Thursday, December 31, 2009

Still a Seeker

I made a New Years resolution (sort of) last year and it fell victim to the same fate most do. I was not a big deal and I certainly didn’t lose any sleep over it. I do, however, still believe it to be a worthy goal and although I am not resolved to do it this year, I still might. And compared to what I have accomplished this past year, what I didn’t is insignificant.

A yearly reflection, however, is still in order. But to confine such a reflection to just the events of 2009 is futile; a little more historic perspective will add clarity. I started this blog a little more than four years ago to fill some idle time between semesters at California State University, Sacramento. I was entering my second semester as a junior and I didn’t really know where this blog – or life for that matter – would take me.

I was awarded my BA in December 2007 and entered grad school in September 2008. I am now half way to a Master’s degree in communication studies. In just three semesters I will be graduating again, this time with many more accoutrements adorning my cap and gown. When I returned to school (American River College) in 2003, my goal was only to gain some new skills and an Associates degree to legitimize those skills – I did not intend to transfer to Sacramento State; I did not intend to attain a 3.8+ GPA; I had no aspirations to obtain any sort of post-graduate degree and now I am well on my way to the first of two. Yes, I do plan on exploring the possibility of earning a Ph.D.

Of course, if I were to reflect on just this past year in terms of academia, it would look like the completion of another year of grad school - pretty staid, pretty foreseeable, no real surprises there. Of course there is life outside of academia and it has thrown me a few curves. I became a grandfather on Easter Sunday. My youngest son joined the Army and is now serving in Afghanistan and my middle son is working on his place in the great fabric of life as well. And then there are my parents who have seen me through some rather grave situations and although I am not traveling the path I now travel for anyone but me, it gives me great pleasure that is pleases them.

My life is two stories, but both culminate in the here and now. I might be getting accustomed to success, but it doesn’t take much effort to remember the not so distant past when my life almost came to an end, both literally and figuratively. I could not have planned what came to pass before or what is coming to pass now, but I know this: Happiness has little to do with anything external - it comes from within. All those years of wondering and waiting for it to come to me were perhaps necessary to get me to where I am today, but at the same time, it didn’t have to be that way. Do I regret it? No. I am content with my place in the world today. I am still a seeker, but now I know that what I seek can be found.

Happy New Year

Monday, December 28, 2009

On the Metaphoric Road Again

I don’t usually wake up this early; I only went to sleep just a couple of hours ago. But it happens and there comes a time when laying in bed, tossing and turning, trying to get back to sleep becomes an exercise in futility. Actually, first it becomes an exercise in futility - then I realize it. When I stop fighting and go with whatever it is and let it take me wherever it wants to take me, I will benefit. I know this, but I’d rather be sleeping. This morning, it would appear, I will benefit whether I want to or not. This morning I get to contemplate... things, and stuff. This morning will not begin in the afternoon. This morning I will write and whatever it is that has me up at this solitary hour will show itself – it always does.

In recent weeks I have experienced and expressed some degree of frustration in my ability to communicate. That frustration is necessarily amplified because my art and my area of study both are communication – this is not only what I do, it is my area of expertise. Writing (specifically) is not just a gift, it is also a responsibility and although I have not exactly been shirking it, it is also true that I have not kept on top of it as I should, either. Indeed, I have put aside many dark mornings just like this one in favor of not answering the call. It is always easier to stay wrapped up in comfortable ignorance and a warm bed than it is to open up to the unknown, face the darkness and welcome the early morning light. This, again, I know.

It is forever a choice between stagnation and comfort, on the one hand, and growth and enlightenment on the other. It is, once again, a question of journeys and destinations. “Are we there yet?” The answer always has to be “no.” Ultimately, there is only one destination. It is final and I am in no hurry to get there. The journey, however, is another story entirely. So what about these moments of complacency? How does one overcome the comfort of the destination, however temporary it necessarily must be? When is it time to get back on the road again?

Maybe it happens when, no matter how dark, how silent or how solitary a morning might be, the light is still too bright, the noise is deafening and the muses will not leave me be. When the discomfort of comfort becomes too much to maintain, the journey must resume again. And so it is again this dark, silent and solitary morning that the muses have woken me with their siren song, taken me away from yesterday and thrust me into the now. The journey begins anew; the destination is too far to see. It has always been this way for me – how much comfort can I stand before the road beckons me back? I know only too well that if I get too comfortable for too long, I will reach my final destination before I am due.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A note to concerned passerby...

If you are here because you hear a puppy whining inside my house, you need not worry about her. She is adorable, she is a baby and she is not yet house trained. She is in a LARGE dog crate and she is not happy about it. Not at all. But she is safe, she is not in any pain and she has plenty of water and chew toys. She doesn’t need food, she just ate and I’ll be back well before she needs to eat again. If you feel compelled to just absolutely, for sure and beyond any doubt know that she is safe, then please feel free to call me on my cell phone - (916) xxx-xxxx. I will drop everything and rush right home to allow you to appease your conscience and know that you did the right thing – no matter how much hassle you caused me.

If you are planning to break in, either to check on the puppy or to rip me off, rest assured my alarm functions quite well and in addition to me, a rather large “safety” committee will be greeting you.

Merry Christmas,
Michael Althouse

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just Words?

For about the past two months, I have been experiencing some strange form of writer’s block. It’s not the variety that prevents one from writing anything at all (that would be much worse), but it is preventing me from writing anything good. And maybe that’s not exactly it either; maybe it’s more like this odd strain is keeping me from writing anything really good. And as far as I’m concerned, if it’s not really good, it’s crap. For the last many weeks, in my overly critical opinion, everything I’ve written is crap. Add one part partial writer’s block and two parts perfectionistic tendencies and it all gets wrapped up into a perfect storm of self-perceived crap.

I have been here before. In fact, although it feels more prolonged recently than it has in the past, the reality is this is my default. When it comes to my own writing, I like far less than what I don’t like. This is not to say that there is no value in the projects I fall short of what I believe to be perfection (or good) - there is value in everything I write, whether anyone else reads it or not (and believe me, there is plenty that never travels beyond my hard drive – some of it gets deleted before it even gets that far). It has more to do with style and flow and the artistry in the words than the words themselves – and lately I just have not felt as though I’ve nailed anything.

But I also know that in time, some of that might change. I have written much in the past that has come to mean something much more profound and enlightened than it did when it was written. So, too, I have written prose that I imagined rather brilliant at the time of conception that later come across as na├»ve – or even foolish. Yet the writing must continue for a number of reasons; perhaps the most important is that I have little choice. This is obviously true from a career perspective, but it is also true for more primal reasons. Writing is not only what I do best - it is what I do. It is my telos, it is among my primary purposes.

One of my professors boiled down the art of writing to simply this: “Know what you want to say and say exactly that.” He readily admits that this is much easier said than done. Language is so imprecise; there are myriad ways of lacing words together that say the same thing, but mean something entirely different. It is so much more than just the proper use of grammar, correct spelling and proper contextual definitions because the ways in which the words are assembled also convey logic, emotion and credibility. If that sounds familiar, it is because Aristotle told us of logos, pathos, and ethos around 2,500 years ago. What we say is every bit as important as how we say it.

At the moment, I must write and I must write some very specific words to transmit the results of the research I have conducted. It matters not if I am “feeling” it or not, the words must be written. They will meet half of the communicative goal – they will convey what I have discovered and hopefully they will support my premise. If the magic returns to me, however, they will also convey the passion of my ideas, the importance of the research and my commitment to my profession. All that must also be said with words, without actually saying so.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

17,166 Days Toward Eudaimonia

After 17,166 days, one would think I’d know a thing or two. And though it is absolutely true that not a day does goes by in which I have not reaped some wisdom, I am quite far from “there.” Tomorrow - day number 17,167 - will also conclude my 47th year. It would appear as though I have been graced with an entire weekend to celebrate, and indeed, the celebration has already begun. I have scheduled the bulk of this weekend and the next two weeks to the completion of two term papers so that I can successfully complete this semester of graduate study. In this respect, my birthday is just another early December Sunday in Sacramento, just as today is another early December Saturday. Fall semesters have been coming to an end during this time of year for way more than 17,166 days, this year is no different.

I graduated high school in 1981, but I didn’t go away to college until the fall of 1983, turning 21 that December. It was finals week at San Diego State University (SDSU) and the serious students were preoccupied with their studies. Although I aspired to be and thought I might yet become one, I was not a serious student. I had not the capacity or introspective capability to realize it, but retrospectively it is painfully obvious. Regardless, that seminal birthday was somewhat anticlimactic, but I understood why. It was nobody’s fault, I did not hold any resentments – I just got drunk at a local watering hole with my fraternity “big brother.” The 26 years since that night have been enlightening in so many ways and among the outcomes has been a demotion of the importance of celebrating growing old.

So this year, like more than a few in the recent past, the focus of the days surrounding December 6th are not on celebrating the beginning of another year in my life, but continuing on the path to eudaimonia – loosely translated Greek for “happiness,” or “the good life” or “a fully formed (or informed) inner self.” It is a balance of reason and passion, the ability to wisely decide what the right thing to do in any given situation is. It is about knowing truth, beauty and goodness. But what does it means as far as the celebration of my 47th birthday? What kind of celebration could the grind of schoolwork possibly be? Interestingly, it is only through the wisdom gained from those 47 years – all of them – that I can answer those questions.

I could, and probably will take some time tomorrow to relax and reflect… maybe ride my Harley to my local Peet’s Coffee enjoy a leisurely cup of joe. But the real satisfaction I derive from these semester-end days will come from a celebration of a different kind. It is a deferred celebration, but like anything really worthwhile, these are the things that have lasting value. Aside from the fuzzy memory of getting drunk on my 21st birthday, there is little I could relate about that day or those surrounding it.

By the time this calendar year comes to a close, there will be real, substantive and perhaps even important work finished that I will be able to point to. Moreover, that work is part of a far loftier goal and one that I could not even imagine just five years ago. In other words, I am doing what I need to do to celebrate success that is much greater than simply staying alive for another year (although my history shows that is no small task, either). It is the practical balancing of reason and passion. It is not yet eudemonia, but the next (and only) best thing is the continued striving for it; like perfection, it is never fully attainable. In that respect, today (and tomorrow) I am celebrating my birth - and my life. And the celebration occurs regardless of any particular box on the calendar.