Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trivial matters

I keep threatening to quit blogging. I'm thinking about it, but I can't quite do it. I can't write about what I want to, either.

I'm engaged in a struggle. I could blog about trivial matters, the things (according to Google Analytics) that people want to read about (bad hair cuts, mattresses), or I can try to blog about what really matters to me. But, oh, that's hard.

I can write about nonsense and memories pretty easily. It's not great art by any means. I just write as if I'm talking to someone, or to myself. I correct a typo now and again. Done.

This other stuff, I can't quite access it. I have this problem when I try to talk or write about Buddhism. I feel stupid and inarticulate. I can't find the words. I become convinced that I am stupid, and have been blind to it.

I know that's not true, but it feels true, as feelings tend to do. Feelings are such good liars.

The truth is I'm overwhelmed by too much information that I have no idea how to integrate. I've had this problem since I was a kid. When I was in the 5th grade, I had to write a paper (probably called a "report") on Geronimo. I had an adult library card, and I took out every book about Geronimo. That wasn't enough. I took out every book that had the name Geronimo in the index (or so I thought - I doubt that was possible). I read every single one of them. I took meticulous notes on index cards and put them into shoe boxes. My room was filled with boxes. When the paper was due, I had not even started it. A month of weeks went by, and I did not explain to the teacher what was going on. I was overwhelmed. I had no idea how to express what I'd read. Did I understand it? I think I did, in a way, but I was no genius. I wanted to write about the problem of the Native Americans, our country's history, assimilate all this information, but I could not, and I was too embarrassed to tell the truth.

I wound up bringing in all my shoeboxes filled with note cards over a period of days. I vaguely remember the bemused and compassionate eyes of that teacher. She gave me a good grade even though I never wrote the paper.

Y'know, I don't think she should have. I was always a sloppy thinker. I went to private school in 10th grade, and was confronted with significantly higher standards than I was used to. Did I rise to the occasion? Nope. I was too used to coasting. At first I was excited by the great teachers who didn't dumb down the classes, who gave us truly tough stuff to wrestle with. I read for pleasure, but I couldn't be bothered with the hard work of writing a cogent argument, or explaining what I'd read. Please, don't make me explain it.

I haven't changed. It's not that I mind working, or studying hard. I just can't explain. I don't want to explain. I don't want to intellectualize.

Maybe that's okay, but there's so much I want to express that's so damned hard, and I've grown tired of my lazy and blurry thinking. I have no idea if I can change. Sometimes I think I'm disabled in some way; I just can't do it.

I guess I'll find out. Not today.

Image note: Tried to find a painting of languid opium smokers to illustrate "fuzzy thinking." Didn't find one that wasn't protected by copyright. Then I thought of Francis Bacon's strange heads. Not in the public domain. The ones I could cadge are too scary (good for the last post). Came across a new artist (for me) - Nassar Azam. Gave up. See what I mean about lazy thinking? Yet, I spent 45 minutes looking at images and learning some new things. What do I have to say about Azam and Bacon? Nothing.

So, I give you the pair of fingerless mitts I knit and designed for Good Karma Farm. They are cozy.

And yeah, I believe I wrote about my fuzzy thinking just last week. I can't be bothered to go back and check.

PS. Too much "I" in this. Way too much. Therein lies the problem. . .


jmcleod76 said...

I write for a living, but I have trouble writing about anything "important," too. I don't trust my thoughts. It's one thing to blurt something out in Heart Sutra class - I'm just thinking out loud, and happy to be contradicted, if need be. To put something down in writing though, feels like a sacrilege. There it is, ossified in black and white for all to see, divorced from who I actually am or what I actually think now. I used to read, and interact in the comments section with, hundreds of Buddhist bloggers. They all asked me "why don't you blog?" I can't write about Buddhism. It feels wrong. Maybe that's even part of why I'm a Buddhist. Yes, "you have to say something," but we do so with the constant realization that it's never quite the truth.

Have you ever read the book "Lila" by Robert Pirsig ("Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" guy)? I don't think it's a great book (apologies to anyone who disagrees). I've tried to read it three times now, and never gotten much past the first few chapters. But the protagonist - a thinly veiled rendering of Pirsig, himself - does much what you did with the Geronimo notes. He's trying to put together a philosophy of "quality," so he keeps drawers and drawers of little notecards, organizing them and reorganizing them over and over again while he wrestles with the question. I'm not sure whether that ever worked out for him, since, as I mentioned, I've never finished the book.

I suspect some minds just see too much to be able to comply with the half-assed way most mental categorization and distillation gets done. In many ways, this is a gift, but it does make it difficult, sometimes, to navigate conventional reality.

Julie H. Rose said...

Thanks for your comment, Jaime. I keep telling myself "you have to say something" (thanks, Katagiri-roshi!).

You wrote "it feels wrong." Do you mean that blogging about it feels wrong, or that "It's never quite the truth"?

I have no aim to be a "Buddhist blogger", but there's some things I feel like putting out there. When it comes to Buddhism, I apply the same standards, if you will, as I do for daisan, and they are rigorous. Everything misses the mark.

Heh - maybe I should rename this blog "Everything misses the mark."

As to the what you describe about the drawers of notecards and their reorganizing sounds more than a bit OCD-like. I gave up that practice years ago, but I suspect my brain has taken over the task. Some of the drawers have ceased opening, and others are never shut, overflowing.

Conventional reality - what is that?

Julie H. Rose said...

Excuse the "as to the what you describe" above. Bleary morning - typos go by the wayside. . .

jmcleod76 said...

I mean blogging about it. I don't think it's "wrong" in a moral sense, or anything like that. Other folks can blog away all they want and I don't mind. I'll probably even read it. It just feels wrong for me because I'm a pretty private person, and I don't like letting other people in on my process of figuring things out. It feels too personal. I make some exceptions to that rule - I've processed "out loud" in emails to you probably dozens of times - but I like to have a sense of my audience first. That probably makes me sound disingenuous, and maybe I am. It's the Libra in me. I tend to look for common ground and do better in dialogue when I'm responding, rather than pontificating. Also, as far as Buddhism goes, I'm still sorting it out for myself, and I feel pretty certain that where I am now, in terms of understanding, is not where I'll be a week or a year or five years from now. I think that's why daisan happens in private. So much of koan work, for instance, is so very individual. We all have our different "stuck places."

I'm interested to hear more about you "exacting" standards for yourself in daisan. I feel that I can become very self-satisfied, and it appears all the worse because I never ask questions. It's not because I'm too proud, or think I have all of the answers. It's just that so few of my questions can be articulated verbally, and besides, I have a deep trust that the answers will either become apparent or they don't matter. I don't feel a real burning need for answers. Questions are good enough.

As for "conventional reality," I guess I just mean the collective reality we agree upon and create together. The one in which five pieces of green paper will get you a sandwich, electrical pulses filtered through a red piece of glass cause us to hit the brakes in our cars, and the seemingly random symbols D-O-G, when placed together in that order, refer a domesticated furry animal descended distantly from wolves.

jmcleod76 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie H. Rose said...

Very interesting, Jaime! I didn't think you meant "wrong" in the moral sense. I, too, feel that talking about my koan work is too personal to write about. Obviously, I enjoy processing out loud, but there are lines that I draw - that's one of them.

I should hope where you are now is not where you'll be in the future. Do you suppose there's a time when you'll have such certainty that you can look into the future and imagine that you won't change how your understand in some way? I should hope not.

I relate to much of what you wrote. Thanks for sharing it (and I do not mean that snarkily!) Huh - "snarkily" is not a word.

Julie H. Rose said...

Oh - as to "exacting standards" - I basically always feel "I do not know" or "not deep enough." Some of this is just inarticulateness, coming, I realize, from years of practicing alone and without a teacher. There's a disconnect between my intuitive understanding and my ability to communicate what I know I know. Very frustrating!

I did mean to write "what I know I know." :-)

Jtowns said...

When I was in school and turned in any kind of writing assignment, I always felt like the teacher/professor was going to call me out for how poorly I analyzed the information that we were supposed to go over.

I still haven't figured out how to do this well.

Julie H. Rose said...

Eh, most of the teachers probably can't tell if something is analyzed well, either, imho.