Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Job Trek

Fresca walking in Sicily (left), spring 2007, photo by Bink

"There are no switches, everything's a dial."
New "quote of the moment," from Columbia University's Stuart Firestein*, who studies olfactory receptors in the brain.

Or, as they say in spirituality circles, "Life is a journey," and "God is a verb."

I'd designated April 1 as the day on which to turn my work-life dial up a bit, or to start on the job hunt trek.
And so, for half an hour, I wandered around on, getting nowhere.
Then I went out for a beer to congratulate myself and to recuperate.

I've been on a self-designated, self-funded "sabbatical" for the past six months.
Sabbatical not only sounds better than saying "I quit my job," but, coming from the Hebrew word shabat, "to cease, to rest," it better catches my intent: to lie fallow, like spent farmland.

I figured I needed that because, after working on world geography assignments for four years, I knew I wanted to do something else, but I had no idea what.

My first step was to do nothing.

Doing nothing involves breaking sacred rules of middle-class white America: something guaranteed to wake up my dragons of anxiety, even though I am hardly a poster child for the Protestant work ethic.
I resisted the urge to get a job selling bagels just to prove I existed. I let breathing alone prove that for a couple months.

I trusted (usually) that something would eventually arise, since it always does. And sure enough, one day I idly wondered if Netflix carried 1960s Star Trek. They did, and I was up and running (as you can see on many of gugeo's past months' posts).

Watching all three years of Star Trek episodes in three months was...
What was it?

To begin with, it was a reclamation of good stuff from an era in my past when there wasn't much good stuff: high school.

As an adult, I have usually written off those years as total wasteland. Recently, however, I've reconnected with some old loves from then, Star Trek among them.

I found in Star Trek two basic [religious, counterintuitive] truths:
1. You are not alone, and
2. Even when everything's all fucked up, it's OK.

I'm impressed to see that I could find these for myself at thirteen, like a feral child finding sustenance in the wilderness, and I'm not sure I knew that about myself before.
It's like finding out you have a secret power you've been using all along and didn't know it. Now that you know, you can use it in full consciousness; but it's all the better for knowing it was real even before you were aware of it.

Another thing watching Star Trek was, this past winter: fun!
Silly mosters! Utterly ridiculous costumes! Rotten plots and worse dialogue!
And fans of the sort who create a ST-themed dental practice (right).

I didn't relish the show's silliness in high school, when I was more like Spock, trying to retain his dignity when all around him was absurd. But at midlife I am amazed--and pleased--to see I've become a bit more like the captain, bouncing about like a rubber ball.
I haven't had much fun in recent years, what with events adding up to a Job-like litany of woes I'm tired of reciting. Laughing at Star Trek was restorative.

And finally, for today, Star Trek was a return to thinking philosophically. It reminded me of when I first seriously looked at Christianity, in my thirties. I recognized how very human it all was, but it came in such a peculiar, puzzling package, I was intrigued. Thinking about Star Trek was a lot like thinking about theology.

My geography work was blessedly not philosophical; it mostly involved "just the facts ma'am" about statistics and economics and weather and so forth. They were just what I needed for a good while, but it's been revivifying to reconnect with questions I've always been most attracted to: what's underneath all this? Why? What does it say about us?

After six months of sabbatical, I still have no idea what I want to do for work. But I am curious: what happens when I turn this dial?

* I lifted Firestein's quote from Cocktail Party Physics, who notes in a post about brain chemistry:
"In other words, it's not like the brain throws a switch and someone suddenly develops bipolar disorder. It's all about levels of crucial chemicals.... and even though bipolar or schizophrenia might seem to have sudden onsets, it's more likely that [chemical] levels have been falling for quite some time, and finally passed a critical threshold. Or something like that. Nobody's 100% sure."


bink said...

It wasn't just breathing that showed you were alive these past few months... to quote Gertrude Stein, "I am I because my little dog knows me". You probably owe your continued existence to Joop (since you don't have a little dog of your own).

After all, we all know what d-o-g is spelled backwards...

fresca said...

Yes, it was surely the influence of that little dog, little dog, little dog of yours that has sustained me all along. Gertrude Stein also said that it's hard to be a genius because it requires taking time to do nothing, absolutely nothing.