Prompt: How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)
my last post. Much of what I talked about in that post about the awkwardness and sense of being what we imagine children are like is perhaps more commonly called "wonder." Leaving your common realm of experience is wonder-full and I embrace it when it comes along; but, I don't consciously "cultivate" it.
The reasons that I don't cultivate it probably go back to the post about the things that prevent me from writing: my job. When the semester is in session, especially from the middle and growing in crescendo to the end, all I can do is focus on getting from one day to the next. Then, getting from one day to the next and finding time to sleep. The closest I can often come to "cultivating wonder" is through books. If I can steal a moment away to read, then I might come across a new idea, or a set of ideas might click into place to create a new shape, or I might read a passage or a story that is so surprising and unique that I find myself in that state of wonder. Alcohol sometimes helps.
Nonetheless, I don't pursue this for some really fucked up reasons going back to my fucked up, subconscious rulebook -- the one I'm trying to throw out. I remember reading as story about a Civil War general who would not allow himself to indulge in the things that he liked. His friend -- another general -- had given him a coat that he adored. He put it one, admired it, and then put it away, never to wear it again. He was afraid that he liked it over much. I got that. If you really like something, if you pursue it, then that could be the thing that you focus your entire life on to god-knows-what kind of disaster.
My dad was very much like that. My mother pursued her own gratification to the expense of everyone around her. Still, she was never satisfied, mostly because she was always looking for something instant, something that did not require introspection or serious questioning of the choices that she had made in life. She pursued gratification but remained miserable.
My dad, partly because of his own personality and partly in reaction to my mother (at some point in marriages, the two become inseparable, I think), would never let himself enjoy anything. He was intensely miserable. He hated his job, hated his wife, wasn't particularly happy with his kids; all the same as my mom. If he were to allow himself to enjoy something, to pursue anything that gave him joy outside of the limited scope of what he decided should make him happy (but wasn't), then he might abandon all reason and responsibility and everything would fall apart. Anything enjoyable was automatically suspect, and misery was a sign of responsibility and adulthood.
As a result, my dad developed a paranoia of "running away" that he imposed upon his children. He could never conceive of "running toward" something. Nor could he understand that "running toward" might simply be another step in your own development. Thus, anything that attracted you, that you liked and wanted more of, was automatically suspect because it provided an alternative, it drew you toward something new and, perhaps, away from your stasis and paralysis. That meant that misery meant you were doing something right and anything else meant that you were doing something wrong, at least in regard to being a responsible adult. We are all supposed to be responsible adults, too, right?
I understand that this meant that he did not go off on flights of fancy, drinking or spending the mortgage payment on toys, or chasing women. This belief kept him at home. Still, these shouldn't be the options: running around irresponsibly, or wallowing in misery to prove your responsibility. There is some middle ground in there. You can be a responsibly adult raising a family and still not seek out and encourage misery by avoiding the absence of misery or pursuing satisfaction. Right?
To bring this back to the prompt: in writing some of these posts, I realize that I adore -- ADORE -- what I have described in traveling, in encountering new ideas, in going outside of the normal range of experience of my daily life. You see it in my desire to fly planes, you see it in the acting classes I have taken, you see it in the travel that I do and the placed that I visit, you see it in the posts that don't involve extreme bitching and moaning. Going outside of the normal range of experience makes me feel alive, makes me feel wonder, contributes to my writing both academic and otherwise. I want to chase after it as much as possible.
Yet, there is the problem with having to make a living, and making a living isn't all adventure and enjoyment. There are the papers to grade and the meetings to attend. There is also the problem that I have internalized my fathers suspicion of being too attracted to constructive experience that does not involve misery. These two factors tend to paralyze me, keep me from seeking because I might be drawn away from the grading, blow off the meetings, and then I won't be a responsible adult and the world will end. Really!
I do, however, find myself open to the opportunity of wonder and life more than I have ever been and also as a part of my daily life. I just don't tend to pursue it or "cultivate it" as the prompt asks. Being open and as part of my daily life, my work, means that I do not have to encourage my father's suspicion of wonder and life, of the lack of misery. I can abandon that nonsense. Perhaps the next step will be to actively pursue it without the worry and guilt that I'm fulfilling my father's greatest fear (and, clearly, dearest wish) of running away. There can, after all, be a disciplined, focused pursuit -- "cultivation" -- that pulls you forward and up.