Saturday, December 27, 2014

Concentrate for an Essay on Becoming Average

"But you're writing, that's the main thing, baby girl." Did someone actually just say that to me?

It's a hell of a time in the history entwined with your life to become average. Good jobs are going, you're not very young, and we're competing in a global marketplace. As if this latter were a new thing. What had hidden it before?

I was not at all a grade-grubber. I was a grade hungerer, lover, and needer of a grade prosthesis. If I didn't get a good grade, I would never go contest it. I would, instead, wear the bad grade as a skin that never let my nervous system rest. The givers of the grade appeared in dreams in which I struggled to approach them; they did not seem to care if I did or didn't approach them.

Having decided that words were not the answer, and that, since most answers are in words, there could not be any answer, I stumbled on a time when the staying-present energy had drained—or ebbed, receded almost by intent, to make some room for something else. I was not content, not contained. What they call "executive function" had kicked up its feet on the desk and abandoned the something important and urgent that always engaged it; its chair was tipping back and very near its tipping point. Because it was unseasonably lovely, I went on the deck and listened to the city sky, its orchestra of vague and trenchant engines. Words started to fill me. In the space created against my conscious will, these words seemed to want to put themselves together in a way that came from all my body, all my thoughts, perceptions, feelings. These were rooted and right as language very rarely is for me on a day-to-day basis: either because I am trying too often to make it conform to my "should" frame of reference, and to further make it carry out enunciation and enforcement of the "should" mandate, which necessarily entails judgment (of emotions, of the body, of the lack of focus which I'm learning is the prelude to my best writing); or because, in my meditation practice, I try to give the body its chance to assert itself and form a friendly circle, hands joined with thought and feeling but not in a solid grip with them. . .just light intermittent touches of the fingertips, and in so doing ask words to sit silent and dark outside the radius of the campfire.  I think willing myself average is the way I may be able to allow more of these moments, unambitious and disorienting as the overachiever in me finds them to be, into my life.

On a bench in 60-degree weather, blue sky at the end of December, watching the dogs run around in the meadow, I could sit like this forever.

What is Purposeful Groping?

Sometimes, an awkward translation is all you need to house some knowledge there hadn't been words for. It will always be just barely adequate yet completely inalterable to the person who latches on to the translation and the concept. I've latched on to this, from the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget:

" is a series of observations beginning with those most reminiscent of the discoveries due to directed groping. It happens that the same problem, such as that of the stick to be brought through the bars, can give rise to solutions through real invention as well as to solutions involving simple experimental groping"
(The Essential Piaget, 235).

I wish I was better at "real invention." Real invention has been a lifelong goal of mine. Scratch that: real invention, or the ideal of real invention, has been a stick striking my backside since I first imagined I could make things with words as a way of being in the world, or (in other moods) of not having to be in the world and delegating that to the word-things I made. They could be my surrogates! Out there like paper dolls, or children, or robots, remotely controlled.

As it is, simple experimental groping seems to be my dominant mode, and I don't think that will change much. It is not necessarily a point of pride to recognize, at mid-life, that I have not been as in control of my life path as I thought I was. But it is not a tragic recognition scene, either. Considering that, for the past 25 years, I've been teaching creative writers to let go of conscious control, or real invention, in order to make better, more magical, writing possible, it makes a certain kind of sense that art and life share that "let's see what happens" quality for me. Who I am and who I am not have become more apparent to me in the past few years, and now I seem able to look at what I see, touch what presents itself to my groping. The thing about groping is I have to be there, with it; that's the purposeful part. Because, like any good subject (Piagetian or other), I need observers to be there with it, with me, I'm going to blog every so often. Or that's what I'm trying to do, anyway.