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April 8, 2012

On Getting My Mind Back

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 11:03 pm

By far the best thing about quitting my job has been the feeling of getting my mind back. People who enjoy thinking are supposed to value intellectually challenging work and, at least given enough privilege to pick and choose, we are expected to avoid methods of making a living that don’t engage our brains. But the curse of intellectually challenging work, at least insofar as “work” means “a job”, is that someone else controls a huge chunk of your cognitive cycles. One of the things I loved most about being a janitor in Antarctica was that, while Raytheon Polar Services had purchased my body and was using it to clean toilets, my mind was my own. I was free to spend the day thinking, exploring, contemplating, musing, listening to every audiobook in the McMurdo Library, and occasionally sneaking off into a locked utility closet to scribble notes in the back of my little green dayplanner…

I didn’t realize until I quit my sociological research job last month just HOW much of my processing power beyond base survival was being devoted to thinking about studying afterschool science programs — and, increasingly toward the end, to thinking about how to force myself to think about studying afterschool science programs — while my limited remaining brainpower was being constantly triaged into (and torn between) dealing with my two highest priority cognitive needs: my personal relationships and my political commitments. But now, all of a sudden, I have my ENTIRE BRAIN to play with and I’m reminded that I have a vast, eclectic set of intellectual interests, knowledge sets, curiosities and concepts that excite me, from cognitive neuroscience and the history of humanity’s relationship with technology to DIY paper-making and ancient Greek etymology. (I’m even genuinely interested in qualitative sociological research, it turns out; just not in getting paid to send infinite form e-mails about it.) And I want to run around and poke at all of them. And I can!

This sort of ooh-shiny! intellectual free-for-all won’t last forever. At some point, I suspect (and hope) I’ll take big bite out of my brainwaves again in order to focus on producing a significant and integrated piece of work e.g. a dissertation, book, revolutionary political action, whatever. But not right now. For right now, I want to run around nibbling on things, and scribbling about things, and going “wheee!” in a biosociative trust-the-universe sort of way.

To that end (and as a bit of a birthday present to myself), I intend to spend the entire last week of my 20s dipping into a wide range of conversations at two free conferences: This Monday and Friday at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs at CU Boulder and Tuesday through Thursday at the very first ever Art of Social Justice Conference on Auraria Campus in Denver. I am putting no expectations on myself other than to listen, absorb, learn, take any notes I’m inspired to make via pen & paper, blog, Twitter, etc. Finally, I’ll spend the following weekend at a three-day philosophy-centered meditation retreat in the mountains with some folks from the Trident Philosophy Gang.

I’ve never been on a meditation retreat before, or even done that much meditation at all, but instead of using my 30th birthday as an excuse for a big social gathering or a splashy trip with friends, I wanted to set the stage for the next decade by doing something a little out-of-character, a little bit challenging, and something that honors the introverted aspect of my XNFP. Since philosophy is both the closest thing I have to a spiritual practice and the substrate of how I think about the world, committing a few solid days to meditating on it seems like a good way to synthesize and compile all the new ideas I’ll have collected over the past week — and over the past thirty years.

And then on Monday, my actual birthday, I’ll have a Dakota. Yay! And hopefully a Matthew and an Asa and an Elaan and an August few other loved ones and maybe a fire in the fireplace and a bottle of wine. And that will be good.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch TED talks while I fold my laundry.

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