In Search of Serenity
I’m OK in this time of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean I have serenity.
For the last few days, I’ve experimented with coffee. I’ve had a hard time sleeping. I wake up too early or stay up too late. I feel amped or I feel tired. I may feel irritable and then I have to dial it back, waiting for the feelings to pass before I say something I might regret later. I don’t like regretting something I’ve said, so I avoid talking during tense moments and I just listen. I’m still recovering from the coffee.
I’ve been watching the charts. I’ve taken note of the headlines in the local news. I’ve been reading the plans at the schools. They are working out protocols. They will require masks. They will use social distancing. I don’t know how they will work this out, but I trust the process. I trust that they will work this out. I trust that if things start to head south, they will change course. I’m still thinking about whether or not to send my daughters to school.
I’ve been taking in a new television series, “Brave New World”. It’s an interesting story of a society where all the babies are conceived and born outside the mother. The society in the story is almost completely sheltered from discomfort. Where there is discomfort, there are pills. The pills are color-coded so that depending on your mood, you know which pill to take. You may experience a forbidden feeling for a short time, but not for long. Their lives are like that. And when a group of people feels that discomfort, there is a chorus of clicks as the dispensers are pressed into service.
I don’t normally drink coffee, but after spending 5 days under the influence of caffeine, I’m still coming down. I have been uncomfortable with coffee. My highs are lower than usual after quitting. My lows are a bit lower, but I don’t enter the existential abyss that makes me want something else to make me feel better. I’ve seen enough of that to know that I don’t need anything else. I’ve been high and I’ve been low. I know that life is not a river of constant joy, and I’m not even sure I can tolerate that kind of life.
This is one of the reasons I limit my TV to about an hour each day. I can’t live under a constant expectation to be happy. It’s not really possible to do that, but more to the point, if I live under an expectation to be happy or to experience joy all the time, I’m missing the point of life. I’m also placing an incredible burden on everyone around me, for it's not their job to make me happy. I wouldn’t want anyone to carry that burden, and I wouldn’t want anyone to have that much power over me. This is something we learn when we live around tyrants, for tyrants expect everyone else to make them happy.
I have read about the studies that say that the average American watches 6 hours of TV a day, and that was before the pandemic. I think the number is somewhat higher during the pandemic with such high rates of unemployment. I don’t think I can stand that much TV. Life beckons to me. Life says that there is plenty of stuff to do. Life says that self-actualization doesn’t come in a box from Amazon. Nor does that come from watching a screen. Self-actualization comes from a stream of acts of creation.
I’ve tried creation and consumption and compared them. I’ve found more comfort in the former than the latter. I’ve found greater joy in creation than in consumption. I’ve found a far greater sense of satisfaction in creation than in consumption. I’ve found serenity in creation.
There is something we earn in creation. Every act of creation comes with peace. I can’t explain it exactly, but I have found more peace from writing than from watching TV. I have found more peace from building a garden in my backyard than from listening to music. I have found an incredible sense of peace in watching my kids grow up.
So every morning, I’m writing. I write for myself first, then I write for someone else. I’m not the greatest writer, but what I do write brings me satisfaction. Sometimes other people comment on my writing and I find satisfaction there, too. But mostly, I get my peace from just the act of creation.
I chose writing for the low barrier to entry and the low overhead. It’s just me and a computer, and I’m writing. It’s just me in the quiet hours of the early morning. It’s just me sitting on the floor at the gym while my daughters take gymnastics lessons. It’s just me when everyone else is doing something else. I’m beginning to learn that the act of creation is agnostic as to time and space. Creation doesn’t worry about conditions, it is only concerned with conduits and mediums. I’m a conduit. This word processor is a medium.
Another thing about creation as a path to serenity is that the barriers to creation are so low that my capacity to create is not dependent on other people. Other people can generally do what they want, I can still zone them out and write. I’m hard of hearing, so I use that to find the zone where I just type and type just to see what pops out. It’s an improvisation until I find a theme, a point, and a message.
I can’t tell you how many times I woke up at 4 am, not knowing what I’m going to write, only to sit on my couch, tap some keys, and get something going. An hour later, I’m happy. Now maybe you don’t see my prose in the class of Hunter S. Thompson, or maybe even George Will, and that’s OK.
I write because the practice of writing makes me better than I was yesterday. I’m not even thinking of other people when I write. There’s a good reason for that. If I thought of the writers I admire, like Patrick Bedard, Don Sherman, and Csaba Csere at Car And Driver Magazine, while I write, the goddamn censors come on. If I thought of Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone and Mike Masnick at TechDirt while I’m writing, I’d never get anything done. So I write for me, and only me first. I want to see if I’d like to read what I write.
I write a gratitude list first thing in the morning. I give thanks every morning for what I have now. Then I write a morning page to talk about everything that is boring to the people around me. Then I do a hot lap of 1000 words to start my article for the day so that I have something to edit. I just pick a topic and pound out a grand to see what comes out, no censors, no editors, no judgment. And in that time, I have peace.
When I edit, I go deeper still. I’m looking for errors, grammar, punctuation, and setup. I make sure the sentences flow with the grease of the one, two and three-letter words. I like to set up an idea so that when you get to the point, you have had enough of an introduction to understand the point and move on. I wish people would do that for me when they talk to me.
Instead, they blurt out a question or statement with zero foundation, expecting me to know what they're talking about. Like I’m some kind of mind reader who just happens to be hard of hearing. I’m not. And I don’t think you are, either. So I give you that. All of that writing and editing and hearing my own voice eke out an idea or concept that I want to share, that’s peace to me. That’s serenity.
I know that this works because I started writing when I was relatively poor compared to where I am now. In the time that I’ve been writing, I’ve doubled my pay and I have a net worth. It’s not a very useful number, but I know it’s not negative. Writing has helped me to organize my thoughts, plan my life, and to exercise catharsis when something bugs me. Writing has brought me peace because it allows me to put my thoughts somewhere outside of my head. Once what I’m thinking is outside my head, I am better able to examine my thinking and make changes to it.
Writing allows me to practice the art of introspection. Writing helps me to see beyond myself. Writing allows me to share an observation I make with someone else. Writing is what I have used to stay sane. Writing is where I meet with serenity.