I talked with my mother this afternoon. I talk with my mother on a more-or-less daily basis. She is willing to take my calls once a day. It sounds worse than it is, I guess. I mean, if I had to listen to me go on about nothing every day, I’d never answer the phone if it could possibly be me. Today, I was going on about the guitar and methods to try to use to learn it. She said, basically, that I start a bunch of things but never finish them. To a certain extent, this is true. To a certain extent, it may be a neurological quirk. Whatever the case, though, it is a characteristic my mother believes I should work to get out of. And, I might add, it is characteristic that she believes it. She is very goal-oriented.
“Say something in Italian,” she says, mocking the fact that I have worked at Italian (to read Dante), Spanish (because it’s everywhere) and French (because I am of French descent, actually have college and graduate credits proclaiming that I should know something, live with a French teacher and am close friends with a French woman). I also went through a short-lived Hebrew phase when I was considering converting to Judaism. That venture is a story in itself. “Ciao,” I said. What’s it to her, I ask, if I shift gears now and then? I’m not a great multitasker. I tend to take to one thing for almost my entire waking hours and really immerse myself in it. I am trying to make myself do at least a bit of this or that unless I have a really good reason not to, but I’m not expecting to win a Nobel or anything at this point. The thing is, my mother hasn’t done anything like play the guitar or learn a foreign language. She went from high school to marriage and business school to motherhood to bookkeeper/secretarial work to college to teaching high school to retirement and remarriage. I’m not saying she didn’t accomplish anything; I’m saying she’s lived a normal life, worked very hard, and kept two kids and a husband under control. Well, I never burned anything down or got arrested, anyway. No one’s had much luck keeping me under control, which is what this is about, I guess.
The fact that I earned a BS, BA and MA mean nothing because I am not using them to make money (because I am disabled). She hasn’t said that, but I think that’s what she thinks. My brother and sister-in-law have said as much. While I did expect to be working after graduation (and I did work – for five years as a programmer and seven as a college freshman composition teacher), I went to college primarily because I like to learn. I had hoped to keep learning and helping others learn.
What I devote my time to now is learning. What I try to do is observe and learn the mechanics of things I appreciate so that I can create something. To me, the observation is at least as important as creation. Anything tangential that comes from it is purely that: tangential. To that end, I’ve played at the Personality Forge building chat-bots and becoming obsessed with how other bots work, am studying and gradually putting into play Internet languages and trying to learn usable programming languages, since what I know won’t get me anywhere in Windows, and I did enjoy programming. I was actually good at it once. I’m working on and off with paints, charcoal, pencil, digital camera and camcorders, guitar (leaving banjo, sax, flute, clarinet, piano and recorders on the back burner due to the passage of time), doing close readings of various literary works as well as reading for knowledge and perspective. (I consider pretty much all reading fun.) I play at chess. I watch movies on DVD, and, once every twenty years or so, I go to a concert.
The thing is, I’ve felt pretty bad about the whole “you can’t do everything” situation since about the time I turned forty. Click here if you want to see a typical self-centered English major take on the situation. Suddenly I realized that time is passing and I’m all over the map. I am working on and culling a lifetime to-do list. But I think my mom, who is a responsible, decent human being – don’t get me wrong (she might read this) – needs to have an itinerary for everything, whereas I start off somewhere and explore. For instance, I might start off with the Arlo concert to reading a book about Woody to learning more about Huntington’s disease. Then I might volunteer some time for an organization about Huntington’s disease. I never know what I’ll be up to from day to day.
But what is life for? I wonder as I wander . . .