Already in writing this blog, I’ve felt a tension between my goals and needs. I’ve written to a few audiences in my life. Previous blogs of mine pandered to few other than myself. Other projects, such as NYUinc have a fairly explicit purpose and audience. My writing for the Village Voice has a typically journalistic bent and tone. Here, I want to split the difference between each of these projects, doing some investigative/original reporting, being clear about my personal agenda, while offering some space for contemplative ramblings that fulfill my sometimes very angry needs to sort out my inner-shit, so to speak.
What follows is a shit sorting out post.
Someone recently gave me a challenge that I was once up to taking. Now I’m not so sure. I remember a time when I had enough passion about my life to want to fix it, to contemplate it to a point of (at least momentary) certainty. I’ve been feeling run down and rushed to the point of misdirected rage, lashing out at myself and relationships in an attempt to right myself. These efforts have been a bit too random and a bit too futile to satisfy. I need to remember that thinking about my life was always a conscious effort – the existential progress I once felt never sprung fully formed from my dissatisfaction, but took me time and effort to think, and above all write.
Since arriving in New York, I’ve been on a strange kind of roll, that feels right in so many ways, to the point of keeping me from understanding the steps I need to take to meet other people halfway. I certainly have my agenda, but so much more of the time I feel swept along. I know that what I do has personal implications, lauditories I accumulate, personal victories; but so little of it returns to any well defined long range goals that I set for myself. Seriously: what AM I doing, and to what end?
And so the challenge: to know what you want from your life and to treat every decision you make as steps to get there. I don’t pretend I will ever quite resolve this to final satisfaction (the goal may be unknowable, and the decisions certainly endless), but I feel like I’ve forgotten even how to think about my goals and decisions. That’s why I needed to rediscover the steps it took to be in the place I remember liking, despite such outward frustration with my environment. The timecrunch/shit-to-do excuse I give myself never flew, and expecting it to now is foolish. I need to make the time to write. I need to make the time to write for no audience, in a style and tone that perhaps no one else enjoys.
I think the central role writing takes in my existential quandary points to some of the issues I need to resolve. I write to change myself. Writing draws out the thoughts I keep unsorted and requires them to take form. I write to make new connections, to assemble new linguistic devices that unite or untie ideas in new ways. This shows up in other parts of my life as well: no doubt my attraction to debate is the challenge, but in particular the daily rigor that has you face off against yourself while expanding intellectual and moral horizons. Same my aversion to private space. My home, wherever it may be, has a certain staticity that drives me off. It collects my past, keeps still, and pulls me back to where I came. For me, public space is the river you can’t step in twice; my private space is a puddled stream. Perhaps that was too harsh: still, I am drawn to the power of public space, and much of that has to do with its dynamism, an energy I don’t feel much when I’m merely by myself.
So here’s where I get to the punchline. I think one of the most important ethical, moral elements in my life is change. Many of the activities, places and people I value in my life express a constant transformative force on me. That translates into a ethical/moral goal that underpins so much of why I think I do what I do. I don’t think i could phrase this as an explicit imperative (“Create change!”), but I think that the ability to transform ones life lies at the core of many of my professed values.
Democracy: the ability of a community to control the changes affecting their lives in a mutually beneficial way. Criticism: a constant agitation that stirs up thought in a way that pushes it towards new manifestations and realizations. Alternative media: an a way to understand the changes ongoing in our lives that takes aim at power which operates through forgetting – a meeting point and expression of both ‘criticism’ and ‘democracy.’ Social Justice: the understanding that power places limitations and brackets on the lives of millions, and that struggle is necessary to allow them to express and create change in their lives in a respectful, humane way. The impermanence of subjects: I forget many of the things I say – I believe we are creatures of strange habits, and our identity is often time and place constrained.
Important caveats: this is exhausting. Sometimes it’s nice to feel mature, to feel stability. I’ve felt these different personal goals turn into existential treadmills, constantly shifting my goals and disposition in a sometimes emotionally violent way. On more than one occasion, I’ve just plain burned out on much of my existence. What I need to recover in these moments is not a private, personal space that I return to like a house, but rather I require a contemplative interiority that lets me work through individual struggles at the pace of my own writing. I need properly critical moments to test whether my priorities check out against my goals. I need this interior, individual space to ensure that my life, as an experience realized at a particular moment and place, makes a substinative contribution to the world around me, so that I do not become merely a leaf twisting in the wind; changing, but at the behest of a power that could act the same way upon any other person, place, or thing. I want to know that my contribution matters, in terms that I am happy with. That means I keep writing.