I continue to resist the desire to be catchy and to be interesting with hooks and arresting phrases that can be isolated and passed along to spread the word.
I keep returning to the realization that whatever is profound is also very close to what appears trite, even obvious. That it takes a certain plodding, a high degree of resistance to boredom, and a willingness to stick with the kind of habits of close observation and patience and shifting from close-up to wide-view – such as a gleaner might use, or a beach-comber, or what it takes to spot whales on a barren horizon. It’s not just a habitual contrarianism that leads me back to a plodding form. I see no other way to find what I’m looking for and definitely cannot separate the finding from the passing along.
The subject of this post is an example. Life is between. Duh! John Lennon’s, “Life is what happens while we are making other plans.” Is catchier. Even that doesn’t inspire so much as it tends to frustrate in an amusing, bemused sort of way.
But I’m not after bemusement. I’m looking for ways not to avoid frustration, but to push through it. Not to shove it aside, but to sort through it and find all that is of value that clings to it so thoroughly we usually just toss it aside as we look for more exciting stuff!
In Cat Lupton’s new blog, The Place Between Stories, she begins by talking about how she has felt caught between,
“The muddle was trying to learn to live with, and accept, the condition of no longer having a defined role or purpose, while pestering myself anxiously on a near-daily basis about what the f*ck I was doing with my life. The frustration, one I know others share, was with the whole kitbag of assumptions that lay behind the questions I was being asked: that ‘doing’ or ‘working’ or fitting neatly into a box labelled ‘this’ are the normal, default means by which we must explain and justify our presence in the world.”
This is both a personal condition and a general sense many of us have of where we find ourselves as the old stories collapse into irrelevancy and we tire of the futility of holding on. Its doubts nag us and bite at our heels as we find each new apparent avenue for change closing off, or at least occluded even as we reach for them with whatever enthusiasm we can muster. For me one example of this, one that has me locked in its dilemma, is the way spending time following others on the web and writing for these outlets I’ve worked so hard to establish for others to read my take, has left me between the feeling that this is the only way to counter my isolation and feeling that this is just another trap to make me a cog in the ongoing Spectacle. I attempt to balance on the precarious edge between the pull of a rather empty and dispiriting “real” life and what may only be a compulsion – but maybe not! – to take in the wider world and make my voice heard in a wider sphere.
I’ve taken way too long to get over an inheritance of a distrust of the life of arts & letters versus the active, practical ways I grew up in. That no one was particularly successful – just enough to get by – at being practical, at making, at doing around me then always fed my resistance, but it never released me from these doubts that to simply write, or draw, or paint was somehow an abdication and not a proper choice on its own. This has kept me in what has always felt like a false position of pushing to convince myself and others that I could do, and do well, while what I have always longed for is in so many ways just this. To spend my time listening and looking for inspiration and then following it within the exquisite impracticality of artistic expression and philosophical contemplation.
A middle ground, that of teacher, has always been there just over my shoulder. I had teachers on both sides of my family. My worst and best moments have been within schools. I’ve held some of my own teachers as the greatest influences on my life, and I’ve long had a tremendous respect for what this calling offers and expects of its practitioners. As a result, I’ve never looked to follow the accepted paths to such a life. I’ve also gladly jumped at the random opportunities that have come my way. Teaching a week-long class four years in a row at MIT, and teaching a weekly class of Qi Gong at my local YMCA now, have been among the high points of these experiences.
My mother used to repeat that when I was asked what I was doing as a young child, absorbed in some small world held close to my face, I would say, “I’m teaching myself.”
This has held true longer than any other story for me of who I am or what I do. I spend most of my energies “teaching myself.” This differs from “learning.” It also differs from most of the ways people attempt to teach others.
This brings us back to here. To this point on a screen as I type. I’ve found that teaching myself and teaching others anything that seems worthwhile needs to happen at the same time. What I distrust and even rabidly loathe about pedagogy is the hubris that these can and should be separated, that we can accumulate something worth teaching and then pass it out in some efficient, wholesale method without losing all that might have been of value there. Not only for those we are teaching, but for ourselves.
Life is between. I’m both learning that, “teaching myself” about it; and passing it on – at the same time. I’m struggling with my own limitations as I glean what comes to my attention and I cannot separate that process and what it illuminates from whatever might be of value in relating it to others. The call I feel to dialogue is a yearning after reciprocity in this process, to enter into dialogue/dialogues is to proceed in company, to collaborate at teaching ourselves as we learn and teach each other.
Life is between. So is this process. It’s not there in schools as they are now instituted, unless by accident. I’ve been fortunate to have been in two schools where this happened because they were new, and because no one involved really “knew” what they were doing there, and so this actually occurred on a regular basis, although this didn’t stop anyone who “mattered” thinking these were marginal, trivial places that didn’t do what schools are intended which is to anoint a new generation for positions of power.
I continue to find myself in between this yearning to teach, myself and others, and the intentions and expectations of schools. This even applies, rightly or wrongly, to various calls for new schools being made around me. It harkens back to what I miss from the closing off of the old Bohemias. They were, perhaps, the closest to this model of a community of exploration, although they were never fee of the siren call of fame and power for those who could distinguish themselves on a wider stage.
Life is between. This is the subject of so much of what I’ve written about over the years. It is certainly where I find myself, repeatedly. Caught somewhere between where I thought I was going and where I rightly or wrongly perceive I find myself.
Back to John Lennon here. Of the wry smile and acerbic whit!
How do we live life between and communicate it at the same time? How do we wrest circumstances from the cracks? How do we make a life and have a living, share value and feed ourselves and each other?
Whatever the answers to these questions, we are left with the truth that life is between.