Means & Ends

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.

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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.

21 thoughts on “Means & Ends

  1. Love your post, I really agreed that blogging or the function of releasing information, so helps all. This bringing our questions sometimes answered by others, or agreed by. Or helping soothe a sad moment, our belief in a subject or just allowing ourselves in some cases to truly be us for one moment of the week.

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  2. First of all, congratulations on your decision about the book! If you need a beta reader, please keep me in mind. And a possible creative sabbatical sounds full of experiences to write about.

    I don’t think it is ever too early to have one’s first mid-life crisis. It just means that you can have more of them. I had at least three of them in my forties, and I think I am having another one now.

    Two phrases come to mind: “embracing the power of form” and “a project in self-actualization.” To me there is so much possible meaning in both of these.

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    1. Thank you! I would be honored if you were a beta reader. 🙂 And, I’m glad you can relate to the whole mid-life crisis experience (whether early, late, or anytime in between). I’ve got a plan of action that I hope will nip this one in the bud…or at least begin to. A sabbatical full of novel experiences is part of that plan. I’m curious, how have you solved these crises in the past?

      In addition, you seem to have zeroed in on a phrase here that’s got me thinking differently about what I have written. To “embrace the power of form” is loaded with meaning. And, a concept I can apply in many different ways here. Thank you.

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  3. You’re very welcome. And I will have to give some thought to how I have handled my mid-life crises. I don’t think I have solved them, or even that they can be solved. For me it has been a process of growing into myself, into who I probably was all along, without ever having had a clue, and taking risks, either small or big ones, which at least show me that I really am alive and living this life one day at a time. After I posted my last comment here, I realized that I see a mid-life crisis as a good thing, as evidence that I am alive and facing my fears about the uncertainties in my life.

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    1. That’s a good way of looking at it. Perhaps, that kind of constructive use of anxiety/discontentment/angst is what mid-life crises are meant for. Perhaps inaction in the face of those feelings is truly the enemy. Thank you for the helpful response.

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  4. You’re welcome. And thanks for helping me to think about this. Unfortunately, I spent most of my life until my late twenties in a state of mind that I think would be described well by your phrase “inaction in the face of those feelings is truly the enemy.” What comes to mind is that for me I reached a point where I started to face much of the disappointment I had experienced in my life (this was when I discovered psychotherapy and decided to train as a psychotherapist), and slowly, over several years, I realized that the word experience is everything. Experience is the only way I know I am alive. Writing these sentences is an experience. Twenty years ago I would have ignored my previous sentence. To me a mid-life crisis is all about coming to terms with the reality that we don’t know how much longer we are going to live. What is it that helps me get back to sleep at night when I wake up due to anxiety over this or that? Facing my own fears and anxieties has much to do with my being able to do that. I have learned the hard way that life is not a straight line. And it is a mystery.

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    1. Beautifully said. Many of your statements echo May’s thoughts about the constructive use of anxiety and other negative emotions. If we can translate those unpleasant inner states into action—into productive or corrective action—then they really aren’t all bad. I agree with you when you say, “Experience is the only way I know I am alive.” I feel the same. Experience connects us to ourselves. An unwillingness to experience can have the opposite effect. I am really beginning to think that facing our own inner obstacles (or what we view as obstacles) is the only way. Whether it’s anxiety, fear, or a set of skills or interests that doesn’t quite “fit” into a set discipline or occupation, we can only succeed by going headlong into it. (The Zen proverb, “The obstacle is the path.”) Those “blocks” show us the way.

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  5. You keep speaking straight into BOTH my heart and mind, which is a pretty profound experience in itself. I’m so thankful to have found this blog! What you have to say is something I’ve been getting ready to hear for a long time. Again, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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