Wednesday, November 23, 2005

TLL and You

So CharlesPierce saved my bum by giving me a great topic for today's post in a recent comment. Here's the meat of it:

I'm intrigued by your notion of, as you put it: "There's just too much happening and my thought life hasn't caught up enough to write about it."

I know you're alluding to the deeper transition to adulthood that you've entertainingly been blogging about, as well as the fact that you've been so busy--but is there anything else you mean? I'd love to have a discussion about (1) how our thought lives can't catch up with our lives, (2) why this is bad, and (3) what we should do about it, because I'm interesting in hearing what other people have to say.

He's even given me an outline - IT DOES NOT GET ANY BETTER, FOLKS. Run out and meet some people as cool as him because they will save your blog. Also, they sometimes say nice things about you being entertaining. Everyone needs an ego boost. Speaking of ego, let's psychoanalyze mine, shall we?

Introduction: Think back to your first few days of college. If you're like me, you lived away from home, you dropped your stuff in a tiny room inhabited by a couple of strangers, you picked up new gadgets like a laptop, and you learned where to wander on campus if you wanted to find a book, some food, or friends. You might have had a couple of flashes of "DUDE! I'M IN COLLEGE!" But mostly, you just tried to be where you said you'd be and not flunk your first quizzes. You made a shift in your identity, but you didn't have time/energy to realize that because "HELLO, DR. K IS TOTALLY GONNA FLUNK ME IF I DON'T UNDERSTAND MOLECULAR ORBITAL THEORY!"

Body Point I: When I'm living through a change, I can't focus on thinking it through. I dive in to the immediate, measurable tasks, like learning to organize my bills and pay them on time or learning how to bring up a sensitive/annoying subject with my husband. Once I have the basics down, I have the time to think about what it means to be a wife or a graphic designer. Some things I have a natural affinity for, such as learning in a collegiate setting, but that doesn't mean I understand this affinity or what it says about myself and the kind of life I want to lead. Changes in identity have always been accompanied by the gathering of mental bearings for me. If I pass the initial phase, the one I like to call "Sink or Swim, Sucka!", my mind naturally begins to ask questions: Do I like my new life? Where am I getting my satisfaction from? Am I well suited to my responsibilities? How long would I like to be doing this? What can I do to improve my life? Maybe it's part of being a perfectionist, but I think understanding those things is a semi-constant subtext to my life. Frankly, I don't know what it's like or if it's even possible to NOT ask those questions.

Now if you're not like me, you're thinking "WOW, REMIND ME NEVER TO TALK TO MS. OVERANALYSIS AGAIN!" Nonetheless, O Skeptic, I have a feeling we all do this. Some of us take longer than others. My husband seems to do it before a big event. I've tried that, but I find myself stymied by a lack of information, so I just wait until I'm living it. Some people just coast for years and examine their choices later in life. Think of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. The wife in the play wakes up years after her shift to being a wife and a mother and wonders if she's really happy, if she's really suited to her life, if it's possible she made a bad choice. Ibsen challenged the perspective of his day that said all women were suited to being wives and mothers and pretty much nothing else. He goes on to point out that everyone, men and women alike, should be allowed that experience of identifying what life should be about, preferably early in life. I agree with his points generally.

Body Point II: CP asks why this is bad. In many ways, I look on this as a good thing. Eventually I like to have a perspective on myself, my abilities, and my circumstances that yields a sort of modus operandi for life, but when I first begin any endeavor, attempting to think everything through to the nth degree paralyzes me when I should be learning, acting, participating. I will liken it to swimming in Cape Cod or Lake Superior: if you feel how cold the water is, you won't swim, but if you just dive in, you'll find the resources necessary to move around and enjoy yourself before hypothermia sets in. (Heh.) The reason I mentioned it as a bad thing in my post was that it prevented me from having much to say here. Writing honestly about life means understanding it at least a bit, and I can't write "the post about trying to understand life," a million times. (Please, don't actually look up the number of times I've written a post like that. I shudder to think.)

Dragging Socrates into this, (you forgot about the "filosof√≠­a," huh?), whether the unexamined life is not worth living is still a question to me. It isn't as simple as it sounds. But whether from upbringing or natural affinity, I do feel as though I now gravitate to meaning in my life - I want it to make sense and be purposeful. In this, my Thought-Life Lag (TLL) is a good tool. It enables me to begin a new chapter in life with action and then to improve on what I've begun once I have the opportunity to mentally digest the changes.

Body Point III: What should we do about this? I'm not sure there is much to be done. This happens to be a coping mechanism for me. It didn't work so well when I jammed my life with so much change that all the processing backed up recently. I had so much to process at once that there were few bearings left. Still, in other cases it's been quite handy. I guess the trick is to avoid too much change at once if you suffer from TLL, or at least to get help with thinking it through, whether it be from trusted family and friends or therapist.

Conclusion: Bear in mind here that I do not have a doctorate in psychology (or a bachelors for that matter), and I understand my experiences may be totally different than yours in this area. I have formed these opinions from thinking, reading, talking to friends, and very short stints in therapy. Now, your thoughts, you remaining warriors who hacked through my dense verbage with the machete of your great rational powers? How do you deal with change?


sbp said...

Once upon a time I did nothing but think about myself and my life and the grand scheme of things and where I fit into it. I wrote endless journal entries about my thought life.

Now I find myself, like you, doing more living and less thinking. And when I do process things (which I periodically, as an introvert, must do), it's less a verbal internal self-rhetoric than a silent, wordless realignment with self, God, and the world-that-is.

Most of this is because I have no knowledge of what I'm going to do with my life long-term. In the once upon a time this would have been intolerably scary, but now there's a great sort of peace that I don't have to plan much at all yet; it's being taken care of. My responsibility is to live well in the present moments that I have, and carefully evaluate all opportunities.

So when I process, I spend maybe a day, maybe two alone, sometimes reflecting, sometimes journalling, sometimes reading or watching TV, and mostly looking around my apartment and finding a deep contentment with what I have. (This contentment needs to be reaffirmed particularly in times close to Christmas when I start to think that I would much rather have a family.) So my processing is often a sort of evaluation of blessings and a redetermination to do my best in, and to enjoy, present circumstances.

Oh and congrats on the house!!!

Neil said...

I've found this kind of lag happens a lot with my views on literature/literary theory. When I wrote my honors project last spring, I realized from how I was thinking and what I was writing that my views had rather startlingly changed from those earlier in college and had come to approximate some kind of weird bastardization of Christianity and Deconstruction and Cultural-Studies-Influenced-Marxism.

I'm still trying to sort them out - but it's hard for me to sit around and say, "Oh, I believe x about y." Instea, I work it out through practice. So maybe next semester, when I'm doing my second honors project (sick, isn't it?), I'll figure some more out about myself. Hell - that's part of why I'm even doing a second project.

kokanut said...

You just beautifully put into words (something I could not do)exactly what I'm thinking all the time. So wonderful for me to read! Thank you!

Moi said...

Change is good. Change irrevocably means new wardrobe.

If possible, every man woman and child should be given a cave, and into this cave they can egress when they are confused perplexed flummoxed and bamboozled. And in the cave they can yell and pontificate and rent clothing.

And thus full circle we've walked - clothing torn to shreds necessitates new clothing.