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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tell Me I'm Not Crazy

I've started another blog. Am I out of my mind?

Here's my thinking. This blog is mostly about books, bookstore, dog, Northport, Leelanau Township, Leelanau County, travel, economics, philosophy, politics, environment, wildflowers, seasons, cooking, etc., etc. (My second blog, "A Shot in the Light," is nothing but photography.) To say that this blog has a narrow focus sounds ludicrous, but my new one will be completely random. It will be filled with the kinds of minutiae that float through my mind but don't necessarily connect to much of anything else.

The name of the new blog comes from an anecdote I love about the filmmaker Errol Morris, who was, after many years' extended grace, finally dropped from his Ph.D. program in philosophy for "lacking focus." Morris couldn't finish his dissertation, a common story among graduate students. He couldn't stay focused on his dissertation topic because he was interested in everything, and his curiosity pulled him off-task again and again. While I did complete my dissertation and gain the degree, I have sympathy for Morris and feel we have more than a little in common.

I will never forget the day I went to do research at the enormous University of Illinois library, not the only day I went there, but this particular day is memorable because--the towering stacks all around me, shelves crammed with books, seemed to mock my modest ambition. Who knew, after all, which of the books on the shelves contained the answers I sought so earnestly? Wouldn't I have to read them all?

On the current reading front, after a stretch of nonfiction, I’ve picked up a recent novel, How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu. Two stories unroll, in alternate chapters, the first chapter introducing the narrator’s parents, his young mother newly arrived in Peoria, Illinois, from Addis Ababa to rejoin the husband she has not seen for three years, and the second chapter jumping ahead to the American-born narrator’s adult life in Manhattan. When the narrator discovers he is a born teacher, the author has him reveal the epiphany to us obliquely and yet very simply:
...I had always suspected that at some point in my life, while still living with my parents and their daily battles, I had gone numb as a tactical strategy, perhaps at exactly that moment when we’re supposed to be waking up to the world and stepping into our own.

With my new job at the academy, I began to see myself as part of that active, breathing world which millions of others claimed membership to. When asked how my day was, I had, if I wanted, more than just a one-word response at hand. I had whole stories now that I often wanted to tell, even if I didn’t have the words for them yet.

The author could have had this character say, “I came alive,” but would that have been anywhere near as effective? I found the passage terribly moving. It gives me hope, despite all the trials and difficulties already underway (I have reached only Chapter V, page 59), that the narrator will find his way to a rewarding and fulfilling life. I want that for him. For a while he seemed so abstract and unengaging, but with this passage he staked a claim in my heart.

10 comments:

Gerry said...

But you are crazy. I like that about you.

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry, this is the first time I have ever typed this letter sequence: LOL. But I mean it. That's one of the things I like about you--that you so often make me laugh.

Kathy said...

I am smiling. I have had a tendency to keep starting new blogs too. Last week I wanted to start a new Facebook profile. There are so many sides to us--and life--that it seems impossible to capture them all in a single blog. (However, I lately keep trying to remember that a huge part of me likes to keep things simple. And that part usually eventually overthrows the blog-creator.) Good luck!

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Kathy. We'll see how much I post on "Lacking Any Clear Focus." Like my photography blog, "A Shot in the Dark," I'm not burdening myself with any schedule for posting. "Books in Northport" will continue to be my primary platform, and, after all, it does wander pretty far afield at times.

flandrumhill said...

Walking the middle path is always the most difficult: not too focused so as to be cut off from the rest of the world and not too scattered as to be unable to complete a thought or a project.

Could crazy be just another synonym for creative?

P. J. Grath said...

You have put the middle path in a neat nutshell, Amy-Lynn. Not sure balance equates with creativity, but I’ll take your words as encouragement nonetheless.

P. J. Grath said...
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Karen said...

Love new things! Can't wait to see the blog.

P. J. Grath said...

Karen, I'll be interested in your response to my more random aspects. Did you see the link? It's also in the list at right, called "Lacking a Clear Focus."