Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Straight Out of My Head

Getting started. This has always been the hardest part. It is, perhaps, part of the ritual that must take place before anything gets committed to words on a page. Some might call it writer’s block and I supposed if the resistance I experience in getting started prevented me from starting at all, then that would be my affliction as well. But whether it is for enjoyment, advancement, or pay, I write. Although it is my underlying art that drives any number of professions, past and present, writing is at once painful and exhilarating, both the blessing and the curse – and it is a struggle every single time I set out to write anything.

Including this. Although the words are now freely flowing, getting to this point, for this piece, took not minutes, not days, not weeks and not years. It is not only the culmination of every single minute of my own life, but also of those who have preceded me. At this moment in time, this one, single, unique and never to be repeated moment, this is all there is and it is through a collective community of memory that has turned this energy into these words. My perspective has been necessarily shaped and influenced by only what and who has preceded me – from the “Big Bang” to right now, there is nothing else.

I used to believe that my best, most authentic and purest writing came when it was “straight out of my head.” That is, I believed that simply transforming my thoughts - my insights – into words with some compelling style was my forte. It was the sort of writing I found easiest perhaps because it was just the keyboard, my thoughts and the words; I need not bring anything external into the equation. But after regularly running into resistance when attempting even this “pure” writing, it has become abundantly clear that nothing I have ever written has been “straight out of my head.” Nothing. Every thought I have ever transformed into these symbols we call words has to be placed into context with an infinite number of variables that are decidedly not “straight out of my head.”

From the beginning of time until now, this is what I have. These words. This life. A perspective that has been shaped by not only those close to me, but also by those now gone for thousands of years. All of it culminates in the here and now – it always has. We are unique in the animal kingdom – no other species has the cultural memory we do. None other can communicate as we do. No other animal can use, or as Kenneth Burke noted, misuse symbols as we do. When it is all said and done, when I write I am merely making my contribution to the human experience. With all that going on outside my head, is it any wonder that it is so hard to get started?

Sunday, March 06, 2011


Sunday, 24 October 2010

The rain has been falling steadily for about a day now. This first major storm in Northern California is perhaps early by some standards, but certainly not unexpected or unprecedented. It is a time of change; summer is transitioning to autumn in a cyclical fashion that is as old as dirt. And though every season is different from that which preceded it, it is also different from the one that bore its name the years before. And so it is again, this fall is not the same as the fall of 2009 – not in terms of the weather, the place I find myself in the world and the world itself certainly not the same as it was just one year ago. But like the seasons enough remains that we can recognize the changes and hopefully be ready for them.

This is my final fall semester as a grad student at California State University, Sacramento. If all goes well, I will receive my Masters degree before spring turns to summer in 2011. But it is not the end of this journey into higher education; it is simply a turning of the seasons. Next fall another semester will begin at a different school where my post-graduate journey will continue. Another season, not the same as this one, but in keeping with the cyclical nature that the school life is, there are too many similarities to ignore the changing weather. No longer on a quest to obtain a Masters degree, my new goal will be a doctoral degree… a Ph.D. It is a monumental task, but so was (is) my current quest, and it is nearing completion. The culminating experience left to complete is my Masters thesis, a research project the likes of which I have never attempted – both in scope and in size – and that is just now beginning.

It is of particular note that these are not things I should be capable of doing, at least not in terms of motivation and discipline. Although I have always been capable, I have been equally incapacitated. If I knew the amount of effort that was required going in, I would have turned tail and gone somewhere else. I seriously underestimated the work that would be involved, and that is probably why I am still at it. Had I known what I was getting myself into… if I knew this was going to be a particularly rainy fall, cold winter, balmy spring or searing summer, I might have high-tailed it to more comfortable climes. I left myself with little choice but to weather the storm and though I know it’s not yet over, I also now know that I can get through this and that is more than half the battle. It took more than I had, but I got what I needed along the way.

Sometimes I stop and wonder, “What am I doing here? Who am I fooling? How did this ever happen and when will it come crashing down?” Of course I know it does not need to come crashing down, that whatever I am doing here, there is a reason for it and if I am fooling anyone it is myself. The evidence speaks for itself. Yet this is not within my character – to push myself beyond what I think is possible and succeed. And maybe that’s because I never gave myself the chance to succeed. It was always easier to fail, or not even try because of the chance of failure. Oddly enough, the stakes are higher than ever now and the risks, if measured by the effort required, are equally so, yet I have made it farther than I could have imagined… 

Sunday, 6 March 2011

I set this essay aside 130 plus days ago because I felt it was going nowhere; I was not feeling it, as the colloquialism goes. I usually don’t open these partially written and abandoned works, but when reading the essay that replaced this, Negotiation, I found myself wondering what it was that I thought was so bad… and it no longer was. Since the contexts of any communicative event include every external reality including time and place, it is likely that whatever frame of reference I was in at the time was not in sync with what I was writing. And today it is.

Some things have changed in the past four months. That final semester of course work was completed and the only thing between standing between my MA and me is my thesis. And that has turned out to be more challenging than predicted… which was also predicted. Additionally, that quest for a Ph.D. is materializing as well. Four months ago I had just begun the application process; today I have results. Of the six universities I applied to, two have accepted me (LSU and University of Denver), two have turned me down (Stanford and University of Washington) and I have yet to hear back from two more (Columbia and USC). Though it is not time yet, in the not too distant future I will have some major decisions to make.

Although these are not decisions that can be taken lightly, they are decisions generated by my willingness to do something. Where my life was defined for so long by a quest for comfort, it is now energized by a quest of an entirely different sort. And though I have not a clue where it might lead me, this journey has transformed life from a passive, observatory experience to a dynamic, active one. And it all started by stumbling into a place I thought I had no business being, a place where I have, at best, experienced only marginal and incomplete success. All it took was a little faith and a lot of work. Maybe that’s all there is to success…