Why no matter what I do can’t I stop worrying? That feeling in the pit of my stomach won’t go away.
I can’t really say that I think anyone reads this anymore. But I think I’m posting it here because I hope that someone will. I don’t think I’m happy with my life at the moment. Or, rather, not happy with what I’m doing with it. I know that I’m very lucky in a great many respects. But lately I just can’t help feeling this utter despair at everything I’m doing. Have I gone wrong and taken the wrong paths? I feel lazy and unmotivated most of the time, but this is even after spending hours on research questions and papers. I keep asking myself what I want out of life and while I can’t come up with a better answer, I constantly think, not this. I keep trying to talk to people about this, but I have the feeling I just come off as whiny whenever I try. I can’t even think how many times I’ve made the statement I hate grad school to others or just to myself.
I’ve never been all that good at expressing myself through conversation. I think I have the most wonderful parents on earth, but I never say that, and for some reason I can never seem to say what I mean clearly to them. For an English major, my spoken communication is about the worst out there. I keep asking myself why I’m here right now, and what I want to do with my life. Then I see the materials spewed out by other individuals who’ve chosen the same path. The endless seemingly trivial pursuits of garbage literary studies. Some of the most bizarre ideas come from the corner of literary experts trying to defend their damned odd arguments. And somewhere I just feel like I don’t have that kind of stuff in me. I love reading and books, but I can’t stand the literary analysis that seems like the biggest waste of life imaginable.
Everyone wants to make a difference in the world with their lives. At least I would hope. And maybe there are some people who can justify this type of research as making some fundamental difference about the understanding of humanity. But for myself I just don’t see it. I don’t believe it has any value, and as hard as I try to follow the bullshit arguments, it just doesn’t work. I can tell my colleagues have faith in their words, but whenever I try to make the same points, it feels strangely hollow.
Last fall I panicked and wanted to rethink my life entirely. It was truly a pretty spontaneous and silly choice, but I keep wondering if I shouldn’t have taken that as a sign. I want to have a good life and to make money and live comfortably, but everything artistic makes that damned irrational point that what’s it worth if you aren’t happy at the same time? Now I’m trapped with more work than I’ve ever been saddled with before in my life, and I’m trapped by these conflicting desires. On one hand I know I’ve learned so much since coming here in terms of research skills, but on the other I hate what I’m researching. And all I can see stretching out before my life is more of the same overwhelming bullshit.
There have literally been days where I’ve hit the brink of total despair. I feel like I’ve always been rather average in terms of mood. I don’t suffer from bouts of anything near true ‘depression’ but there have been days where it feels like there’s no hope of success. I’m terrified of being a failure, of leaving or being kicked out of grad school. Yet at the same time the thought of leaving behind this seemingly meaningless shit is all that makes me temporarily happy. I wander outside and think how beautiful everything is around me, and how wonderful it is to be alive, but I can’t reconcile any of this with the seeming oppression of this academic life.
Why didn’t I just stick with education, I ask myself? What was it that made me want to study music? Do I have a damned bit of talent for anything I do? And for gods sake, what the hell am I ever going to do for a career? Even thinking about this is starting to cause me a slight bit of panic. I talked to a brother about just going to get teaching certification instead of this b.s. and possibly getting involved with music education, but I’m sick of school! i’m sick of just building up fucking debt and feeling like I’m just wasting money all around. Is something wrong with me that I can’t focus myself on one thing, or have I just not found what I’m meant to focus on? Did I make a mistake in choosing this path?
The damned band is about all that gives me any happiness here. And now there’s a terrifying thought that after next year (or even this year if I don’t hit that B average) it’s all gone. No more band, no more music except in the most offhand manner. I haven’t played a note of jazz in over three months. There’s no time to even think of that anymore, and I miss my saxophone. I miss the feeling of performance, of playing a solo. Hell, I miss the practicing. I’d practice six hours straight of scales rather than sit in a library searching through books for meaningless information on topics I frankly don’t fucking care about.
Above everything I’m scared. I’m terrified of failure right now, and scared of taking a risk. I don’t know what I want to do anymore. I want to write. That will never change. God damnit, I will be published someday. But what is there to do for a true career? I no longer know. I’m not always in such dark spirits, but it’s becoming a pretty common think for panic to almost bring me to tears. Dear god, I need help.
I need a sense of meaning again. And I can’t find that in what I’m doing anymore. Every word I write rings false. It isn’t who I want to be. I always hated online journal entries that focussed on people moping. I guess I’ve committed that sin now, too. but damn… I just don’t know what to do…
What is it about human nature that we applaud? The great works of literature often focus around the turmoil of the human soul and the way an individual adapts to adversity. In society itself, who are the people we revere? In short, what makes a hero? From national holidays alone we can draw the names of various figures: Martin Luther King, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the countless individuals who are veterans, among others. All of these individuals fought for something in their lifetimes, ranging from tasks of the purely physical to moral dilemmas which still have need of being repeated.
Yet what does our society now prepare us for? The great individuals of history were men and women who gave something of themselves for the good of others. We see them as the great benefactors of our species; those who would try to better the world in countless manners. From social equality to scientific progress, many of these people met bitter resistance to their thinking, but they strove forward regardless.
Human growth is one of the most prevalent themes of art and culture through history. We continue searching for new medical advancements alongside the betterment of our own ethical values, but is this what society demands? I find myself more than a little put off of current television entertainment. Look at the phenomenon of reality television for what it is. In some ways we can argue that it’s similar to many a television gameshow, except with perhaps a broader setting, but is that truly its form?
The most successful of reality shows breed competition between people. And isn’t a little competition healthy for us all? In athletics that may be the case, but to what lengths are we willing to go? Survivor has a fairly simple premise at first glance. Take a group of people and place them somewhere without the comforts of modern society and see how they adapt. Human ingenuity at its finest, right? A tribute to our ancestors skills? Is that why anyone watches it?
What I hear about more often are the petty feuds between individuals, and often the ones who profit most are the ones who lack what we like to think of as common decency. How often has it happened that the individuals who play fair are the first to be booted? This doesn’t exactly seem to set a stunning example for the viewers to follow. It almost feels as if good manners and attributes such as trust, honor and dignity are a liability.
By no means is the world an idealistic place. The best of people can be beset with challenges far worse than many of us can imagine, and unlike the movies, these people may often never recover from such events. I don’t mean to preach so much as I hope to just sort some of these matters out in my mind. I don’t believe that reality television is the devil of society, poised to throw us into the dark ages.
But we do love our conflict, especially the dirty scandals of our social surroundings. A lot of entertainment in general lately has focussed on becoming “darker” than that which preceded it. It certainly makes for interesting entertainment since every hero needs to pass through some great trial that will test his resolve. I think it says something about the human spirit how even now most shows give us glimmers of a kind nature that still pulses within many of us. Most stories give us characters to emulate, to inspire us to always remember that life shouldn’t be seen as something hopeless to endure.
No one in the world is perfect or pure, and as I said, the world is not perfect either. We may look at idealists and think of them as absentminded and unschooled in the ways of life, but if we have to pick how we view our lives, then shouldn’t we at least try to look up? Conflict will always be one aspect of our nature, but cooperation is where true human progress is born.
Well, I have to admit that I’ve been slacking a little bit lately. So when I unintentionally brought myself back over to the old watering…err, I mean posting spot, I guess I figured that it’s time to get back into gear.
Recently (well, maybe not too recently) I’ve been accepted as a graduate student at James Madison University for English. Yay, right? One of the courses I’ve signed up for has since required a total of about 20 books to read and I’ve been getting a jump start. Now, for most of my undergraduate career, I’ve been a bit of an oddball. I specialized in writing courses since those are my main preference when it comes to studying English. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read, but there’s something about old prose that somewhat stifles me.
I mean, I’m a fantasy and science fiction reader by preference. A few books from outside those genres have gone on to become personal favorites, but they’ve been few and far between. Namely, To Kill a Mockingbird has been for a long time one of the few classic books that I can say left me reading it and wanting to know more. After four years of undergraduate classwork, I can appreciate the fine craftsmanship of some of these pieces, but they’ve felt somewhat alien. Until now, that is.
What is it about a great piece of literature that makes it great? The books that stick out most in my mind are the ones that have left me somewhat uplifted. The stuff I read can be loosely categorized as escapist, in that it typically involves other worlds or times than the present. But even the best of these have all dealt with a similar theme: the growth of a person. The great struggles of man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. machine, etc. The ones I favor deal with the progression of a protagonist and the growth associated with facing various challenges.
So I found myself wondering what was so different about works of “literature” than works of genre fiction. I had the chance to re-read Light in August, by William Faulkner. By all means it is one of his more clearly written novels (I still shudder at thoughts of The Sound and the Fury), but for the first time I found myself appreciating it to a greater degree. Suddenly I found that I was interested in the plight of Joe Christmas and the tragic events surrounding his life that would eventually lead to his fall.
But I guess this leads in a different direction as well, because characters such as Christmas don’t necessarily change for the better. I guess it’s that the reader is forced to see through their perspective and try to understand the motivations they hold. This personally astounds me on several levels. I consider myself to be a writer, but as stated before I’ve always stuck to the path of my genre fiction and to be honest, most of those books follow a tried and true pattern (think the path of the hero, such as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars).
Before embarking upon this reading, I asked a friend (also of the graduate program) what he found in literature that made him love it. He gave me the standard, but too true answers of the meanings behind the works and the believable characterizations. The masters of the craft are those who can peer into the soul of humanity and dredge up the darkest of souls and bring us to have compassion for them. An example of another work I’ve since read is Larry Brown’s Father and Son.
It’s a good book by its own right, but the main character is a thoroughly despicable man. A murderer, rapist, alcoholic, and more. There were points in the story where I wished for nothing more than this character to be killed for his acts, but even in the depths of his dark acts, the author tried to show what triggered these actions and he shed some light on the traces of humanity left in this character’s soul.
The exploration of the human condition is hailed as one of the most beneficial products of the arts. Even so, like most things in life (and philosophy) there are few clear answers. There are those who feel that such expressions of the lowest of human actions are not fit to be deemed art. Plato argued that art should support its society and that debasements of morality would merely corrupt those who were witness to it. Aristotle viewed art’s darker shades as a way of releasing those dark ambitions from our own souls. By seeing the vile actions of a character who eventually falls due to his flaws, we know ourselves that such a course in life should be avoided.
But is that what we draw from the literature we read? Forgive my jumbled rant. There is a certain quality to a well phrased passage of prose that can speak volumes beyond the words on the page. I’ve had troubled myself at times finding these specific lines, but one that was pointed out to me comes from Faulkner. “Memory believes before knowing remembers.” It’s such a simple sentence, if a bit cryptic. Although it’s meaning can also seem fairly clear. In terms of childhood, you can believe something to be true before you’re old enough to know for certain that its occurred. The blurry lines of recollection can deceive us all. But the statement itself is almost poetic. It contains so much within the space of five words.
So I find myself trying to grasp a greater appreciation for pieces of art which I’ve in the past thought “aren’t for me.” Words are a powerful medium, and they can hide such significance that it’s no wonder scholars have been debating what works of literature have meant for ages.
For those of you that like to read regularly, what draws you into the page?
Well, I haven’t managed to get hardly any revisions done over the past few days. Lock Haven is like that. But, I got to move some furniture, which was interesting. Oh, and I’ve started into a Faulkner novel again…and it isn’t really that bad. I’m starting to appreciate it.
But god do I need to start working on the revision again. Chapter 2 needs a full rewrite, but I’m looking forward to it. Perhaps I can get to work on that during my brief upcoming stay in Virginia.
In other news, I’ve gotten readdicted to Lost. It’s lost a lot of it’s cleverness and spooky mystery from the first season, but the season 3 finale somewhat redeemed the early episodes which sucked ass. But, we’ve been watching the early episodes on DVD and it’s been interesting.
Oh well. I guess I lack intelligent topics for tonight.
416 pages doublespaced
Taking a moment to reflect on its completion. My god, it’s done.
What’s next? Revision. Then? Tapestry of Souls.
I only feel the need to direct people to this site because I really am not a fan of Nickelback. Ever since “How You Remind Me” I’ve just never been able to figure out what actually makes people like their songs. They sound bland and don’t really have any catch. At least not to my ears. A friend shared this little link with me that plays two of their songs on different speakers. On the first is “How You Remind Me” and on the second is “Someday.” Go listen. Tell me if you spot the differences.
I mean, I’d be the first to proclaim that all their songs sound alike, but I think the same about Bon Jovi. I never would have thought it was quite…this blatant though. Wow.