I have this image of walking between school buildings in fifth grade. In this memory, I'm carrying a huge bunch of school books and papers, neither wisely nor well. Instead, the books seem to surround me and overwhelm me, even though I was not a small guy at that age. Tonight I sit in our "spare room" upstairs, surrounded by disorder, and wonder how much has changed.
I find myself these days enjoying tasks that I know I can do well.
I like flying those little plastic dollar store kites, for example, because on all but the most windless or windy days, I can get them to fly high and well. I like to handle legal cases in which I am well familiar with the concepts, whereas in earlier years I valued most seeking out new issues with whch to contend. I have my favorite hiking trails, which I think of as "my trails". I re-read old favorite novels, seeing new meanings in old familiar chapters.
One great revelation I got at about 15 or so was the phrase "play to your strengths". I found that if I did the things I was good at doing, I tended to feel less stress and pressure. Later, after I slogged through a college degree in a field in which I was not particularly gifted, I came to realize that sometimes going against the grain can be a skill-building pursuit as well.
Lately, though, I find that too often I've allowed my grooves to turn into deep furrows. Instead of plowing new, rich soil, I feel that I just run the blades, dulled a bit, over the same ground. I took this feeling in 2002 and sublimated it a dozen useful ways, reaching out into new spaces like LiveJournal, mail art calls, nanowrimo, goofing around with music, writing poetry and joining those curious lists which pelt out broad swathes of e mail messages on this subject or that subject.
Yet I'm concerned that some things I wish to improve upon in myself still require me to reach into places that I've by-passed so long. I set a goal last year of doing more work to help folks less fortunate than I am--legal aid and the like. I did a bit of this, but I'm intrigued by how little I do. I set a goal of being more organized, and in some ways I've progressed, but in other ways I'm the same fellow as I was in first grade, in fifth grade, in high school, in college, and in my twenties. Although I'm much more confident with people than I was two decades ago, I still see real shadows of shyness, hovering in my psyche like rather unappealing cobwebs. I just feel so trapped sometimes in this persona I elaborately constructed for myself.
I am not a big self-help book guy, but I do like one idea that stems from the new thought and personal growth movement. This is the idea that one can really change one's behavior through conscious effort. In the past decade, this liberating idea has truly meant a good bit to me. If one realizes that change is possible, and well within one's grasp, then life is not one endless death sentence.
The curious thing for me, though, is that I tend to become attached to my flaws. It's far easier to say "I'm just disorganized" than it is to say "I'm going to keep my art room picked up". It's much easier to say "I'm going to be a lawyer for life" than it would be to train for a post-lawyering career.
I don't suggest (as some motivational books do, in a way that I find unfortunate) that one can just "snap one's fingers", work like a dog, and the world will switch overnight. I simply don't think that's true. I could work around the clock, and not be a great artist, or a learned scientist. But I do notice that as to those things that I set my mind to doing, I can often achieve things I once found daunting. For one example, I used to work in law firms in which other people brought in the clients, and I tended to just work the cases. Now I do my own marketing, and find, curiously enough, that I'm good at it. I used to think that I could not write fiction, because I lack the patience, but the nanowrimo project (and, indirectly, LJ) showed me that I can turn out workable material, so long as I use talking whales as filler.
I've learned that I can lose weight, if I just eat the right things.
My life is very different now than it was just four years ago. I've made a lot of changes--career choices, city choices, personal choices, hobby choices. But I notice that too many of my flaws are still very much in evidence. I accept that I have some imperfections that are just going to be part of me. But I worry that I keep using the same color paint, because I have become attached to seeing my fingers all blue as they rake across the canvass. I like to think that I'm a person who handles change magnificently--that I can roll with punches I don't see coming.
But I notice lately that some fundamental patterns in my life don't change.
I think it's so easy for me to choose the path that leads to the least stress. That's why I am so proud of myself when I make changes, even if they are often incremental rather than sweeping.
I know far too well how hard change can be to make, and give myself kudos whenever I get the rock up the hill and it stays.
But I worry that I make my life more inauthentic by getting lost in these little pocket neuroses. It's like I'm in a constant dialogue with oneself, in which I assure myself that I can overlook this flaw or that flaw, because I'm just too busy. Sometimes I notice that I'm too busy to live my life. Once in a while, I'm too busy with my work to get any work done. This busy-ness keeps a lot of needful business from getting done.
I feel that all the various new paths I've trod lately are ultimately going to lead me to embark in some new direction. I feel that graduate education may be the route, but it may just be the creation of new written material. I want to stop being one of those persons who would really contribute if I only had time. I want to contribute now. I suppose that above all, I think that the "helping arts" are the most important contribution, but I'm not sure what my true role should be. I just know that I'm tired of ditches, and ready to get back onto the path home.