Archive for the ‘self-evaluation’ Category


We Are Cartographers Charting The Unknown, The Unseeable, The Impossible To Predict, Blindly Mapping Our Way Into An Ever-Evolving World

July 3, 2010

In my writing, I am acting as a mapmaker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed. • William S. Burroughs

If it were possible to know the date and hour of your death, would you want to? And if you had no choice about the knowing, how would your life be different? A student posed these questions to one of my classes last quarter.

I’ve been thinking about all the things each of us wants to do and never seems to get around to and all our reasons for not doing the things we say (or secretly wish) we could do. Would knowing the date and hour of death add urgency to the quest for accomplishment or would accomplishment seem futile in light of mortality?

Would you still want to leave a legacy of some sort or would you prefer to live in the multiple moments you have left, taking chances, indulging in everything that’s bad for you but wouldn’t kill you—at least not yet. Feelings were mixed in class. Some folks said they’d buy a motorcycle and bungee-jump and climb Mt. Everest and daredevil their way toward death, knowing that it wouldn’t come before its appointed time. Others immediately thought of all the salt and sugar and fat and carbonated delights they could indulge in without worry.

Still others would focus their efforts on making a difference in the world or on making the most of their talents. In response to a question from interviewer Barbara Walters, Isaac Asimov said that if his doctor told him he had only six months to live, he’d “type faster.” You’ll probably find this quotation somewhere with six minutes instead of six months, but as Asimov reported in Asimov Laughs Again (1992), Walters’ question was “six months to live.”

For some of us, work—at least the work we feel were born to accomplish—is a driving force, pushing us forward even as we are uncertain where to go or what to do with its relentless urgings. Life’s requisites of building and maintaining relationships and earning a living take time and energy, and it can be difficult to make or find or create time for the things that seem like self-indulgence. But if you knew the hour of your death, would you try harder to fit them in?

Where do you hope your map of life will lead? What are you doing to get there?

We may go to the moon, but that’s not very far. The greatest distance to cover still lies within us. • Charles DeGaulle


The Train Is Moving Fast, But My Mind Isn’t Keeping Up

June 3, 2010

For Thursday, June 3, 2010

A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours. • John B. Priestly

I laughed when Steve Carell, the boobish boss on The Office said recently, “I don’t know what to do. My mind is going a mile an hour.” That was probably fast for Michael Scott, Carell’s character, who often thinks he’s thinking when he’s really just stirring up big clouds of mental obfuscation.

I thought about his words on the train. I brought along, as I always do everywhere I go, a bag of work. I seldom leave home without it. Work. But everything I bring isn’t really work. There are always books to be read—trash, of course, and this time, even a bit of treasure I don’t mind carrying thousands of miles back and forth across the country. There are projects I want to think about. There is art to be made. Poetry to be written. It comforts me to imagine that I might be able to bitpiece these things into my time.

These other pursuits sometimes crowd out the work that has to be done, stretching deadlines to their limit, but once again on the train, I find myself content doing nothing. Time on the train is strange.

It seems as though there is lots of it. I’m riding for days, one coast to the other. During workdays at home, I get plenty done. But on the train, the days move quickly by as I procrastinate, putting off what needs to be done in the luxury of lots of time in which to do it. Molasses minutes slide by and I look out the window. The hours accumulate and nothing much happens.

I can’t explain why I don’t feel motivated to do anything because I don’t understand these suspended moments. I am comforted by having something to do if I want to do it, but I don’t feel compelled to actually do anything. My mind is going less than a mile an hour. It’s scarcely moving at all. And it feels pretty darned good.

How and when and why do you do nothing?

All of us, from time to time, need a plunge into freedom and novelty, after which routine and discipline will seem delightful by contrast. • Andre Maurois (one can only hope)

A hobby is only fun if you do not have time to do it. • Leo Beenhakker


Something To Ask Yourself: Are You A Donkey’s Behind?

May 27, 2010

I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.
• Abraham Lincoln

I recently had an unpleasant encounter with a stranger who was supposed to be providing assistance. S/he-who-shall-remain-anonymous was being paid to provide said assistance. I was a customer. I’m supposed to be right, right? And really, there wasn’t anything to be right or wrong about except that I wanted a bit of attention from the person who was supposed to be taking my hard-earned cash in exchange for the goods s/he was selling.

The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.
• William Safire

This was too much to ask. I was an unwelcome interruption in a fascinating three-way cash register conversation involving a co-worker (on a break–s/he said so in a brief aside to me, as though to explain her/his lack of attention to my needs) and someone named Lee on a cell phone. Beer was involved. How much and who was bringing it. Tacos too. A houseboat. And much more, unfortunately too banal to report here. Had their three-way been interesting, I’d have gladly waited pretty much indefinitely.

Laws control the lesser man [or woman]. Right conduct controls the greater one.
• Chinese proverb

Instead, I waited patiently for several minutes before asking if it would be possible to exchange my money for their goods. The phone talker asked me if I couldn’t see that s/he was busy. Well, yes, I could see that s/he was otherwise occupied, but I could also hear that it wasn’t work-related.

You do not wake up one morning a bad person. It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest.
• Robert Brault

Mark Twain said that “be yourself is about the worst advice you can give some people.” I used to have this quotation framed and hanging in my classroom. I believe in personal authenticity, but I also believe that if you are a donkey’s behind in your dealings with others, you might want to consider creating a nicer, more considerate self for public presentation. This is important at all times, but it’s especially important if you’re being paid to pay attention to the needs of others.

Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other “sins” are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not a sin – just stupid.)
• Robert A. Heinlein

I’ve written before about common sense and how I believe that it is misnamed because rational problem solving doesn’t always come naturally to people. Neither does considerate behavior. These things and many others need to be taught, and yes, I do know how busy schools already are. In my fantasy world, every child would learn many of life’s useful lessons at home before s/he ever entered a classroom and would arrive at school ready to learn and ready to be a delightful and productive classroom participant.

Every wrong seems possible today, and is accepted. I don’t accept it.
• Pablo Casals

I also know that there are crucial basic skills students need to leave school with, like the ability to figure out what ten percent off the regular price is if the calculator isn’t working (another important customer service attribute). Still, consideration for others is a basic skill of successful living and if we want to rid the world of donkey’s behinds, everyone’s got to help.

Goodness is the only investment that never fails.
• Henry David Thoreau

So. Are you a donkey’s behind? If you are, what are you going to do about it? If you aren’t, what’s your secret to maintaining civility in a world that seems to be increasingly uncivil and how can you share it with others?

If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless, since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience the injustice of our fellows.
• Jean Baptiste Molière,
Le Misanthrope (1666, when, apparently, the good old days were not always good)


A Creative Mind Is Like Disneyland Or Knott’s Berry Farm Or Six Flags Or Some Other Theme Park Of Your Choice

May 22, 2010

Finding oneself was a misnomer; a self is not found but made. • Jacques Barzun

In her book, This Is My Life, Meg Wolitzer (1988), makes this claim: “Everybody has a theme. You talk to somebody, and you realize that they have one particular thing that rules them. The best you can do is a variation on the theme.”

I’ve been talking with some very creative people recently and as I listen to them and their interests, I understand what Wolitzer is saying, but it’s not what I’m hearing. These highly creative people have multiple interests, multiple themes, and within each of these interests/themes exist variations. These folks are all creative, but creativity isn’t a theme by which someone can be defined since its proof of existence is in its representations.

Like them, I don’t have just one theme. I’m more like Disneyland. I’m a theme park with many lands, all united by their location within the confines of my mind. Their connections can be challenging for others to see unless I create paths among my mindlands. Frontierland doesn’t merge seamlessly with Fantasyland, nor does Tomorrowland seem to mesh with Main Street, but no visitor is bothered by these seemingly disparate representations if connections are clarified and elements of each overlap.

As with oh so many things, this is easier said than done. I see the interconnections, but they are not always easily explained. And sometimes, it’s too much trouble to try to articulate them for outlanders.

What is your theme? Is it a creative and cohesive singleness of purpose or do you have many lands in your theme park?

For if I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. . .This very heart which is mine will forever remain indefinable to me. • Albert Camus


“Man Will Not Fly For Fifty Years,” Wilbur Wright Said To His Brother Orville In 1901*

May 16, 2010

You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.
• Emmeline Snively, director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency, counseling would-be model Marilyn Monroe, 1944

Advice is certainly useful, but if I could only give one piece of advice, here it is: Listen to—but don’t necessarily believe—the advice of well-meaning people. I’ve had lots of experience listening to, believing, and giving advice, and I know that in the end, everyone has to listen to her or his own inner voice after carefully weighing the advice of others.

You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.
• Jim Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, giving Elvis Presley the boot after one performance in September 1954

My high school counselor wouldn’t even discuss the possibility of scholarships with me despite my high verbal SAT score that appeared to qualify me for some funds. Here’s what he told me: “ A cute little thing like you will just get married and have children, so it would be a waste of money.” There are some words that stick with you, even years later. His still bother me because I felt then, and still do, that he didn’t see who I really was and didn’t listen at all as I tried to explain who I wanted to become.

Just so-so in center field.
• The New York Daily News, reporting on Willie Mays, May 26, 1951, a player whom many consider to be one of the greatest all-around baseball players of all time

I’ve had the advice conversation recently with older folks considering returning to school, with two people thinking about doctoral programs, and with someone who’s hoping for an academic promotion next year. In each case, they were looking for wisdom regarding what to do. I am wary of offering advice, but I do it anyway. I have come to think of this as a human failing. Someone asks and I feel compelled to respond.

The so-called theories of Einstein are merely the ravings of a mind polluted with liberal, democratic nonsense which is utterly unacceptable to Germen men of science.
• Dr. Walter Gross, March 1940

My advice was the same in all cases and I believe in it despite its triteness: Be true to who you are. Pursue your dreams with authenticity. Don’t listen to people who tell you what or who you should be (she says somewhat ironically, realizing that even authenticity is an imperative).

The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad.
• The president of the Michigan Savings Bank in 1903, advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rockham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company

Have you ever been given advice you knew just wasn’t right for you? What did you do? What’s your advice for yourself?

The singer will have to go.
• Eric Easton, the new manager of the Rolling Stones (c. 1963), about Mick Jager’s value to the group

* December 17, 1903, was their first successful flight.


Your Work Is to Discover Your Work and Then With All Your Heart to Give Yourself to It. • Buddha

May 5, 2010

All the wonders you seek are within yourself.
• Sir Thomas Browne

Authenticity obsesses me. I suspect that it obsesses many people, this desire to feel at home in our skin, finding our place in the larger world while also finding who we were born to become. The becoming of authenticity seems to me to be an ongoing—and sometimes frustrating—process. Be•coming. It is here, yet not here, always tantalizingly ahead. I know who I am, but I also know that there is much more that I could be.

Like Dorothy and the Tin Man and the Scarecrow and the Lion searching for what they need, I see my authentic self shimmering in the distance like a green mirage. Will I reach it? And when I do, will I find some resting place or will new adventures await? Will I ever be satisfied with myself? Do I want to be? Is it possible to be both satisfied and striving? These are central conundrums in my life.

There are many paths to choose among, and while my choices are not infinite and are bounded by the realities of family, talents, and many other already self-imposed limitations that I live with mostly happily, I still must choose daily where to focus my energies.

Authenticity is a path. It is not a destination, but rather an ongoing series of choices. I make them imperfectly. I am too tired one evening to give my full attention to commenting on students’ papers. I get drawn into the joy of being with a class and forget a crucial issue I’d planned to discuss. The presentation I planned is less wonderful than it could have been because there is not always time to be fully wonderful. If I pick and pull at my attempts, they are easily unraveled. Yet this too is authentic. Authenticity is not perfection.

What is your work? Who are you be•coming? What challenges are you encountering along the way?

The longest journey
Is the journey inwards.
Of him [or her] who has chosen his [or her] destiny,
Who has started upon his quest
For the source of his being.
• Dag Hammarskjold


A Thought That Sometimes Makes Me Hazy: Am I or Are the Others Crazy?*

April 24, 2010

He suffered occasionally from a rush of words to the head.
• Herbert Samuel

Once upon a time, almost thirty years ago, I had an appointment with a psychiatrist. I was selling radio advertising for a living and I detested the job. I thought there was something wrong with me. I liked my clients. My clients liked me. I was successful, but I dreaded every morning that I had to go into the office and out onto the streets. I was so stressed that my doctor recommended I see someone. It only took one visit to find out that the problem was the job. I quit sales and have never done that kind of work since.

Of course, I already knew that this was what I needed to do. Sometimes, we just need official permission.

I wrote a poem in the waiting room:

Owed to a Psychiatrist
by W-OZ

Welcome to my brain,
take a walk inside my head.
You’ll find it more than int’resting
for you can see what I once said.
‘Cause all my thoughts and secret dreams
are filed in little drawers,
and pictures from my past still hang
along the corridors.
Yes, my brain’s a fine and lovely place,
a dandy place to visit,
and while you’re there
I’m sure you’ll see:
It isn’t crazy,
is it?

I spoke with the doctor for less than fifteen minutes. He told me that his prescription was that I find another job. I did.

Are you doing something you shouldn’t be doing? What are you going to do about it?

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.
• Lord Byron

Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.
• Drew Carey

* Thanks to Albert Einstein for the title couplet.