I need to buckle down

Oh, to strike out bold­ly, suck­ing in deep ded­i­cat­ed draughts of knowl­edge and digest­ing rapid­ly and ener­get­i­cal­ly, then turn­ing and plac­ing with both hands, as far out into the world as I can reach, my own craft of words and think­ing. This is my goal, this my desire: to light a fire in my own bel­ly that will know no quench­ing, to burn with ideas, to labor long and fierce­ly into the night and before the sun ris­es, to be a schol­ar who admits no dis­trac­tion until his work is done. I want to punch myself in the face so hard I cry for a week at the ache of it, to slam my fist against weak flesh and bone and wake me up to the plow­man’s labor I need to have set my hand to years ago.

What? Yes, I want to be a writer, and I have many avenues of that craft that I want to chase my words down, herd­ing them like rabid preg­nant cats, cor­ralling them into the shape of sto­ries, his­to­ries, insights, and truth. We know how dear­ly I still want to tell my sem­i­nary sto­ries, the sto­ries of my jour­ney of faith and reli­gion, and noth­ing would bring me more sat­is­fac­tion than to see that project con­sum­mat­ed, per­fect­ed, and chas­ing around in search of a prof­itable avenue of pub­li­ca­tion. That day will come.

The now of my writ­ing, how­ev­er, is the now of my career — my voca­tion — in canon law. I have not emerged as a stun­ning schol­ar in this my cho­sen pro­fes­sion as of yet, and I rec­og­nize cer­tain sig­nif­i­cant lim­i­ta­tions that will prob­a­bly con­tin­ue to bar me from the high­est flights of my field. But that does not mean that I have no con­tri­bu­tion to make, and if I can amend even one of those innu­mer­ate lim­i­ta­tions — my fail­ure to apply myself to my work — then I know that there is a depth to my God-giv­en skills and tal­ents that will tear a hole in the veil of obscu­ri­ty my habit­u­al indo­lence has drawn over my aca­d­e­m­ic years. No more of this. It is way past time to put to proof my asser­tion that I have been worth edu­cat­ing. It is time to emerge from the shad­ows where I have been laz­ing and throw my mono­grammed hat into the schol­ar­ly ring. It is time to read hard and heavy, and to pen some jour­nal arti­cles, like a boss.

And the hard­est part is going to be, with­out any doubt, shut­ting out the cycle of dis­trac­tion I have bur­rowed my metaphor­i­cal ass into over these past sev­er­al years. Yes, I mean Face­book, and Twit­ter, and LinkedIn, and Goodreads, and Tum­blr, and all the many, many dis­trac­tions that the on-line, plugged-in life I have embraced is built around. No, I don’t want to sev­er myself from any of those tools, for I believe they are tools both valu­able and need­ed. But they are also addic­tive, and my infat­u­a­tion with idle­ness has latched me deep into them, a latch I must break if I am ever to be weaned from the Mobius loop teat of social media to the harsh but health­ful rations of dis­ci­plined self-appli­ca­tion to my own men­tal and cre­ative work. (Ridicu­lous hash of metaphor, I know, but what­ev­er, you get my point.)

I know I can write. I know I can read. I know I can think. I do not know that I am able to sit down at a key­board or a writ­ing desk and just read through page after page of sources, com­pre­hend and syn­the­size their con­tents, and turn to put my own thoughts in an order­ly fash­ion upon a page. I do not know that I can hold myself to any task, I do not know that I can keep myself focused on any­thing that does­n’t have a “Like” but­ton attached to it some­where. But I want to believe that I can do these things, and since I have (for good rea­son) no more faith left in myself as a pro­duc­tive and ded­i­cat­ed per­former of any task, I have no path oth­er than actu­al­ly doing these things — and then doing them again, and again, and again: of con­vinc­ing myself and those I love that I can tru­ly car­ry myself for­ward into a tomor­row in which I star not as a dis­ap­point­ing lump, but as a vital and dri­ven artist and aca­d­e­mi­cian who does­n’t sit in dream of projects he would like to start, maybe some­day. I want to start being some­one who starts projects, tack­les them day after day, and com­pletes them. That is how dras­tic I want this to be.

I know the name”

I am, as many of you know, a whole-heart­ed embrac­er of social net­work­ing, or at least the ver­sion of it that hap­pens on spe­cial­ly-designed web­sites ded­i­cat­ed to some aspect of that pur­pose. Face­book, LinkedIn, Academia.edu, even Goodreads: I’m on them all. I am remark­ably dili­gent in scour­ing up per­sons from var­i­ous eras of my life, and most of the time, even after the pas­sage of years, I am appar­ent­ly remem­bered pos­i­tive­ly (or at least not neg­a­tive­ly) by a whole lot of peo­ple.

But there is a down­side to this. I spend so much time and, yes, ener­gy detail­ing an elec­tron­ic map of past con­tacts and rela­tion­ships (and, to be fair, main­tain­ing a good many cur­rent ones) that I have had even less prac­tice than usu­al of late in doing the thing I suck the worst at: meet­ing peo­ple I want to meet. This was a prob­lem all those years I thought girls might be inter­est­ing, and now it is a prob­lem when I think estab­lished pro­fes­sion­als in my cho­sen field might be both inter­est­ing and impor­tant to know.

Ear­li­er this week, I had one the most sig­nif­i­cant net­work­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties of my entire life just hap­pen to me, and I com­plete­ly blew it. If we are going to go sports anal­o­gy at this point in the post (and I think we should), then I was the bat­ter tap­ping his bat on the cor­ner of the plate and adjust­ing his, um, uni­form while a nine­ty-three-mile-an-hour fast­ball blows past him. All he can do is stare stu­pid­ly and think, “Why didn’t I have my bat up so I could take a swing at that?”

To make mat­ters worse (and to bela­bor the image) this was a total soft­ball, too. It was not as if I had to suck up enough gump­tion to sidle up to a lumi­nary at a crowd­ed cock­tail gath­er­ing and intro­duce myself like a des­per­ate pick-up artist at clos­ing time. No, I was sit­ting in the office of one of my pro­fes­sors, work­ing with him on a project for which he hand-picked me to assist him, when there was a knock on the door and in walked the pro­fes­sion­al canon­ist who, beyond all oth­ers, I have most wished I could meet some­day. She is one of the only authors still writ­ing on a top­ic that I find of the utmost inter­est, and to have such a per­son stand­ing sud­den­ly in front of me was under­stand­ably dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing.

When intro­duced, I did man­age to say, with prop­er empha­sis, “Yes, I know the name,” but then I left it there. It would have been per­fect­ly accept­able for me to con­tin­ue, sim­ply and sin­cere­ly: “I am very inter­est­ed in the top­ic of ____, and have read all your arti­cles on the sub­ject.” How hard would that have been?

I know very well that I am not any­thing remote­ly like a nat­ur­al schmooz­er. And I am sure I nev­er will be. But there are lim­its to what I can tol­er­ate of myself. Mine is not a very large dis­ci­pline. While I am at school it is not unheard of — clear­ly — for a rock-star canon­ist to walk with­out fan­fare into what­ev­er room I hap­pen to be in, at any moment. I want to be ready next time, and this week’s encounter empha­sized for me the truth that no amount of noodling about with my LinkedIn pro­file is going to help me put out a hand and intro­duce myself to a real live human per­son. I am going to have to be able to do that myself, and it shames me that I have for­got­ten that.

Casting about

I have been in the ear­ly throes of what feels like a sort of cri­sis here at The Float­ing Egg late­ly, and it is final­ly spilling out of the closed-up cap­sule that is my soul into some­thing resem­bling the pub­lic view. At the core of this cri­sis is the indis­putable fact that I have not been writ­ing. Peri­od. Nev­er mind for a moment that I have not been post­ing any­thing much, here or any­where else I pur­port to blog. The step before that step is the one I am real­ly and tru­ly con­cerned with; I can’t post if I don’t even write. And I real­ly am not even writ­ing.

I think about writ­ing a great deal. No points for that, though, I am afraid. I stare at my stale blogs, with things I put togeth­er this win­ter still up on the front page, sim­ply because noth­ing else has come along to push them off. I think, boy, I real­ly need to fresh­en this up. And of course it is far eas­i­er to start shop­ping for new themes, fid­dling with col­or palettes and mood boards and typo­graph­i­cal nuances than it is to sit down, take a blank page, and just write. Yet that last is, full stop, the Thing I Need To Do.

So screw re-brand­ing. The old cliché about rear­rang­ing the deck chairs on that big old boat comes straight to my mind: my writ­ing (and sub­se­quent post­ing) of orig­i­nal true prose has noth­ing to do with how many columns or side­bars or wid­gets I have. Noth­ing. My writ­ing has to do with my writ­ing, my actu­al­ly com­mit­ting the act of writ­ing. I need to do that, if I want to con­tin­ue to have any claim to the label of “writer” any­more. Maybe some­where down the road it will tru­ly make sense to update the aes­thet­ic of my win­dow on the world. But not today. Today I need to write.

All Things Must End (Even This Year)

And so anoth­er year comes to a close, and with it the first decade of this much-vaunt­ed third mil­len­ni­um.

A lot has hap­pened in these ten years. Some build­ings got knocked down by hijacked air­planes in 2001: that was quite a dire start to the decade. As a result — or using that trag­ic event as a thin excuse, if you pre­fer — the coun­try of my birth has been at war in far-away lands ever since, as well as hap­haz­ard­ly slap­ping togeth­er an end­less and impo­tent cul­ture of fear in our own part of the world.

The end of that year saw the end of a long but future­less per­son­al rela­tion­ship for me, but I entered the new year full of hope, and in Jan­u­ary of 2002 I found the love of my life. In 2003 I got mar­ried to her, and after a brief year of lov­ing cou­ple­hood we became par­ents togeth­er, and then three years lat­er it hap­pened again, and now, three years lat­er, it is hap­pen­ing yet again. (I’m real­ly not sure how this keeps hap­pen­ing.) Mar­ried life, fam­i­ly life, has been a lot of things, but most­ly it has been real, and that is good.

My pro­fes­sion­al life, too, has cov­ered a lot of ground in these ten years. At the start of the decade I was just becom­ing a low-lev­el man­ag­er at a Barnes & Noble store. Four years lat­er I made the leap, neces­si­tat­ed by the recent birth of my first son, to a soul­less cubi­cle job shuf­fling through thou­sands upon thou­sands of mort­gage files and prepar­ing them for archiv­ing in a vast gray ware­house. That near­ly destroyed my soul, but for­tu­nate­ly I was res­cued, thrown a life­line, and I escaped to the tiny data­base sup­port team in the same build­ing, where I was able to learn a whole set of skills I had no idea I would ever encounter, and far more impor­tant­ly I was able to work with a group of peo­ple who real­ly cared about each oth­er, and made work­ing togeth­er some­thing joy­ful. I will always miss that aspect of that time.

But the voice of voca­tion was not silent in my life, despite years of neglect on my part, and in 2009, with the sup­port of my wife, I final­ly set foot upon a path I had been pulled toward for quite some time: the study of canon law, prepara­to­ry to a life work­ing as an expert in the inter­nal law of the Catholic Church. I am now in the midst of my first year of grad­u­ate stud­ies in this area, hav­ing left all my gain­ful employ­ment behind and thrown myself on my local church for the sup­port of myself and my grow­ing fam­i­ly; I can hard­ly say how grate­ful I am that they have been so will­ing to catch me and hold me (so to speak). It has been an excru­ci­at­ing­ly chal­leng­ing time for my fam­i­ly, but the light is start­ing to shine bright­ly through the clouds once more, and there is much to hope for in the years ahead.

And now the decade is over, and in the morn­ing a new one will dawn. What will the next year, and the next ten, hold for me? I cer­tain­ly could have pre­dict­ed very, very lit­tle of what tran­spired over these past three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-two days, so I won’t even pre­tend I have a clue what to expect from the com­ing three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-three turns of the globe. But I am sure hop­ing that I can make a sim­i­lar­ly san­guine report to each of you at the oth­er end of this decade, too.

Hap­py New Year, every­one. Don’t stick beans up your noses.

Back At It

I may as well admit it: I am alive.

More than that, I am, by many mea­sures, well. My fam­i­ly and I are busi­ly engaged in set­tling into a house that will — bar­ring any change of plans — be our home for the next two years. I am cycling a not-incon­sid­er­able dis­tance to school and back each week­day, and now that the bath­room scale has been unpacked I see that for the first time in what seems a very long time, I may soon get myself under two bills: a nice psy­cho­log­i­cal boost when­ev­er that hap­pens.

I am a full-time stu­dent again this year, and now I can insert the word “grad­u­ate” into that state­ment. No equiv­o­ca­tion this time around: I am in grad school, fo’ realsies. This is actu­al­ly quite excit­ing, as life jour­ney stages go, and I love being in class with stu­dents who are all, in one way or anoth­er, head­ed in rough­ly the same direc­tion I am, or at least toward the same degree. It is, admit­ted­ly, a bit con­fus­ing enter­ing into an entire­ly new dis­ci­pline where even the cita­tion rules are dif­fer­ent, but I am feel­ing up to the chal­lenge. Even the gram­mat­i­cal details of Latin are com­ing back quick­ly and eas­i­ly so far, although it is ear­ly days yet, and lin­guis­tics is an area I am unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly reluc­tant to get cock­sure regard­ing.

And writ­ing? Sur­pris­ing­ly lit­tle in the way of orga­nized prose will be demand­ed of me in my cours­es, at least so far (there is a sem­i­nar paper of forty-odd pages to be writ­ten by Feb­ru­ary 2011, but I shall start on that anon, prob­a­bly not until ear­ly in the new year), so I am eager to get back to my own prosi­fy­ing in what I will hap­pi­ly pre­tend is my spare time. First on my dock­et: the con­clud­ing sev­en­teen sto­ries in my sum­mer 90in90 short fic­tion marathon. The planned break has been a bit longer than I had hoped, but it takes some doing to move a fam­i­ly of four into a home filled with oth­er people’s things, so I think I can be for­giv­en. At least, I am going to for­give myself, and not lose much sleep over whether you for­give me or not.

So look for the sto­ries to start rolling off the assem­bly line again for a cou­ple weeks, and then… And then? I will have words for you betimes, I assure you.