Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So Unfocused I Can't Even Come Up With a Credible Title

Still not up to writing much lately. I seem to be going through some further life transition, which seems unfortunately to be steering me even further away from mental activity of any passable quality than I was before. What is the nature of these afflictions which beset me? The usual busyness. Anxiety and mild depression. Sentimentality--despite still having 2 babies and a 5-year old, I find myself of late missing the years when my oldest two boys were little. At the time of course I was doubtless as anxious and I was certainly quite a bit poorer than I am at the moment at least, but the past, being safely gotten through, is easily remembered as a happier time. And in fact, I was younger, and there was more time and less housework with 2 than there is with 5, and I still perceived myself to be able to write halfway decently, which, while almost certainly a deception, did still inject a joy and sense of purpose into my private mental life that I have had trouble accessing the past few years. I am unable to find pleasure in many of the things I formerly found pleasure in, and while I think my children are likely to be worthy human beings who would be capable of being contributors to a worthy society where they will feel themselves to belong, I have grown overly pessimistic that they will ever inhabit such a society, not for any long term. And also before they were in school we used, it seemed, to go so many places. All over New England, Montreal once a year, the Mid-Atlantic three times or more. Gas was much cheaper. I still have one of the cars I had then. It cost $16 to fill the gas tank at that time. It's around $35-40 now.

This used to be the time of year--from October through New Year's Day--in which I formerly took the most pleasure. Lately I scarcely notice it in passing, such is my general distraction. I am lucky if I manage to spend three days in the whole of these months in the observance of some ritual of the season--but enough of this weak-headed lamenting. I would like to be able to have some more time to appreciate the spirit of the seasons though, especially around Christmas. I haven't got all that many left anymore.

This post was originally going to be, not an insistence on, but a defense or attempted justification of going to college in certain circumstances, even of liberal arts coursework, in response to the ever-growing ranks of those who think almost anything would be a more constructive use of a capable young person's time and money, let alone an incapable one's. My main problem of course in attempting this task is that all the doubters as to the virtues I would be espousing would have to buy into the idea that I am, in the heart of midlife, an acceptably developed or educated man by the most minimum standards denoted by those words, who could be demonstrably shown to have acquired any knowledge or experience in the course of my education that I carry with me through life that is even roughly equivalent to the expense which Somebody incurred to have it imparted to me; and my impression is that this is exceedingly unlikely to happen. I am not merely in most people's eyes, including, frequently, my own, a poor advertisement for expensive 'humanistic' schooling, but the very portrait of the fate people congratulate themselves as avoiding when they choose to concentrate in other fields. At the same time I do know a few people who studied the same course and received the same degree as I did who do strike me as excellent advertisements for this same (though this does not seem to cut any ice with the naysayers). And even with regard to myself I still have a hard time convincing myself that I would have been any better off, or significantly happier, forgoing the course I did take, for the army, or the pursuit of a trade, or entrepreneurship, or what would have been a likely futile course of study in the hard sciences or engineering or even computers, for which I had no significant preparation up to that age. My essential problems are deeper set in the way I relate to the world, my general level of comfort in it, etc, which have always been uncertain and confused, and have always been largely impervious to attempts at improvement. I have never been very much in any harmony with my surroundings--the things I write about most on the blog are those where I feel closest to attaining this sense.

I think the defenders of humanism should drop the "it teaches you how to think" meme for a while, since non-believers don't seem to be buying it, and anyway if it were true and people were honest with themselves it should be largely manifest when you met such a person. I am coming around to Ruskin's view on this matter, that genuinely intelligent people think as naturally as they breathe. I do not think at this point particularly well, though I during and for a few years after school my studies and the generally higher caliber of everyday discourse and interactions did inculcate some stronger habits of thought, attentiveness, attunedness to environment, etc, than I was wont to have formerly. Now however I have been removed from higher intensity mental environments for so many years that I seem to have regressed back to that more confused and sluggish method of thinking and perceiving.

So if humanistic studies don't teach you how to think in some superior way, what good are they for exactly? First of all, they may well teach you to think in some way highly prized by the better classes of society--I just don't think people should insist upon it where it is not evident in itself. Done reasonably well of course, they should give you a strong foundation of general knowledge, not merely practical facts, but a better awareness of what kinds of things (smart/smarter) people think about, and the way that they think or came to think about them. I think for introverts of a high academic intelligence quotient it has a social value that seems to be woefully underappreciated. Yes, people do a lot of drinking and wasting time in school, but above a certain threshold of intelligence social and intellectual life are not really capable of being separate entities. To be brief, it is important for smart people to be predominantly around other smart people sometimes. Of course there is much examination of and guidance on the nature of existence as a whole, how to approach life, to become attuned to and become somewhat at home in all the various part's of one's mental and aesthetic world, one's language, physical environment, sense of proportion, and justice, perhaps it enables one to discover and understand strengths within himself, though this never quite happened for me. Unfortunately emphasis on mastering demonstrable skills--in languages, composition, rhetoric/public speaking, music, as well as those areas of math and science in which a general competence is well within the capacity of the intelligent non-specialist--before the degree is awarded has never been strong in this country, so this realm of learning as a whole has come to be seen as less difficult and therefore the province of less substantial men and women than the hard sciences especially.

Article about young writers in New York--seems something like the kind of scene I would have liked to have found at that age, though they seem a little too nice and devoid of edge to make much of a literary impression. As usual in modern literary circles, vital male heterosexual energy seems to be lacking, as well as any sign of a genuinely unconventional take on life, and usually where these are absent, there is not much hope of compelling work being produced. Still, it is hard not to think that if I had been able to achieve success in my chosen career, these are the types of girls who would likely hold me in high esteem and even awe now, and those thoughts are pleasing to me.

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