Monday, June 29, 2009

"What's the Point?"

Someone asked me the other day about "The Point." Why bother. . . starting a painting, talking to people, washing the dishes, combing your hair, getting out of bed . . . if there's no Master Plan? If it makes no difference in the greater scheme of life, why bother? And why live?

Inherent in these questions are more questions: What is a meaningful life? Why am I here? What is my specific purpose? Will it make me happy? What will be my legacy? Will anyone notice?

These ruminations usually stay neatly repressed when one's a workaholic. But give yourself a little time off (or be forced into it by someone else) and suddenly life isn't so tidy.

My short answer to the question was that I don't believe there is a Point. Or rather that there is no one out there administering and assigning Points.

On the other hand, as long as we're alive, and if we're to do better than struggle through however many days our healthcare system keeps us here, then it seems prudent to devise our own Point. We have to create our own meaning for living: Grab a cause, develop a mission, set a standard. Or hang on the coattails of someone else who already has this in motion.

When even the coattails idea seems too daunting, then let this noble purpose be our default: to be a steward of the Earth and all that inhabits it.

Failing that, the best and least any of us can commit to is the paraphrased Hippocratic Oath: "Above All, Do No Harm."

Of course, just doing no harm will require a change of habit and mind for some folks. But it beats the alternative. And even if it isn't noticed, the fact remains that those who adhere to this directive really do make a difference—however obscure—in the world.

And that, I suppose, is exactly the Point.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"She's Got A WHAT?"

Word has spread through my family about Lull. And perhaps without thinking about it, just as a way of making conversation, my mother told her mother that I have a blog now.

"What's a blog?" my grandmother asked.

My mother didn't know.

I said I'd explain it in a letter; my mother said don't bother. It's too complicated for my grandmother to understand. But I think Mother underestimates her.

My grandmother is 97, no longer watches television or reads (her eyes and ears are failing), and doesn't participate in the community events at her nursing home. She lives in a world apart from ours—ours of the incessant communication variety. A letter to her requires 20 point type and stories that don't require much exposition. 

At first I noodled on how to explain a blog to her. It seemed straightforward and with a few hand drawings, I believed I could get the point across.

But then I realized a minor gap in her technology experience. She hasn't worked in an office since the Olivetti days. She missed out on electric typewriters, fax machines, and conference calls. She knows her grandchildren have cellphones that drop her calls more than half the time. She knows they work on computers but has no understanding of what that means. Technology is alien to her and not to be trusted. So I've got some explaining to do to bring her up to date.

It gives one pause, though, doesn't it? To think about the technology that we so often take for granted. Even I'm of an age that predates the fax machine and have vivid memories of the first time I had to send one at work. It was laborious then and never aided in getting a decision out of our consultant any faster than a FedEx package did.

It's a pity that my grandmother doesn't have a blog. Just reading her reminiscences could be a fascinating window into another era. I suspect future nursing homes, if they still exist, will have to be equipped with computers or computing devices so Millennials and their descendants can stay plugged in. This makes me smile.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Culling Libraries

Yesterday I revealed my plan to reduce my personal library. I did not, however, tell you how emotionally wrenching this will be for me. 

I love books: the way they look, the way they feel, the amount of effort on the part of so many people to get the book into my hands, the thrill of beginning the first sentence, the hope that the subsequent pages will continue to enthrall me, the sadness upon reaching the final page, the parallel universe I inhabit while reading. I don't often reread books (poetry, plays, and Austen excluded), but I do return to them again and again for a particular line of dialogue or turn of phrase. How do I hold on to the lines that mean so much to me yet part with the books? I haven't figured that out yet, but I'm noodling on it.

One book I've read during the lull is Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper by Nicholson Baker. It's an exposé of America's libraries' strategy to save space, a strategy and methodology cooked up by a handful of folks with ties to the Defense and Intelligence industries; no thoughts wasted on book preservation—only book decimation and disposal. (They did, however, try to retain some content through microfiche.) Baker didn't just research the situation and bring it to the public. He became an activist in the cause and used his own savings to rescue runs of newspapers from the last century. He's a Paper Hero, but he hardly made a dent in what libraries toss. 

Fortunately, I'm not of the library mindset, though I understand the space issue. I cherish books. Even the bad ones cause a twinge of . . . something when I consider throwing them out (seems dirty, illegal, unethical, altogether wrong). Which is not, for the record, part of my plan. I intend to sell or give my books to new homes and hearts.

That's it. I didn't want to come off as a callous reader. But don't think for a minute that I'm a book hoarder, though I see how easily I could cross that line. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

Unemployment Time Zone

Without the rhythm of a daily work routine, it has become apparent just how much time and energy I had been spending on my job. I hadn't taken a vacation in seven years, and much of what little personal time I had was spent worrying about or doing something for someone else. Once free of my job, I had to decompress.  I started by reading.

Purchasing new books is an old vice for me. But my changed income requires a disciplined restraint and a modified reading approach. Now that I borrow from my local library branch, I'm on the clock, which takes a bit of pleasure away from the experience. Typically, I read several books at one time: classic or new fiction, essays, short stories, memoir, and nonfiction. If a library book is in the mix, though, I have to focus on it rather than reading round-robin. I'll adapt sooner or later. 

I know that I'll have to move; I just don't know when or where to. But in preparation, I've decided to radically reduce the contents of my library. If you've ever moved a box of books, you know why.  You can't pack too many books in a box or it will be too heavy to carry.  And when you have hundreds of books, you end up schlepping oodles of boxes up and  down stairs (we always end up on the top floor of buildings, no elevator). Or you pay someone else to do it. Move often and those books get pricier and pricier.  So before I choose what to part with, I'm making certain that I've read each and every one.

Over the years, I've started many a book only to find myself not in the right frame of mind to finish it. I've put such books aside with the intention of trying again later. Well, now is later.  

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On the Lookout for Better Seasons

Summer arrived officially today and brought with it a stultifying humidity that turns my pooch into a sloth. Our walks are achingly slow and cover very little distance. Which gives me at least one reason to look for jobs in other parts of the country.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Whispering into the Void

My first post. Like putting a toe into the 40 degree water of a Canadian lake, or being asked to speak extemporaneously on a subject I know nothing about. Was intending to do this months ago when my life first took its new turn—a turn toward the unemployment line. But reluctance and anxiety prevailed.

Now I'm plunging in. Making ripples, exercising my fingers, uncluttering my mind. That's it. Not trying to entertain, teach, vent, show off, or connect. Don't want to raise the expectations of anyone. Just practicing "being" during this lull between jobs, cities, passions, mission. 
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