What? Free time?

December 2, 2006

Anyone (well, all three of you) who read this blog on a regular basis have surely noticed that I’ve been taking some liberal vacations from updating. I’ve been blaming most of these on homework, but since I’ve had homework since August now so that is hardly news. I guess there’s just been a little snap out of my blogging step as the homework marathon has dragged on, and even the lowered expectations of Large 3rd Tier State University have made serious demands on my brainpower.  With 5 classes, I supposes this was always to be expected.  In the past few weeks, I’ve needed to conserve energy for bursts of at least somewhat creative output, so my spare time has been spent in front of the television, giving my brain cells the equivalent of a nice float around the pond.

Well, guess what. The end is in sight. I’ve officially put 2 whole classes to bed, I’m only an hour or so of reading and commenting away from putting a 3rd away, and that just leaves my 2 workshop portfolios to get done by Thursday. At least one of those should only require some minor touch-ups (until I start trying to keep my promise to myself to at least figure out where to start submitting them over the break), so things are looking good. Then, I ask, where is this strange empty feeling coming from when I start thinking about all the books I’ve been meaning to read and all the travel I was looking forward to and all the food I just couldn’t wait to eat? All of a sudden I can’t seem to muster a single thread of enthusiasm for it, but the prospect of foregoing my holiday break to-do sounds even worse. Laziness! NOOOO! I realize this is just a normal case of mild burnout, but it’s got me thinking about the false sense of productivity that school gives you and how I might be addicted to it.

Herein lies the ultimate crutch of being a student: my time is spoken for. This relieves me of having to choose, on a  daily basis, what I am doing with my life. It’s right here in these acronyms I throw around: MLIS, MFA.  I don’t have to look for a serious job, think about buying a house (ha! as if!), care about what I wear all that much, or even clean my apartment. You heard me–nothing says I don’t mind a thin layer of cat hair on everything like 2 papers, one presentation, and a poem due stat.

A poem due–what an odd phrase. All writers have a love-hate relationship with MFA programs, so it’s not out of the ordinary for me to question what exactly I am doing it for, but in my case at least I have the excuse of having someone pay for it (fingers crossed that they follow through) in its entirety. But poems, due, like those pages Mad Minute math programs your teacher xeroxed for you in first grade? If that is not a deluded concept, I don’t know what is. As Donald Hall would put it, the only assignment he would give in a workshop is to write a poem as good as any of George Herbert’s, take as long as you like. So in the case of poetry, this whole school is especially seductive. You feel like you are getting somewhere just because you are churning out, but the trajectory of a poet’s skill and maturity really has nothing to do with producing on someone’s schedule. If I were brave, I wouldn’t need any of this stuff. I’d be able to carve the time and energy and imagination and engagement with the world out of whatever livelihood I happened to have, and have the focus to spend the time it takes to get stuff published too (eventually, at least). To be fair to myself, I did manage to write quite a bit when I was living in Brazil, and not because I forced myself to or anyone told me to, just because I wanted to. So there’s that–in a completely unstructured environment, I have managed to take poetry seriously.

Okay, poetry digression over. Let’s get back to that other thought: using school to avoid real life. Here’s what’s really got me going. D, this week, has started bringing up the idea of getting a nearer to decent sound system for our apartment. This involves getting a wireless router and possibly a couple of speakers to replace the ones we’ve been toting all over the globe since we cannibalized them from his freshman year PC. Not so much dough, but not so little as to fly under my cheapskate radar. Because, naturally, in student-think money is stuff to be hoarded so as to facilitate wine consumption and other small luxuries. Forget the basics, just get by and spend the extra on hooch and plane tickets to visit your other impoverished friends.

Everywhere I look, I see examples of why this is the wrong way to think. For starters, we are apparently the last ones on our block not to have this wireless router thing. This must be bad. Also, everyone we know and admire considers their music spending a priority. I’m even talking about stingy-ass Dad. Organic vegetables? No way. Fifth different recording of Bach’s violion sonatas? Yup, he’ll have two. Isn’t that kind of sad? How did my money fear gene end up trumping my music gene? I do have great friends from all over who burn us stuff from all of their eclectic tastes, but what do I have to give in return? Wouldn’t I have more of it if I spent a little more time and effort on making a nice home and a nice what most people would call life for myself and my dearest?

On this topic, Virginia Woolf is a bewildering guide. I guess she had enough money to hire maids and cooks, so she could have it both ways. On the one hand she says, give your best to art. On the other, she says she can’t write if she hasn’t had a yummy dinner and some good wine. So? How?

Okay, I’m just spinning my wheels here, justifying my money paranoia with artistic ambition. Because as far as money goes, we’re really not struggling. I just want to make sure it stays that way, and one of the best ways I know of doing that is by saying a big fat NO to most things. There’s a lot of things I don’t want to say no to (traveling, wine with friends, the occasional film) so I figure cut the fat and do without. You won’t miss it if you never get a taste for it. But I think I’m going to fold on this music stuff, and maybe take a second look around the apartment. Maybe instead of plowing through two dozen books over break, I should only plow through one dozen and spend a serious weekend making this apartment a place I like coming home to, which I haven’t felt in a good long while.

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