Lying down on the job.

Which is more real: the voice that I have when I am able to craft each sentence to be exactly what I would like, or the one that I write in at the end of the day, when I’m dead tired? I am embarrassed enough by my writing here that I haven’t announced this blog to nearly anyone; two people know about it. It is only self-reflection, bordering on the narcissistic.

The writing that I do when I am this tired feels like the equivalent of moving down a steep hill; steep enough that I do not quite control my legs, so I am somewhere between running and walking. I remember how often, when my family went hiking, my father would advise me to not allow my legs to be uncontrolled: it is better exercise to force yourself to descend one measured step at a time.

But as I type this, I think of applying that directive to my writing, and my goal of relaxing, loosening up. How loose is too loose?

Lately, or for the last few months, I’ve often been out in the middle of running errands, and moving through a crowd of people, and have thought it rather a pity that it is culturally inappropriate to lie down in public spaces. In parks, of course, it is acceptable; more so on a blanket than on the ground. and there are practical reasons involving space that make it unacceptable to lie down on a sidewalk. Especially now, someone lying down in public is assumed to be ill, or vagrant, or both. I think that lying down suggests a sort of intimacy that causes discomfort: it is difficult to judge. More difficult than sitting or standing, that is. In both of these, it is easy to feel superior; both have standards: no slouching; legs together.

Even though there are more compact and more sprawling positions for lying down, the societal standards are not in place to the same degree. Perhaps this is because to lie down is to take such a submissive posture that it does not even seem worthwhile to establish meanings for different postures.

But I am overanalyzing this.

It is not acceptable for me to stop, mid-day and lie down. I wish it were. I do not know how our world would change if it suddenly became acceptable for people to lie down, almost anywhere. But I would like to find out.

The obvious thing to do would be to write a story about it. But there is no time for that.

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Relax! Relax harder!

Last week, I posted on Facebook that I was going to work from 8 to 6, and then relax. It took about 5 minutes for a friend to comment on the post: “do you know how to relax?”

I posted a flip answer, but the truth is that I haven’t the foggiest idea. Work hard; play harder was always my motto, and if you could ask my summer camp counselors about the intensity with which I played Capture the Flag, I think they’d agree. I had no problems charging people bigger than I was.

I’m better at focusing now than I used to be, though I’m constantly turning to the computer to look up something or other about commerce vocab in the 18th century, or the degree of familiarity that someone might have had with the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, or the Treaty of Seville of 1729.

But relaxing: how does it work? When I think about it, I see that nearly everything in my life is carefully constructed to be not just relaxing, but relaxing and productive. I like to exercise at the same time I watch television. I think an ice cream sundae is much more decadent if I have an essay to read while I eat it. If I go see a movie, I try to write about it afterwards, in more or less traditional film review style (what were they trying to do? Did they succeed? Was it worth doing?).

If I’m with someone else, of course, the decadence of the sundae does not require augmentation with an essay. But I seem to pound through life, mainly stopping to get a sundae on the fly, when I just can’t take five more minutes of finance.

When I was in London the other week, I sat with the Doctor in St. Paul’s Churchyard, eating frozen yoghurt, and it felt positively revelatory. I’m sure some of that was jetlag, but on the other hand, it felt like months since I’d sat with someone, not trying to accomplish anything. Now that I think about it, I remember feeling something sort of similar while I was hanging out with Jo(e) and Rokeya about a month ago.

Tonight, I’m writing, and reading, and continuing to make sense of a 10,000 line poem and the developing economic/commercial atmosphere in the years following the South Sea Bubble. And, I’m drinking a glass of cheap prosecco.

If I’m consuming alcohol, does that qualify my activities as relaxing?

Even if it did, I’m not sure it would solve my problem, or answer my question, because the one thing that I have consistently been told throughout my writing life (not for every essay, but regularly) is that I can relax, lighten up…no need to write a sonnet.

Well, I can’t write a sonnet anyways. But I can’t seem to relax, either.

How do you define the difference between work and play?

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Lost voice

I used to lose my voice regularly, each September and each spring. It would disappear completely, leaving me with only the ability to mime what I wanted to say, and then for anywhere from 2-5 days, I would sound like Kathleen Turner, and the last time it happened,  I gave the sultriest lectures on economics that any of the business majors in my course could remember.

Now I don’t lose my voice, my speaking one, which may be attributable to my studying Alexander technique, or my willingness to indulge in ridiculous satsuma consumption during the winter. (Hey, it was when I gave myself permission to eat 2.5# of satsumas per day whenever they were on sale that the colds stopped).

But I seemed to lose my writing voice; somewhere in the process of working to develop the facility to discuss my complex, detail-heavy specialization. It’s a specialization that makes me tremendously excited, but getting it down on paper without simply desiccating it is a challenge. And in struggling with that, I stopped communicating about the rest of what I saw each day.

And then I found myself in a situation where I wanted to hide my voice, rather than find it; to be unrecognizable. Whether I needed to, or whether I was just overly spooked is impossible to say now, but I fell out of the habit of blogging.

In some ways, it didn’t matter at all. It’s not as if a blog is a vital part of a career; quite the opposite, perhaps. And I had an especially busy 20 months.

But I find that not communicating here, informally, also affects my ability to communicate in more formal spaces. I felt this most clearly a couple weeks ago, at a speaking engagement that required me to wed the formal and informal; and one, it must be said, where I’m not certain that I succeeded. At the end of it, I was frustrated, but also worried, because I had a stronger sense than ever that I didn’t quite know how to call up my voice when I most needed it.

I need to find it again. In my first post on this blog, I was coy about who and where I was; I still will be, to some degree, but I can’t hide my voice and find it at the same time. And even discovering that is something valuable.

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Litter

According to my preferred dictionary, ” A ‘bed’ or substratum of various materials.” Almost a year ago, I walked the nine street blocks from my apartment to the bank, a check to be deposited folded carelessly in my pocket. And when I came to the automatic teller machine, and reached for the check, it was gone, but easily recovered, three blocks away, on the ground, where no one had touched it. I wondered at this; it was recognizably a check; it was for around $300; the local check-cashing businesses are not so corrupt as to refuse to cash it; it lay on a busy street.

I could only conclude that people did not see it.

So I went out with a trash bag, to see what else they did not see. Mainly, I found, they did not see rubber bands, discarded by the postman, small change, discarded cans and bottles, but also a tube of toothpaste, a pocket mirror, a green glass heart, a jade fish, and an unused roadside flare.

To be fair, the heart and fish were found on different trips.

On the street where I live, are also elderly retirees, young professionals who are not yet wealthy, and university students. Couches and futon mattresses appear regularly, along with worn-out George Foreman grills, coffeemakers, bags with a few clothes in them, and plastic boxes of old cassette tapes. Box springs, blackened frying pans, tables with three legs. This week, someone has taken a wooden shelving system, stained in mahogany, and spread it over a length of about 75 feet.

It’s clear that we’re confused, in some ways, about our cycle of consumption and discarding. When is it okay to throw something away? For mattresses and couches, which are often the longest things to sit out, if they are in less than pristine condition, or are unlucky enough to be rained on, the issue is clearly one of not wanting to spend the money to visit the dump (or not having the car with which to do so); and I too have been amazed by what people will pick up when they find it lying by the side of the road.

For the last month, what has been appearing are televisions, in keeping with the switch from analog to digital cable. But it startles me that these don’t disappear; they merely collect, in groups of 3, 4, 5… No one collects them, either because flat panel televisions are becoming ubiquitous, and more and more people watch television online. I have a little 14″ screen tv, purchased on eBay years ago, and it sits in a corner with its rather fancy set of rabbit ears on top. It would work with digital cable, but lately, there’s been no time even to watch that.

I could complain about the lack of environmental responsibility, but I am more fascinated by what our surroundings become, and by wondering what has led to the discarding of other objects. Yesterday, walking between home and the tech shop, I saw a scattered set of yellow packets labelled Navy Emergency Water Rations, and a serviceable football, labelled, in marker, “Impact Anderson.” Other mornings, I have found the following:

1 pair of boxer shorts, stenciled black on white with American Eagle logo;

1 braid of hair, nearly 60 centimeters long;

1 small canvas tote, packed with toiletries, and a greeting card, still in its protective plastic wrapper, featuring images of early modern maps of the world.

How do these things come to be left? Often, I see them more than once — they remain for 24 hours or more, and so it is hard to say whether they are recovered because their owners (do discarded items have owners?) remember them. And who picks them up? There is trash on the streets, and it does not disappear, but these things do. Can a pair of boxer shorts have the same appeal as a slightly worn couch or chair? Or does someone come who sees these things as collectible, or merely unsightly, and removes them?

The story of how a braid of hair, grown, judging by the length, for many years, is thrown away on a busy urban street, is one that I wish I knew.

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Foundation

I am the sort of person who ought to spend at least 5 minutes each morning — or only 5 minutes! — meditating, and yet cannot seem to do it.

This blog is not intended to take the place of that meditation, but it may help me so that I can work silence, that mere five minutes, into my life. A year ago, I started a different position, moving from teaching into editing, and so in many ways, I have far more silence than I used to; but as my friend Y. has said, that level of decreased interaction tends to make one a little strange.

Surely a little more strange shouldn’t matter… but I realize I was mistaken in that assumption. Instead, my own particular strangeness (really a mixture of strangeness and dullness) is simply muffled. I cannot quite work out when I have something to say to anyone else, and when I am merely working something out for my own benefit. Without students — or without regular students — I am uncertain about my responsibility, on a daily basis, to communicate with the rest of the world. Then for each course I taught, I had a broad goal, a skill set to communicate. Now, it seems that my role is primarily to consume information. Even as I have expanded my knowledge of literature, of economics, of programming languages and other digital tools, I have been unlearning how to talk to people.

So, a foundation–

I am building one, rather than offering it. When I began blogging, it was new, and not quite acceptable, professionally. It still isn’t, precisely, but the juggernaut of digital humanities is changing that, along with the changing role of bloggers as part of the digital media sphere. And the internet generates massive amounts of entertainment and humor from within itself, rather than being quite so dependent on people posting workplace gossip that might result in termination.

Before, I moved from one blog to another, but stopped after acquiring a reader who offered subtle threats, and wanted to make it clear that I was being watched, both on the internet and off. That was 18 months ago, and nothing came of it, but I am still guarded. I have fretted over this blog, this space, for nearly a year, not quite able to figure out what sort of material should go into it. After all, who am I to add to the steady noise of people’s daily and extraordinary activities?

There is no good answer to this question; not for anyone in general, and certainly not for someone who refuses to confirm identity, location, or even gender. But I am blogging in order to understand why it is so difficult for me to take, or to give, those 5 minutes, each day, to silence. When I try to sit in silence, all the things I ought to say or do fill my head. Perhaps by writing some of them down here, I can reclaim a bit of that silence for myself.

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