#SOL16: Taking Stock
I can’t remember the last time I took stock of my life. My most profound moments of reflection tend to come when I’m driving. Since I live 20-30 minutes from anywhere, this is probably not a bad thing. In terms of productive action, however, who can remember what you were thinking about five minutes after parking? Sometimes it’s the process of thinking that is inherently satisfying, so action doesn’t matter. Sometimes resolution doesn’t come in the form of a tangible undertaking but in a small shift in thinking or viewpoint. For example, I untangled some big knots in my dissertation on the Taconic State Parkway, headed to Trader Joe’s. This didn’t mean I got home, ditched the bags, and dashed off 30 pages of a chapter. It did mean I could get back to my desk without a pit in my stomach.
In an interview in the Paris Review, novelist E.L. Doctorow once said, ““Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” That was definitely how I made it through the dissertation process. Some days it was as if only one headlight worked and I was driving through a whiteout. Still, some 300+ pages later, I finished. That process took well over a year; it consumed me. The diss would wake me at 2, 3, 4 in the morning, prodding me with a new idea or a different way to talk about the complex thing I was trying to explain. I went to church, met friends, had dinner with my husband, and all the time, I was half there, half talking with that diss in my head. When half of your waking self is not present in the moments of daily life, pieces start to go missing, You don’t notice you’re fraying around the edges, need a little patching, until you’re well out of the experience. This is true of any intense and intensely personal thing: nursing a parent as they move toward death, caring for a critically ill child. Think of the ways we describe those experiences: they consume us; we lose ourselves in the process.
So you emerge. You re-enter the life that was going along in a parallel universe. And it doesn’t quite fit anymore. In fact, parts of it chafe; other parts have moved out of reach. And driving? It’s suddenly more echo chamber than retreat.
This is not meant to be a woe-is-me reflection. (Not all of it, anyway. 😉 ) It’s a way of contextualizing something that’s on my to-do list today. My husband and I have decided to read a book together and talk about it– our own personal bookclub, if you will. The book, Designing Your Own Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life is written by guys at the Stanford University design program— Bill Burnett is the Executive Director of the program; Dale Evans lectures there. These folks are a (the?) source of the design thinking initiatives popping up in education settings across the country. The first chapter ends with homework: as assessment of where you are right now in four key areas of your life: health, work, play, love. (I told my husband about homework last night and he groaned.) The timing is right for us. The doctoral process became like the third member of our marriage for many years; both of our professional horizons are shifting; there are (always) changes in extended family circumstances. We can’t think of a better time to build a vision for the next section of our lives together. And individually, of course. The intersections are where the best talking will take place.
You know how when people ask if you ever want to be 25 again (or whatever age you pick)? I always say Sure, but only if I can have all the knowledge and wisdom I’ve accumulated since then. (Sadly, those are never the terms.) Our book club thing has the potential of recreating the excitement and discovery of the early days of dating, except with 30 years of wisdom.
I think it’s going to be cool.
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