Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Returning and setting out

Many days have passed. I keep thinking I ought to update and then wondering what it is I really have to say. It's been the same with me in general: I keep thinking I ought to do something, and then wondering what it is I really ought to do. I've been working quite hard, and to balance that out, I've been reading fluff (well-written fluff to be sure, but still...), watching fluff, talking mostly fluff.

Recently, I picked up a book by Primo Levi (The Drowned and the Saved) and it was like coming back to myself. The book is wonderful, but it wasn't particularly the book: it was the invigorating rush of the mind roaring back to full speed. The book got dog-eared; the spine cracked; I have a whole passel of notes just waiting to be written up.

I used to read these sorts of books all the time. I used to read all the time. But far too often in the last years, I've worked at a computer all day, come home to a movie or the internet and then tumbled into bed. I've gone from having stacks of books going: books on religion, on ethnic violence, history, poetry, novels-- all the things that engage me the most-- to having nothing going. Lazy and ultimately corrosive behavior.

And then, over the weekend, the rush intensified as I picked up several more books (one almost finished, The Places In Between by Rory Stewart, about which more later) and thought: "It's all very well my feeling engaged and alive and fizzing along at full speed on the weekends and evenings. What about during the day?" I have to face the fact that my job is a whole lot of nothing. I do little that could not be done by someone else. Even the original initiatives I've spearheaded are only exciting in the context of my job and my office's operations; they're not empirically important. I'm not using my full range of abilities and passions and expertise. And yes, this is the case the world over and yes, I'm lucky to have a job. Yes to all of that.

But it hasn't always been that way for me. I have great difficulty separating what I do from who I am. I'm happiest when the two are completely merged-- when I take as much pleasure in my job as I do in my non-working hours (this usually results in the latter being few and far between) and when my occupation is clearly aligned with my vocation. I'm still figuring out what the latter is, but I know when something fits me and feels right, and I know when it doesn't. And this doesn't. Religion, reconciliation, ethnic violence, the great world out there-- these are all concepts, much too general to be a vocation, but they're what I return to again and again. Nearly everything that falls under these ridiculously broad headings fascinates me-- they're my intellectual home.

So what next? I don't know. I do know that, as Rachel says, it's time to make teshuvah, to align myself in the right direction again. And to do that, I need to set out-- away from all-too-quickly-established patterns and out into something else. I'm starting to feel settled in Washington, and that's unsettling me.

This next step needs to be a bigger one than before: a move overseas, a graduate degree in another city, etc. Such a step has been rattling around in my brain for a while, and I don't know if I've been too timid in not flinging myself into the void, or if there are simply too many enticing voids out there. Both. Neither.

To stay in place is getting more and more uncomfortable. The idea of setting out feels right. It feels like coming home. A step away is a step towards a return.


At 11:50 PM, Blogger MikeC said...

Your blog really resonates with me. I've been there. I'm there now on the job front, though perhaps not in other areas of my life. It sounds like you've broken through the shell, though, and are ready to make the next move. That's a big thing! I think you've captured it: "A step away is a step towards a return." Keep on keepin' on!


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