Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Feeling like new

I’ve always felt like a beginner.

As if I have to learn the world new every day.

I’d like to believe it’s because I have a beginner’s mind, a person who’s willing to learn. More likely, it’s because I’m inept; or, because I abuse myself too much.

My beginner’s mind has serious flaws. I do the same things over again and still can’t get them right. Or, I hurt myself in the process.

On the positive side, everything I do feels new. I’ve got a million questions, and nothing quite satisfies me. I want to know more about anything that holds my interest.

I put time into things that matter to me. I avoid the treadmill of modern life as much as possible. Consequently, I end up in unexpected places—like working on a farm—with little or no experience.

Or, running an independent magazine. Washing windows. Installing landscapes. Working at home. Staying out of the rat race. Unfortunately, living this way doesn’t work well in a rat-race culture that places a premium on cutthroat competition and greed.

So, mostly I’ve been poor, doing what I love but broke, living on the good will and charity of friends.

It can be rough at times, explaining why I don’t have this month’s rent, or keeping my fingers crossed so that my truck doesn’t break down.

The stress of coming up short takes away from some of the rewards of choosing what matters. But I suspect it’s better than the No Exit strategies and career paths most people take in today’s corporate world.

I’ve met few people who actually love their corporate jobs; more often they’ve used their positions and experience to launch their own independent careers, doing what they love best.

I’ve avoided corporate America, which I abhor. I’ve never established any credentials there, nor climbed its ladders, genuflected in its inner chambers. I’ve chosen instead to go my own way—living a kind of rogue’s life.

It’s no easy thing.

Going against the tide poses its own share of risks and traps, such as being poor, dependent on others, without adequate healthcare or enough food to eat, or setting myself up with false expectations where I have to be somebody.

I’ve tried to be a lot of things and have been mostly disappointed. Still, I’ve enjoyed, as Sarah Palin recently discovered, going rogue, doing things my way.

The idea of being a rogue, however, is just another one of those attachments, another thing to think about, worry about—another pigeonhole.

I want to live free from these kinds of traps, but also from dread, suicide bombers, economic collapse, jobs that only pay $12 an hour, obsessing over money, popularity ratings and HuffPost’s Top 10 lists.

What troubles me more than anything isn’t my lack so much as our culture’s lack of memory, its penchant for the trivial and its obsession with the wealthy, names, reality television and being somebody.

Only now, it seems, am I beginning to learn, as a farmhand, that some things are more important.

I like Hank’s Chinaski’s complaint in Charles Bukowski’s Barfly: “Somebody laid down this rule that everybody’s got to do something, be something—a dentist, a glider pilot, a narc, a janitor, a preacher. All that.”

Hank’s tired of thinking about all the things he doesn’t want to be, of all the things he doesn’t want to do.

“You’re not supposed to think about it,” Jim, the bartender, tells him. “I think the whole trick is not to think about it.”

I try not to think about what I do or what I don’t want to do either, but I can’t avoid it. I’m cutting dripline, trimming, planting, learning to speak Spanish. Does that make me a farmhand? Gardener? Farmer? Linguist?

I’m no farmer. I hate doing books and worrying about money. It’s enough to care for the crops. I love working with plants, almost as much as running a magazine. But I’m no gardener. And on it goes….

I’m open to change. I’m not attached to living on the fringe. I’m not attached to appellations like rogue. I wouldn’t mind moving up a notch or two above the poverty level.

Jim’s right, though; you’re not supposed to think about it, especially in a culture that’s more obsessed and trivial now than Bukowski could ever have imagined.

I’ll stick with a stubborn refusal to cave, and imagine like Chinaski that there’s more to life than doing something or being someone. All that.
It’s OK, I guess, to feel like a beginner, to approach things with a beginner’s mind, the unfettered mind, the one that, as Jim says, doesn’t think about it. §

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