It’s a little after 11am on a workday, and I’m seated on my leather couch with the familiar tension that regularly pulls at my insides. Beyond the computer screen perched on my legs lies the San Francisco city scape outside my broad windows. A pearly heather sky, lifeless and cold, outlines the pale glass skyscrapers outside, while the capitol’s gilded steeple peaks from behind in the distance.
The daily habit of writing has yet again eluded my attention, further compounding my internal grief that my routines are not molding my character into the being I idealize in my reflective moments.
What has life been recently?
I traveled to Denmark with my girlfriend for about 11 days, visiting London and Sweden briefly in between, exploring the city during the day, and watching her perform at the Royal Danish Ballet opening night. The trip itself was fine, less the raging cold I acquired in the final days, and the tumultuous arguing that seemed to persist for some reason or another between my girlfriend and I, though I can rarely explain why these conflicts occur, other than some chemical aggravation between our constitutions, betwixt with repressed trauma which resurfaces due to some unknown event when our personalities collide.
Other than that, work, as per usual, has consumed my focus. But upon my return, a general listlessness found its way into me, and the enthusiasm to devote my being to the pursuit of business success eluded my general desire to get back on track.
And so I surrendered to these feelings, and retreated into my books, and have been reading at a steady clip since my return on November 3rd.
My general attitude is one of existential confusion and self-loathing: what will I amount to? Have I amounted to anything that I find respectable? Depending on my magnanimity of the day, I teeter between feeling blessed and being totally disappointed.
Who I am? What is my value? Have I arrived? Is this the path that I was destined to be on? Or is this path still unfolding in ways that escape my imagination?
As it is now, I find my overall circumstances contemptible. I’ve become the thing I’ve loathed most: a corporate automaton, a slave to money, debt ridden, generally anxious, physically exhausted most days.
The only hobbies which seem to provide a glimmer of inspiration to the monotonous routine of life– a routine which I have often aspired for, to place me on stable footing, necessary for the organization of self– are reading my books, which continually pile up beyond the book cases and window sills in stacks of every corner of the room.
Like an impoverished hoarder, I carry at least three books with me wherever I go, just in case my interest in one book peaks over another, and I have the option of capturing that wonder and connecting the dots to some unrealized epiphany, which may strike and reverberate in my depths as some divine insight, only to be cherished by the company of myself.
And so this is what grieves me about my lackadaisical and undisciplined writing efforts.
I have not created anything worthwhile in my life. Accomplishments seems so transitory, and the only creations I feel worthwhile are the enduring works of ideas, translated in writing or similar forms of expression.
But I am a horribly undisciplined writer. Much less anything else. The ability to work from home and mind my own schedule, without the micromanagement of superiors, is the only grace which shrouds the reality of my undisciplined mind from others, which resembles a scattered mania.
Focus in the general sense, in the conventional sense, in the sense that can be called upon at will for any important matter or task worth the attention, is not something I possess. Not whatsoever.
Hyper-focus is what I possess, for better or worse, though I believe it’s for worse. What differentiates these two types of mental exactitudes is the the ability that I can control them.
Focus is an ability, for sure. An important task requires attention, perhaps prolonged attention, and the executive functions of the mind tune in and perform the necessary steps until completion.
Hyper-focus, on the other hand, is something that appears beyond my control, a reflex to internal or external stimulation, a response to something that captures and enrapts my imagination, so that I’m left helplessly consumed, with the total resources of my being devoted to indulging this wonder. It’s the highest form of pleasure, an almost spiritual submersion, recruiting the whole of my faculties to the object of my attention, at the expense of everything beyond this narrow beam of energy. Friends and girlfriends alike feel sidelined and excluded from these preoccupations, which they are, save the rote performances I’ve developed to stave off their claims of my neglect.
I can hyperfocus. It’s a gift, and a curse.
Where it’s a curse is the discontinuity which it produces. I am either in, or I’m out. My mind resonates completely with harmony, or it exists as a discordant confusion of randomized attention, resulting in a feeling of drowning helplessness.
If I could leverage the ability to focus at will with the concentration of hyperfocus on whatever task I chose, my life would possess much more discipline.
Historically, I’ve relied on external measures to produce a structure to frame habits conducive to generating hyper-focus at will, the only focus I seem to have at my disposal. Such measures include obligations to others, which produce an accountability that my self-reputation feverishly upholds, stimulants, such as caffeine or amphetamines, and a general schedule. The latter only seems to work, however, if there are others involved. Self-disciplined schedules work if other’s are apart of these plans, or if there is absolutely no one else I need to be accountable to. Anything in between doesn’t seem to be effective.
All that’s to say, I do not believe it’s beyond my ability to develop habits. The germinating desire for disciplined routine is there, but anchoring it requires some time of action which I can make a repetitive part of my daily life.
I must write more often.
I find myself reflecting all the time, lost in the images lifted from the narratives of my books on philosophy or history and the like. They fill my mind, and I want to expunge them, and I tell myself “I will write as soon as I wake” or “I will write these thoughts out tonight”, and later I find myself staring at my journal and laptop, asking myself where I should even start such as task. “What do I want to say?” Anything!
I have these dreams of writing long formed essays, dreams of constructing thoughtful analysis on the books I’m reading. This, I tell myself, will clarify the contents of my knowledge, and anchor it deep within my soul. Why read to pass time? I am not reading to escape (or perhaps I am), I am not reading to forget, I am reading to remember, so what does it take to remember?
Reflecting or ruminating (to chew) on the contents is the first step. Perhaps discourse with other minds is the next step, talking out ideas, trying to articulate the logic of concepts and themes. The ultimate demonstration of knowledge is the ability to write it out, which encodes a syntactical logic to the order in which the knowledge is built upon. Drawing diagrams is perhaps an intermediate step in understanding, and perhaps the most abstract effort to connect the ideas into a cohesive comprehensive whole.
I must write, however. I must summarize and synthesize what I know, and what I’m reading.
And I must not censor myself, my thoughts. They must pour from me authentically, without self degradation of their merit or value. It’s an exercise, I must remember, an exercise of discipline, an exercise of production.
I should decide to write for someone, other than myself. This audience should be able to understand my writing in a way that is relatable and understandable. Writing for myself, as if I’m the only one who needs to understand it, seems a bit lunacy, in the same way talking to myself does.
Journaling is certainly not meant for anyone else but myself, but if it’s not legible, if its not comprehensible, relatable, readable, what use is it? Am I developing my skills in communication? Are my ideas any more clear, any more real?
There is no personal knowledge. This is something I am certain of.
There are instincts and intuitions, but knowledge is a social byproduct, an agreement about the world and the contents of the world, the structure of the world. It needs to be corroborated, and equally understood by the audience you’re addressing. Otherwise it’s baseless, and possesses no utility, no value, except perhaps as artistic expression, which may or may not be universally appreciated, and only resembles frustrated physic energies.
I’m reading a few books. I have many books piled up everywhere. My girlfriend has gracefully resigned herself to refrain from commenting on this eclectic quirk of mine as more and more books find their way into our home. It’s who I am, and even if I could help it, I wouldn’t want to. I’m sure there’s a limit to the number of books I should own, until it resembles some comic hoarders den, and we are crushed by toppling towers of books. But I haven’t found that limit, and I’d rather not entertain what it might be.
So, what should I write? I should pick a topic, a subject, or something worth extrapolating on. Should I write a book summary? Should I write an analysis? Perhaps a synthesis of ideas? Or perhaps I just write whatever flows from my fingers, and capture whatever breath of thought exhales onto the pages?
Distractions are the devil. If purity of thought, if concentration of mind, produces the light which illuminates the world, and produces order out of the chaos of problems and challenges inhibiting the realization of every ideal, desire, goal, or aim, than any impetus that would draw away from that concentration is bad, and to the extent it seduces us away from these ideals, evil.
The world is filled with distractions masquerading as worthwhile knowledge or wisdom. I’m grateful in some respect to the exposure this has produced in my conception of a broad world, but the bite sized messages lack a cohesive quality, and it’s overly fragmented. There are many feeds feigning for attention, many gurus, many media outlets insisting on the attention of an important news highlight in some realm, be it politics, technology, environment, business and the like.
The information and knowledge and wisdom comes in waves, crashing at the windows of awareness, only to recede into the ocean of noise until another wave crashes. This perpetual cycle of media feed, the consumption of endless bits and bytes of information, apparently relevant to some aspect of my existence, continues endlessly. We’ve had these media feeds for well over a decade in their modern form as social media, where opting into the onslaught of information is tacit. Previously, we could selectively choose the content and quantity of our media, schedule time for the news and gossip. Now, it’s all pervasive, at our fingertips, intruding wherever we go.
And attention, focus, concentration, and the purity of thought produced by this vigilant vision, is compromised, and reduced to a schizophrenic mania.
What are we connected to? To whom are we connected?
I’m reading Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. I’m about eight chapters in. I’m not sure I completely agree with his historical analysis of the sociological development of nationality, although the mechanisms of development seem intuitively correct.
I’m also reading The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. This books reminds me of Simple Lies, Vital Truths by Daniel Golemen, which outlines the psychological mechanisms of self-deception.
I’m also reading Self and Others by N. GRegory Mailton, M.D., which propounds on the psychoanalytic discipline of Object Relations Theory, which appears to draw quite a bit of inspiration from John Bowlby’s work on Attachment Theory.
In addition, I’m finishing up a primer on German history, titled The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes. It’s a quite unsatisfactory overview of central European history, but it’s written fairly well, and provides a basic frame of reference to my otherwise complete void of German history knowledge.
I purchased The Last Lion by William Manchester, which is probably the most complete biography of William Churchill ever written. It’s a voluminous three book set. In an effort to quicken the read, I’ve also purchased the audible versions, with each book coming it at over 40 hours of listening.
I’m half way through The Art of Memory by Frances Yates, and a quarter of the way through Logic and the Art of Memory by Paolo Rossi, both excellent historical accounts on the subject of memory.
It’s 12:21pm, and I’ve done less than an hour of work since I woke at 6:30pm. I should probably begin my work day, which means sending out emails, phoning customers, arranging meetings, and the like. I have a phone meeting with my manager at 1pm, so I should prepare for that as well.
I’ll be heading to Florida to visit my family on a 11pm red-eye on Wednesday night to spend Thanksgiving with them, and return at 11am Monday morning.
I signed up for a half marathon in Zion National Park on February 29th three weeks ago, and I’ve only run four or five days in preparation. I’m not at all prepared to run 13.1 miles, but I am committed to running the race, so I should definitely begin training immediately, without excuse. And I may be running a Thanksgiving 5k, which my family may or may not have signed me up for.
My girlfriend will be working and rehearsing during Thanksgiving, so she won’t be coming with me. My sister had my nephew a couple weeks ago, and my grandparents will be moving back to New Jersey from Naples in the new year, so it’s family time that will be well spent.
I promise I will write more.