What I want shouldn’t be contradictory, but it feels like a contradiction. I want self-control — far less anxiety, far more purpose. And I want to invest in myself, do the things I know are worth doing. Put that way, there seems to be no problem. Self-control should lead to discipline and I should be doing whatever I like well and reveling in success.
Of course, no such thing is happening: I haven’t even been regular about blogging. Self-control and investment in oneself are not the same thing, and the difference shows a multitude of ways. Give up anxiety, for example, and you might give up the inhibitions which lead to better behavior. Or focus on bettering oneself, and realize that your own priorities are muddled. I should be writing and taking care of my health and applying for jobs and doing coursework and corresponding with scholars in my field and making sure I’m giving friends and family the attention they need — the funny thing is that I’m not half as busy as most others, but sorting out what needs to be done at a given moment can be a nightmare.
Which is why for about a month now I’ve been thinking about the ways we punish ourselves. Issa’s “Even with insects” concerns frustration; “On Anxiety” speaks for itself. The overarching theme is that self-expression, voicing and identifying one’s problems, could bring a sense of relief, but oh, so much resides in that “could.” When writing about Andrew Johnston’s “Boat,” I had the thought that we romanticize the power of thought, seeing ourselves as discovering new continents when we’re actually just figuring out the limits of our own minds and lives.
I then switched, in what little I wrote, from the theme of anxiety to love. I wasn’t thinking about anyone in particular, but I did want to address how I felt at earlier times in my life. Fiona Farrell’s “What It’s Like” and H.W. Gretton’s “Triolet” did not disappoint in helping me clear up attitudes I had that were certainly problematic. Andrew Johnston’s “For Rose” helped me identify what matters above all. I can’t say blogging translates into immediate self-improvement, obviously. But it’s nice to have a record of what I’m trying to work through.
Now what’s on my mind is beginning to shift again. I’m working through Seamus Heaney’s “North” carefully, and that means a lot of thinking about what history means. One of his poems, from the short cycle “Bone Dreams,” I thought worth expanding upon. It felt like there was a whole scholastic sort of debate hiding in that verse. More on Heaney coming soon.
As I introduce this last link, I’m thinking it’s apt for how I started this post. Notions like “self-control” and “investment in oneself” imply that we have a lot more power over our lives than we may have. They imply that we give up power, more often than not. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it’s also the case that we’re all a bit scatterbrained, a bit distracted. I rewatched an Arnold movie I rather liked two days ago, “The Last Stand,” and I used the write-up to comment on contemporary politics and what it means to reflect on one’s own legacy. I don’t know in what I invested, and watching the movie wasn’t a demonstration of self-control on my part. Yet I suspect not a few of you will find my musings about the film pretty damn relevant.