Sunday, January 20, 2008

Gathering No Moss

"Not everything moving is chasing. Not everything running is hiding or fleeing", said VJ in his comment on his last post.

Thanks, VJ. You have managed to draw me out of my silence for yet another self-styled Namaste rant. Here goes:

I am at my very best in a moving vehicle. Planes, trains, automobiles, you name it. I am particularly good at sitting still for exceptional lengths of time; I am even better at sitting still when in transit from somewhere to somewhere else. The adventurous child in me finds this very exciting. In fact, it is little wonder that I get this sense of momentum from my childhood: Some of my best, self-sustaining memories are the long hours of travel that it took to visit my favorite, far-flung relatives. By the time I was 12, I was such a good, little traveler that my rather eccentric, white haired great-aunt used to take me on road trips with her just for the company. For the record, yes, I am terrific company. Why? Because I enjoy looking out of the window and making up stories in my head more than chatting away about nothing. I speak when I have something constructive to say, which doesn't make for a lot of speaking, to be honest. I also have a bladder of steel, but we can leave that for another post.

I am also at my best when I am being productive. Those six weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday? Not my best. Not at all. Sure, I had elaborate plans to get a bunch of work done, but I really only got about 1/10th of everything accomplished. Why? Because I was spinning without direction. I wasn't moving from Point A to Point B, and to make matters worse, I didn't even like where I was. Yes, I am one of those unique people who can make up her mind to be exceedingly happy just about anywhere. This decision, however, is fully contingent upon my solitude. I am great at making myself happy. It's when I am left with the destabilizing task of making inherently unhappy people happy around me that I begin to break down.

For this reason, I am not at my best when I am not moving towards a goal. The goal itself need not be a physical destination, but it does need to be an attainable "something" that makes me reach. In that reaching, whether it is writing 5 pages a day, or completely reorganizing a course syllabus, or simply planning a lovely dinner and shopping for a few ingredients, I find my sense of purpose. Ultimately, this leads to a feeling of living in the moment, even though the irony is that living in the moment requires me to be forward-facing.

Perhaps that's the beauty of travel. Perhaps this is why I have allowed my love of travel to infuse the constant unfolding of this beautiful place that I tenderly nurture, called my present tense. At the moment, I find myself reaching for a great deal of things, both personally and professionally. Yet, in the end, I am happy to say that I am just living in this moment.



BJ said...

Thanks for the further clarification N. It's not an uncommon stance for reasonably productive people. This is why I included in my comment that; "Movement for it's own sake is and can be a virtue". This is precisely the sense I was thinking of, which sort of short circuits all the talk of lions & gazelles, as of course they are just proxies for ourselves.

This is something I have thought a reasonably long time about. There are 'movers' in this world, and there are 'stayers'. In genetics it's very easy to get a handle on the stayers, as not uncommonly (in Europe & Britain for example), some groups of people can 'hang around' for quite a long time, 100's and perhaps even 1000's of years in the same general region barring wars and mass migrations. But yes, Europe in particular has been rife with the sort of historic conflicts and strife leading to mass migrations due to war & famines and other catastrophes. And these genes can actually be followed too, and are quite useful in historical research.

Yes, completely academic so far. But this tendency is also known in families. For 100's and 1000's of years many folks were perfectly content to live within a short driving or walking distance of their relations. Earlier on this in fact was an essential tool to your survival as an intact family unit and/or a newly formed one. This is somewhat less so today, but it still proves enormously useful to be in reasonable frequent contact with your kin, for aid & assistance in times of trouble, and for advice for everything else.

Only in the relatively recent modern age has travel become so cheap, and lifestyles so diffuse and migratory has this pattern broken down, and now it's not uncommon to have siblings and relations strung out across a nation or even several continents. But this is largely due to the revolution in cheap instant communication and the cheapness of long distance travel and the availability and afford ability of same. Also on the agreed on legal structures that permit this, which were previously typically unavailable for long stretches of time in prior ages.

Yes, recovering nicely here. Movement. Momentum. How to measure these things? We need clocks and other precision measuring instruments that were unknown in the west prior to the Middle Ages. (See: 'The Measure of Reality', Alfred Crosby). In practical terms, for much of humanity, much before the 18-19th centuries, time was measured in mere days and fraction of same. If I completed the haying in a week's time, I had time enough to kill the hogs later that month for the village festival. The invention and adherence to Clock time was an unheralded revolution that we've been wedded to ever since. Yes, this sounds severely Luddite like, but nevertheless it's true.

So movement and adherence to the moving clock always moving forward is how we live our days. And there's precious few who ever have the luxury any more of the solitude you also speak to. There's always more tasks to do to fill the time, and never quite enough time in the day to get it done. 'But this is silly!' you think, 'they're just poor planners!'. Yes. Most of humanity that is. Always running behind to catch up to the ever inexorable whip hand of the clock.

Truth be told, various economic estimates do tell us that we are somehow more productive each year, but that we are also certainly working much longer hours than our parents did at the equivalent times in their lives. And their grandparents before them. (It amounts to an extra 100 hrs. per capita in a household of 2 working married adults since 1979, see

So movement. Productivity. Good things in good measure, but again to what end? Increasingly in these US it all comes out of the 'hides' of our beleaguered families & kids, who probably don't get the supervision & guidance they might need in today's complex world.

'But for goodness sake man, I'm single, unmarried & I've got to get things done!' Yes, this is true. But it's a working style you adopt that becomes you and how you operate in the wider world. Now truth be told, this may be wholly necessary for many, perhaps even most non supervisory 'white collar jobs' today. But the new 'slack masters' of the new millennium have a few tricks up their sleeves. They're insisting on Not working to the clock, as it's now become nearly impossible to do so, given the horrific traffic jams in our crowded cities and less social supports they enjoy, and being ever distant from most family too.

And yes, this is the short version!

This is a common sentiment for many too: "It's when I am left with the destabilizing task of making inherently unhappy people happy around me that I begin to break down". It's why many of us leave home and never return!

But also know that there are many different interpretations of 'being/living in the moment'. For some, that moment might indeed last for years. For some seemingly hapless but relentlessly happy few that moment might last for decades. You know them, they will appear as tortoises to the rest of the hares. Endlessly frustrating when we meet up with them on the roadway. They too can function perfectly well in this state forever it seems. Their accomplishments might not ever be written up in academic journals or shared by students or many colleagues, but be actually jealously enjoyed and crafted exclusively for family members and close friends. These are perhaps our relics of a time gone by. People out of time and step with the 'moderns' as we relentlessly move and consume the landscape around us.

There now, is this the longest comment ever about such a prosaic topic here? Just wondering! Cheers & Good Luck, "VJ'

VJ said...

Gosh that was long! I just wanted to also note that I also noticed the graphical upgrades to your interface here, and I liked them. But yeah, being around me it's like you never know when the old man's going to go on a bender about something. Cheers & Good Luck, 'VJ'