#29: The Knower

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“Knowledge is power, but using it wisely is the key.”

Learn. Know. Do.

Knowing is just as important as doing, and yet sometimes we prize action over inaction, when inaction is the appropriate course. For example, keeping one’s mouth shut at Thanksgiving dinner; it is important to recognize when someone’s behavior is inappropriate, but it is also important to be patient when faced with this behavior. Knowledge, this fundamental information, empowers us to make more patient, thoughtful decisions in our lives. And if there is one moral behind all of these blog posts for November, it’s this: thoughtfulness is paramount. Nothing can replace genuine thought for another person; empathy is what brings us together.

With that being said, in the car yesterday, Alex and I spoke about how patience can make an unexpected, new menace: overthinking. If knowledge is power, then too much knowledge can lead to corruption and self-destruction. Overthinking can make a person feel inadequate, having thought so much about something that it overshadows the thought every other person involved has given to the subject. When a situation only calls for a certain degree of thinking, but you overthink it instead, what do you do? How do you calm yourself down? How do you know what is the appropriate amount of thought to give to a particular subject? Is there such a thing as “overthinking”? Aren’t we always thinking about something?

The answer to the last question is no, surprisingly. We aren’t always thinking, and there are ways to turn off our brains from time to time, surprisingly enough. Here’s an example. As an English teacher, I’ve had my fair share of absent-minded musings during a lecture, and that’s in part because, while speaking, it’s easy to lose track of my train of thought (at least, as someone with ADD, this is how my brain works). I’ll be talking about the themes in Of Mice & Men, when suddenly my brain moves elsewhere and there’s nothing I can do to reclaim my previous train of thought. It’s disappeared from my mind, and now only lives in the students’ memories. This, of course, does not end well. But the point of this is, while speaking, we think less than we do while silent. You can talk and think at the same time, but multitasking has been proven to be less effective than just individually targeting one activity at a time. As an introvert, I don’t like to talk without having a reason to talk, perhaps because I feel more comfortable inside the safety of my own thoughts, but sometimes our thoughts (and knowledge itself) can betray us through overthinking about a subject. And then, without warning, our brains fight against our better judgement. This is the curse of the anxious mind.

If I knew more about mindfulness, I would discuss it here, as I think it’s a wonderful resource to have while talking about the nature of our thoughts. Unfortunately, I am but a mindfulness novice. Maybe some day I can bring that into one of these blogs. Mindfulness would be a quality answer to some of these problems.

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Sweater

Nothing like a cold skin bath,

A flesh shower lasting all day

A sitting room with enough chairs

For everyone to sit in,

A day trip without traffic and

Arguments about what to do next,

A little memory relapse,

Now you’re in high school again,

Judged by the clothes you wear,

A dress for your sorrows,

A graphic tee to show your age,

A sweater hung above you,

Nothing like it.

#13: The Scientific

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As part of an AP Biology independent research project, I had the opportunity to learn more about AI technology, mechanical augmentation, and the transhumanist revolution brewing underneath us. This project gave me the chance to showcase what was inspiring me at the time, and I’m grateful for having done it. Sometimes you listen to a podcast and it changes your day’s focus, and sometimes you do a project in high school that makes you think more clearly about the world.

I never was much for math or hard science, even when I was taking an Advanced Placement course with more teacher freedom over activities in the curriculum. Chemistry, again, was my least favorite subject the year before, and I know that I wasn’t the only student feeling this way. A part of my wonderings about the future are about what life would be like had I been taught by a brilliant and creative science teacher and then pursued a science degree rather than an arts one in college. It’s a far stretch, but I wonder it sometimes. You never know what life would be like otherwise, and I think I’m old enough now to be able to ponder “What ifs?” without judgment.

Despite this, my interest in scientific studies has stayed the course. In video games like Deus Ex, the narrative reckons with deep existential questioning related to human technological advancement: the idea that all progress must be good, that the arc of the moral universe always points towards justice. This interest in these questions from a scientific perspective rather than a philosophical approach originates from video games as artistic outlets. I remember watching Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series, listening to talks by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and exploring heated debates on internet forums. To me, there needed to be a correct answer to the questions I had about the universe, and as I watched, listened, and explored, I was an impartial observer, emotionally invested in the state of humanity but nothing too personal.

#10: Vulnerability

True emotional vulnerability is impossible to manage, even more impossible to last. We persist in speaking of the levels to our vulnerabilities, never disclosing one-hundred percent, as it would ruin so much. If I unveiled to the world every thought in my head at every point in time, firstly not many people would care, but secondly it would damage the privacy and independence of my thoughts from my identity as a person. I don’t think of my identity as a collection of my most taboo thoughts; I look at important decisions, memorable experiences, and repeated behaviors, among other things, to define myself. If we only contended with our regrets and shortcomings, we would never be able to move forward with ourselves.

But vulnerability, when managed in a way that respects each other’s privacy and emotional wellbeing, can lead to wonderful, trusting relationships. Exposing an emotional weakness, displaying oneself as fallible and sometimes irrational, revealing a long-hidden but still-haunting guilt or frustration from the past: these are the bedrock that form a lasting honesty between people. When two people have equally shared their sorrows, they inch closer together as companions. Our humanity is what makes us human, after all; it deserves to be celebrated from time to time. When a person reveals a crystalized memory to another, and the recipient understands, sympathizes, and shares in turn, that’s humanity.

In a way, discussing my emotional sore spots has become for me a necessity before developing long-term friendships. It makes the process a nightmare of rediscovering all my past haunts, and with no guaranteed success. It’s just that I require a basic level of humanity before committing myself to another friendship with another person. I cannot trust a friend too much until they’ve seen an adequate number of my regrets, otherwise I fear they will return at a later point, mightier than before, and willing to crush a promising relationship in half. I never know how new friends will react when the parts of my personality that I’ve kept long hidden return and wreak destruction. I never know what they will say to me, or if they’d rather say nothing and walk away. I never know what to do when that inevitably happens again. I thank myself for the distance between my most harrowing guilts and my current mental state, but you never know when an internal demon will decide to reignite its ancient flame.

Similarly, I’ve talked in other blog posts about empathy and human connections, how an artificial or forced socialization could never work for me. This is partly why; in being emotionally vulnerable with others, I have strengthened core relationships while dooming myself to a struggle before finding others like them. This is the eternal struggle of the introvert.

#9: An Attention Deficit

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I’ve lived with attention deficit disorder since as long as I can remember, and the best way I can describe it is as a persistent mental fog. A sentient haze that floats overhead and infrequently drops into my mind to torment me. But that almost sounds too cliche, as if every other writer with ADD has written the same description of their disorder: a fog or haze over the brain. It’s the metaphor that makes the most sense to me, so please pardon the lack of originality.

When I write, the fog dissipates briefly, allowing me to step in, structure my thoughts, and produce a somewhat-cohesive written piece. When finished, it becomes an achievement or accolade that I can herald to myself, as proof that my disorder is conquerable. It gives a temporary happiness.

Writing helps me stay focused on my life while writing about my life. When I write, the guard rails and guidelines appear around my thoughts, helping me focus on my objective. I was never very good at structuring my essays, but I am much better structuring my cognition on the page than I am in the lawless Wild West that is my head.

But living with ADD is difficult. I wish I could say that I’ve conquered it, in some small way, since I was young. Conquering it once is praiseworthy but ultimately easy; it is when the haze descends unexpectedly, catching you off guard, that it strikes hardest and leaves the most lasting impact.

Living with ADD is teaching an English class of teenagers when, suddenly, your focus drifts from the students you are managing to your break twenty minutes from now, while leading a conversation about Of Mice & Men. It’s reflecting on your ungratefulness in your head while asking questions about George’s characterization. It’s having to ask a student for clarification after embarrassingly losing track of time during your own lesson. It’s having to contend with laughter and mockery while recognizing that you can never take it all too personally, and yet it feels so personal to you. It’s having to contend with flashbacks to fourth, fifth, and eighth grade, when you felt your ADD most abused, during your so-called professional dream career. It’s having to watch as the classroom’s attention drifts to other anxieties or preoccupations, just like your attention has. It’s having to listen to professional development meetings where, after hearing about wellness and honesty and community-building among the faculty, you walk silently and quickly away from everyone to the safety of your classroom because someone pointed out your unusual habit of taking persistent notes during meetings; it helps you pay attention just a little bit better, but that doesn’t stop others from laughing about it. It’s having to say no to social outings with colleagues because of your medication schedule. It’s having to sit through new teacher seminars, hearing once again the information you learned in graduate school, but this time, it feels more precise and directed at you and your failings as a teacher. It’s having to contend with all these regrets months later, a decision eternally shaping your future. Your anxiety is what keeps your ears perked and your mind sharp, but it, too, betrays you from time to time.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about forcing myself to read as a kid to expand my creative horizons. I made the choice despite my ADD, just as I do when I write like this. I write despite my struggles and weaknesses. My initials are ADD, and just as my name was given to me without a choice, so also was this curse thrust upon me, without regard for how it would mold my life in the future.

Having fun

What will they think when they check Facebook,

And see you hanging out, having fun?

What will they think?

I’m no stranger to salacious social media gossip / in high school a clique was formed around laughing at junior prom outfits / as every dress and tux pairing posted on Facebook / within moments the thunderbirds mobilized, pulling apart / their inelegant extravagance and disastrous unpreparedness / but they feared themselves most of all / admitted years and days later / far enough removed so the wounds had already closed / for everyone else but those who started it / they dreamed absolution, saw none in their lifetimes / left in the dark again / I watched with them

What will they think?

Estranged family / arrive at my classroom by instinct knowing fully / well the dangers in closing and reopening doors / that creak and croak louder when magnified / they wonder why my namesake changed / why my tagged pictures don’t load any more / why my posts are customized, hidden from their view / they spoke to Aunt Sheila, who was left off the list years ago / before she drugged herself on a Tuesday afternoon / two summers ago / and fell into being life’s eternal social media manager / and you remember crying in front of them / without answering

What will they think?

No stranger, no stranger to / dangerous anxiety and self-deprecation / but no worries, no reconciliation, no ambushes / no more watchful scars atop high peaks observing, reflecting on the day’s wonderful filtered experience / we are in full surrender to the norm / those who are happy make it known, those who suffer leave it alone / nothing surprises anyone except / when weeks pass without a mountainous sunrise / of laughter and unique experience / and the chains bind you to unceasing futility and boredom, while / thunderbirds soar in circles above you / and Sisyphus whispers mournfully,

But what will they think of it?

What will they think if you leave?

Eleven

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Eleven 29 o’clock in the evening and the room is still a mess.

Basketball shoes, running shoes, Gatorade bottles and 

Torn-up papers from last semester probably strewn across 

The floor like deserted strangers, unnecessarily flung into abyssal

Apocalyptic wastelands of trash heaps and garbage disposals. 

Eleven at night and there’s nothing to drink up but the Gatorade,

And the sounds of drunken relentless birthday sex ringing 

Across the room  from yesterday at eleven 29 o’clock.