My parents divorced when I was in my teens. My father decided to remarry when I was in my twenties, which means that I, an only child for the duration of my childhood, now have a much younger, teenage stepbrother. He is a cool kid, although admittedly, I don’t see him as often as I should. I live several states away. My dad and I talk about him all the time, though. He’s got a girlfriend, generally stays out of trouble, and is beginning the college application process this fall. (And the last time I saw him he looked so stinkin’ old–and handsome–I barely recognized him.) And while he’s a very smart kid, I am told, he is currently less than enthusiastic about schoolwork (and waaaay more into the girlfriend). Indeed, when addressing said young man’s blasé attitude toward his studies, my dad tells me he frequently has to stop himself from comparing him to me. Thankfully, my stepbrother didn’t know me when I was his age.
“I don’t know what to do with him! You weren’t like this,” my father tells me. “We never had to push you, [theusedlife], you always wanted to learn!”
Dad’s right. I’m a lifelong learner. The young man in question probably won’t be; although, I am certain he’ll do just fine. As for me, my intellect remains hungry. And, I find that the more I mature, the more I grow into myself, the more important it becomes to me to satiate that need. To develop my intellectual capacities in a way that is both challenging and intrinsically satisfying. And, the better equipped I feel to guide the course of my own learning–largely intuitively–and in a far more creative and holistic way than before. It’s the the process–the means–that I love. And, it’s the process itself that motivates me. Achievement, not so much. Says the woman who doesn’t own diplomas for any of her degrees.
Learning, for me, has always been one of the most authentic expressions of my nature. To learn is to be true to myself, most intimately. And, I don’t necessarily mean highly prescribed, classroom-type learning. But, a more unbridled form of engagement. A spirited, wild child kind of playfulness. I love nothing more than tinkering with ideas to see what, if anything, I can make. That’s the kind of learning that speaks to my soul. At once creative, intellectual, intuitive, and experimental. I make mistakes. Lots of them. And often. Some of them I make here. I question incessantly. And, I am governed by a desire for beauty, for creative and intellectual ecstasy. An intuitive lean toward the possible. I love being my own teacher. And, while I am cognizant that I may, in fact, hinder myself in some ways by embracing the path of an autodidact at this time in my life, I am also keenly aware that I free myself in other, significant, ways. (I like to think, too, that my formal education to this point has helped to “balance” my approach.) I afford myself the space to play. To combine unlikely sets of ideas. And, most importantly, to express myself in ways that would, in a more formal setting, not be tolerated.
Indeed, I am discovering that may be, for me, the most valuable part of the autodidactic (and blogging) experience: the freedom to say what I want to say the way I want to say it. The joint processes of learning and reflection are then also aesthetic experiences. To my mind, the most abundant, most intrinsically rewarding way to learn. I am enthralled with Maslow’s ideas about writing psychology, when suitable, in the form of “rhapsodic, poetic, or free association style.” (That’s totally what I would do!) About creating with it. About embracing the power of form. Of one’s mode of creative expression. Of the means involved in making meaning, not only out of one’s creative work, but also the remainder of life.
To be sure, the more I read Maslow, the more profoundly he speaks to my soul in a manner that rivals and even trumps May (hard to believe, I know, but this cat’s awesome). In particular, I like to believe that if he were alive and saw The Used Life as a project in self-actualization, he would understand it, first, as an exercise in reclaiming those creative and intellectual capacities that, in other areas of my life, remain unused, or underutilized. A specific, intentional use of the life within to beget greater life:
Capacities clamor to be used, and cease their clamor only when they are well used. That is, capacities are also needs. Not only is it fun to use our capacities, but it is also necessary for growth. The unused skill or capacity or organ can become a disease center or else atrophy or disappear, thus diminishing the person. – A.H. Maslow
It is clear to me that The Used Life has, for all practical purposes, turned into a venue for me to teach myself psychology. An interest and a capacity I never dreamed, at this point in my life, I would be engaging with so passionately. What began as a space for the exploration of multiple, divergent interests, seems to have, itself, been transformed by a love of process. By an unceasing intrigue with the means of making oneself. Ends, be damned. It’s the fusion I want. To always be becoming. To cease being split by the need to sever the “responsible” and the “functional” from the creative. Work from play. Life from art. It’s a somber prospect to hold onto. And one I am no longer accepting in my own life. Says a woman who is about to get a brand new, rather sizable tattoo and is seriously considering packing a bag and hitting the road for a creative sabbatical. Sometimes, I really think I am going through a mid-life crisis a decade too soon.
It is for that reason that I’d like to close this post, perhaps a chain of nascent thoughts on intellectual self-development (Surely, Maslow could finish the job better than I did.), by announcing that I have decided to self-publish a book on my explorations of the feminine. The first of a series of changes I am making to grow The Used Life. I am currently searching for a title. I will let you all know when I find one. Thank you, as always, for being an invaluable part of this project.