremendous momentum I carried into and out of law school; I am treading water. The water is temperate; I am the fortunate residual beneficiary of the mighty effort I put into accomplishing the quantifiable goals that are the privilege of formal education. But I fare far worse in the real world's unboundedness. I seem incapable of choosing among several visible shores to swim toward. Once, I flung myself at new opportunities with reckless abandon in my personal and professional lives. But I have grown tentative. Choice and sacrifice are inexorable aspects of lives well-lived; an inability to choose, to commit, to take risks, characterizes the most unhappy people I know. Sometimes I wake in the early morning terrorized by the prospect that I am becoming one of them. I question whether the person I have become would have taken the chances I have taken -- moving to Pittsburgh, leaving a promising career for law school, falling in love -- that have led to my most gratifying moments. How disorienting to fear that you are no longer the person that brought you here.
I am lazy. Like "lonely," this requires qualification, since my occasional comment to this effect among intimates usually is resisted with an enumeration of those things I have accomplished and the various things I continue to do. That in objective, absolute terms I keep myself occupied, participate in non-work-related projects, socialize reasonably well, read steadily, is no comfort to me when I confront almost daily vast tracts of unredeemed time. For me, "lazy" isn't vitiated by crossing some threshold, after which it is my privilege to loll about in self-satisfaction -- it's about making the most of the array of opportunities I enjoy both as an accident of birth and a product of my strivings and effort. I am so fortunate in this regard that it seems sacrilegious to fritter it away.
Perhaps I am a servant of my own arrogance, deluded in my desire to do more, to make an impress on the surface of things, to validate my time here, the air I breathe, the space I occupy. There is humility, to be sure: I no longer imagine that I will write the Great American Novel, that I will reinvent constitutional theory, that I will star in the movie of my life story and get the girl in the end.
But if living lies in the effort, in the undaunted aspiration, it seems necessary to remind oneself that there is more to do, more fibres to weave into the fabric of things, and that each of us is responsible for being a better person -- more humble, more loving, more involved, more productive by whatever definition suits the context and the person.
2006 wasn't a bad year for me, not really. It was a necessary year. 2006 will only reveal itself as wanting if I fail to heed all that it has taught me. That said, I'm happy to see it go -- better things lie ahead.
Thus, I raise a glass to all of you: may the next year bring you all health, prosperity, and happiness by whatever definition you choose.