Saturday, January 16, 2010

Year End / Begin

Having been stuck in the strange removal of reflecting on 2009 personally and projecting into 2010, also personally, for the last two weeks in their near entirety (of course, not in bondage but stuck of my own choosing), I am ripe for temporal musings. This is a practice that I began in its initial form in the handing off of 2006 into 2007’s embrace. Not that these four-digit numbers have relational ties, or even immovable reality for that matter. They are human contrivance. There may be cosmic significance in the completion of a year, a perfect ellipse of our large abode around its nourishing light source, but there really is nothing special about late December’s passing into early January, sorry Jesus. Despite all of this, and the call to move such a transition to an astronomically-relevant marker, such as a solstice (which, is obviously close and conspicuously close at that, here), we are caught up in a tradition that places an end and a beginning, once more, in an endless sequence, a few weeks back. So the creator and publisher of my traveling journal where all my insights, notes, perceived developments, vented frustrations, and half-baked renderings placed its ending on December 31st, 2009 and a new one commenced: I became lost in-between.

I saw myself perched, precariously yet balanced in utter symmetry, between the vastness of years, and the present seduced me. Frozen, I seemed to not age or regress, I occupied peaceful present-centered nirvana. Although technically I wasn’t present-minded, that seemingly Eastern buzzword of enlightened being, as I spanned impossible mental distances that strained my comprehending abilities of understanding the breadth of two years. I should back up here:

This whole undertaking, bordering neurotic in unwavering discipline to capturing scope and detail, was birthed of a terror given to me by my mother. It was some time prior to 2006, when the massive cataloguing and rendering myself in time became imperative, when I nonchalantly asked her to recall the summer of her 20th year, the very season I found myself so vibrantly in, so wrapped up in, as we all are, in its fine-grained concerns and matters: the thick reverberations of a summer courses’ texts and online discussions (and the sweltering afternoons attempting - for the last time in my albinic life - sunbathing, ruining those summer course texts as the electromagnetic blare melted binding glue), the near daily there-and-back along the corridor of Frontage Road to-and-from my retail job, where I stood outside next to a rounder of last month’s color schema of sale t-shirts to prevent passerby theft, the rocky streamsides and graded hillsides and narrow roadsides my sister and I found ourselves on as we tried encapsulating songs into images that interwove the ambitions and drama of youth and place. My mother manifested a blank, if not curious, stare as she peered in her mind’s eye, back, further back, back some more. Prior to the acclimating gauges of the birth of children. Subsequent to the relative guides of adolescent cyclic school structure. A lost time. Blog-readers, I assure you, if you, like me, find this lack of specificity of an entire season to be off-putting and felt uneasy, I testify my mother’s within-range memorial capacity. Test this yourself with your own mid-lifers and beyond. You will find that they struggle, like she, in placing particular long-ago summers and falls and winters in their nuanced meanings.

I could not conceive that this inevitable elongation of personal time could threaten integral identity within a cruel mind ill-equipped to hold on, would be my fate as I aged into the era of the long adulthood. For what was the purpose of my current enjoyments and ecstasies, frets and strivings, the whole of my lived experience, if unrecallable? Anathema, I declared. Thus I embarked on an involved pursuit I continue to harbor - how to render a life unfolding in time.

Of course, this pursuit could take on unwieldy proportions, and I understand this pitfall, and peel myself away from the tempting process of year end / begin, even as it swells, iteration to iteration. A human life is not entirely factical, until one‘s demise in death, and even that is up for further consideration, as I debated with someone today. We are always, in Sartrean exposition, a unified mixture of facticity and transcendence, and this transcending being means that one’s life project, taken as a whole, can never be neatly summed, packaged in a year as I attempt to do. New importances of 2009 will grow out of a future I cannot now fully anticipate, events matter not solidly, but in an ever-changing fashion. As we remake ourselves, so our years are remade. What is revealed to me in looking back now may become irrelevant, and even things never noted may bear upon me, with insidious foundations in 2009’s basement of undocumented hidden layers. However, I will be armed with material I can speak from: 2009 will not perish in obscurity, bleeding its palpable vitality into the enveloping summers of 27...25...28...24...
Year end / begin is a fascinating tour of a developing personal world and an active attempt to redirect the constant unreflective that produces the current undulations we are so often caught up in, as if our lives were being led by powerful puppeting agents pulling us this way and that. The removal from one’s captivating, regular flow of everyday life helps, but doesn’t entirely, effect a distance from oneself, as in Harry Stack Sullivan’s participant-observer. This is the power behind formats of retreat, a way of getting out and under the weight of one's occupations always already ongoing. Seeing it as a pause for self-in-time-analysis, it takes shape, for me, only through sitting heavily with the data of the year at my disposal and my initial sketches of description. My bulging journal sits there unintelligible, unnavigable, widely intimidating in disperse content and perhaps some nonsense. I begin perusing, then linking, then like the closing of a closely-followed, enrapturing plot line, I suddenly get it. My journal becomes but variations on a theme. Year end / begin enacts a reclaiming of myself. Coming out as of recently, I feel uninterrupted, capable, actively uptaking my world in service of the missions I’ve declared worthy of my limited, and relatively impotent, energies. Galloping headlong into chosen avenues of activity I've seen in ghostly apparition of a possible and wanted 2010.
It may not work in this manner for some. I just describe and encourage because of the wonders of continuity and insight it has provided me.
By no means have I mastered temporality in this little year end / begin undertaking. This is not the secret law of attracting anything possible to my liking. As the ground from which all meaning can spring, time is our fundamental horizon, as Heidegger showed me in Being and Time. It is the interpretation of our being. At every year’s turning, I can mentally imagine and try to enact the ceasing of its relentless march, but it always exceeds my grasp, even in my in-home (and in-coffeehouse) retreats. In this way, our lives exceed our understandings we can have of ourselves. Still, I cannot stand the thought of becoming patchy and vague, so I try. Share please, whoever has found themselves here, the ways in which you see your temporal unfolding, how you make sense (or find yourself at a loss), what a new year means for you.

For those interested, I have posted some (that is, a tiny slice) of the products of year end / begin on the Happiness Project site
(if you can find me by my name given at birth). This is a corresponding blog and website of tools to a new book by Gretchen Rubin, her own temporal project of infusing a year with “the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy--from Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Thoreau to Oprah. As one of the hundreds of happiness experiments I conducted during the research and writing of the book, I started this blog. Here, I recount my daily adventures in pursuit of happiness.”


Надежда Αντιγονη said...

Tonin- This will be long and comprehensible to only few. Alas! words and their power to vex. I will try to make some sense of it. First, my reading of Heidegger is that time is grounded upon Dasein's "care" or "sorge". This is the notion that Dasein (human reality, for all those non-Heideggerians) is "ecstatic" or it stands outside of itself, it projects itself in the future and stretches itself into the past. However, time is created by this very gap between myself and myself. This is the original nihilation/projection of Sartre, the ground (place) of the world is created by this nihilating clearing between myself and myself.

So the problem: every year one tries to close the gap, but the gap cannot be fused. There are many reasons for this. We are always not identical with ourselves; we stand separate from ourselves as journals illustrate. One cannot tell a story and live it at the same time. Thus there will always be an opening, an interpretive opening, that allows what was not there in the first reading.
Furthermore the gap of the self cannot be fully understood. Dasein is that which in its very being its being is in question. If we were to ever fully understand ourselves, we would no longer be ourselves, because an essential part of being who we are is to be in question. But you touched on this fact in the blog.
Perhaps the very act of writing causes the events to become patchy and vague. First, because when we write we retreat (Latin- to draw back), that is we take a rich and full event that is carried with us (in a negative form) and inscribe it into a description. A thought experiment: think of a pirate. Now tell me, did you notice how many buttons the pirate's coat has? If it was the rich event it would not even be a question, we would walk up and count. The second that we step away from it and describe it we leave out the rich details that we intuited. One might raise the objection here "but this is going to happen anyway, regardless of the inscription." This is true, but the inscription appears to have more validity than the memory. We may remember an event, but once it is inscribed on a sheet of paper, we feel that the sheet of paper is closer to the "real" event than we are. Thus the rich world of memory comes to mistrust itself.
Furthermore there is the notion of Symbolic Efficiency. Say we remember an event inaccurately. We believe that the memory is true though. It is efficient in determining our attitude toward the event, regardless of its reality.
I guess what I am trying to say is this "Is an event any less Real if it is merely remembered as opposed to composed? Is it a problem if memories are retained but not in sequential, circumscribed order? When you ask your mother what she did during her twentieth summer and she could not respond clearly, does this mean that that year was non-existent in memory? Or is it more likely that she remembers the events and perhaps even told you stories from that time, but she has not relegated it to a specific time in a chronological order?
The most important question of all however is: Is a journal actually corrosive to our lived-experience? Does this ordering, this retreat put us back-home (in-home) in the world?

TONIN mckelvey said...

Perhaps this is why the process of reflection/projection at year's close keeps elongating, irksomesly: the interpretive opening is inexhaustible. And this points out that if I were to repeat the process, in say, March, at vernal equinox, the opening, reconfigured as I inhabit newly filled future's past and the former recent past now deeper past, would be born anew. Taking a retreat once a year, when I do, then renders a highly biased, unique event of reflection / projection: a version, becoming forever documented as the truth of last year.

Despite this, openings cannot be so radically different than others, at least not in all probability. We carry ourselves always with ourselves. We become different, but retain identity, and it is in this retention that a particular attitude and recalling style is preserved. It's interesting you point out: what's the use of all of this note-taking, paper inscribing, when we have memory? It is betraying memory that I fight. You are right: I do not trust it. Not in distortion but in loss of detail. It is the case of the pirate's buttons that IN experience they are enumerable, but in retrospect cannot be. It is the perceived important, but perhaps unretrievable in the distant future, buttons of my life I want to be able to gather up whenever, at my disposal.

My mother's lost summer, I would argue, IS extinct, as an inspectable item, as an explicit study, even with the seeming paradox that she "remembers" by relaying events of this time. Of course, she pulls from it, but blindly.

What is striking - and as I said, terrifying - is the drastic difference in felt vivacity between recent time and "ancient" personal time. This submergence can be clearly demonstrated in trying to recall what you ate for breakfast today. What about yesterday? Last Friday? We confront diminishing returns the further we look back and it becomes absurd to challenge memory beyond a certain point, unless we are savants. It is absurd, yet feels absurd that I will one day lose the Kashi golden puffs with milk and half a sliced banana.

Can you expand on this possible journal corrosiveness? I am intrigued!!



Надежда Αντιγονη said...

Remember the Solomon example of Sherlock Holmes' embarrassing conversation with Dr. Watson? When Holmes, in a usual attempt to show Watson how little he knows, asks him the number of steps leading up to the apartment that he has lived in for 10 years. Watson is unable to recall it. Solomon uses this to explain the instrumental context (that we don't see the ready-to-hand thematically, etc.). Naturally a journal is intended to do more than remember the minute details of our daily existence, but there is a point here: what I ate for breakfast, unless already a thematic moment of my life (on a diet, etc), ought to be forgotten. When writing in a journal, implicitly stated is "I am writing about what is important" and understood is "of course, there is more to this day than is here, but I would have to spend my whole day writing it and not living it." However, let us say as a whim we write what we ate for everyday for a year. The a few years go by of not doing this. The inscribing of food intake on the first year on reflection will take up an added importance of "not merely background details but a thematic expose." The question arises, did we write it because it was thematic, or did we write it and then make it thematic.

However, more to the point. The written page has the tendency to congeal time and experience. It acts as an authority, in all spheres (signed documents, authorial trust). Thus the written journal holds a power over us of having the author-ity of the moment and of the time. This is partially why it is easier to reflect when it is written, for it gives us something to hang our hat on. This is also why in dreams it is so hard to figure out what was in fact in the dream and what was added by us in the description. There is no authoritative stance.

However in journaling we open ourselves to the Other (possibility of being read by the other). Now this Other could be me in thirty years or you tomorrow. However, this notion is implicit in the writing of the journal and is part of the reason that we write it. Is it possible that in writing the journal we edit/censor it to appear as a Totality, that is a story that obfuscates the actual and renders it as a false story. What is more, due to the mediation of the page, we then take it up as the author-itative of our past further rendering it obscure from the events. Thus a journal in its very structure belies the truth necessarily. Especially if it is a journal with specific (alien) prompts (perhaps produced by a company or even ourselves), is it not true that the journal might have the effect of inhibiting true (and ambiguous) reflection, instead rendering our lives as thematic totalities?

Take the example of a rape victim. Is not what adds to its verisimilitude is that it is contradictory and confused? If it is rendered as an explicit story, without the ambiguities, shouldn't we be suspicious that the traumatic event was in fact made up? Perhaps the non-linear, non-explicit story that resides in memory is more accurate, as this is how our past is effecting us in lived experience.

jbe said...

your arms look great! :)