Retroactive clock-out for last week, today’s thoughts

Last week was a craziness. I spent all Monday working on my braided rug (oh, that was painful, but the rug is coming along nicely), and Wednesday and the first half of Thursday making a decoupaged box for Al’s graduation present. I’m so happy with the box; it’s my favorite yet. I meant to take photos but I forgot. 😦 I will try to get some later though; I’m asking Al to bring the box with her when she comes to stay with us later this month, so I can sand it and make the finish a bit nicer. On Tuesday I had drawing class, and Erik and I also took a day for ourselves and saw Up (which was fabulous, and unexpectedly moving). I think that personal day kept us sane. (Watching Up also seemed to influence my drawings that evening in class. I did a lot of airy-looking balloon things.) The rest of the week we spent doing family things: Al’s graduation, her birthday party with friends, an extended-family birthday BBQ for Al and Aiyi, her birthday dinner with us, a lunch with Erik’s family. We got back to San Pablo last night, tired and very glad for a work week… and this morning all this stupid stuff happened with PayPal and BofA and I had to make phone calls. Bleh. But the afternoon was all mine, and I used about three hours of it for decoupage prep. Whew. My stack of magazines is getting so huge, it’s beginning to take over the living room. I’ll have to work faster to keep up — which is a grand thing. I was so glad I’d decided beforehand to skip cooking today! That really took the pressure off for housework.

I had a couple of cool thoughts over the weekend that I wanted to share either here  or in my LJ. Unfortunately I have the dumb right now, so they’re not going to come out as nicely as I wanted, but at least I’ll get them down. I can revise later for my LJ.

(1) Comfort zone/beginner’s mind

Erik was asking me whether I’ve learned more in the past few months than I ever did in grad school. I said I wasn’t sure. The thing about grad school is that I was being constantly pushed out of my intellectual comfort zone: I had to go to colloquiua, and participate in seminars, and prove myself worthy of a PhD. Most of this was unpleasant and I always felt like I was about to exposed for the fraud I was, but that discomfort was still useful in its way. It made my mind stay open to new ideas, it made my brain work faster to try to absorb all the concepts people were tossing around me, it kept me receptive and thinking. These days, I’m much happier, and I’m working on projects of my choice instead of being forced onto a path I no longer enjoy… but I don’t think I have that out-of-comfort-zone experience as often anymore. Notice how my LJ entries aren’t as frequently thoughtful as they used to be? And I’ve never rediscovered the high level of creative output I enjoyed during my most stressful period in grad school. I don’t think it’s the stress that brought it about, but the fruitful lines of thought provoked by being impelled outside of my comfort zone on a regular basis.

I think whenever we step outside of where things are familiar, we’re forced to reevaluate our worldviews; we have to reconfigure our thinking to adjust for the new things to which we’re being exposed. For artists, that’s very important, because it nudges (or shoves!) us into new ways of seeing things, and that’s what it’s all about. I should cultivate this outside-comfort-zone mental space more often. Perhaps I should use my artist dates for this.

I should add that I don’t believe it helps to be constantly thrust outside of comfort, as I felt by the end of my stint in grad school. It’s like an asana practice: sometimes just knowing that child’s pose is allowed anytime is all you need to get through an intense vinyasa class! We need to know that the places where we’re comfortable are easily accessible to us, that we’re permitted to go to them when we need to, even that we may retreat into them entirely if we feel it necessary. Grad school withheld that reassurance from me; it made me feel that I was trapped forever in a career path I had begun to despise. So I think I need to look for that balance in my life.

I think this insight came about through my two or three days of being exposed to Al’s world through her graduation and her birthday party, Facebook updates and journal postings, and suchlike. Really seeing how someone else lives is one of the ultimate outside-comfort-zone activities, and this was a particularly good one because it also brought me back to my own adolescence.

(2) Natural rhythms –> daily routines

I was brushing my hair before bedtime and taking my usual satisfaction in this daily activity when I wondered, as I have before, why I take such pleasure in my routines. After all, most of the things I do regularly have no precedent in the sweep of human history: flossing my teeth, writing in my journal, checking my email. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I so enjoy my daily routines because they substitute for the vital rhythms that would govern my life in a more primordial existence: the rise and set of the sun, the changes in the seasons, natural shifts in my body as I age, my monthly menstrual cycles, and so on. Maybe, our society having erased nearly all our dependence on those natural rhythms, I have created my own through my own habits and activities.