My first stated goal was to be a scholar. I was five. It was my uncle, a local theater director and part-time substitute teacher in the Placerville area, who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and that was my answer: “Scholar!” Of course, I pronounced it “schooler” at that age, but no matter. His tiny apartment had stacks of books from the floor to the ceiling in every room, even the bathroom and the kitchen, but the cramped feeling was comforting to me. I spent hours during the summer and (later) after school there, paging through his gigantic dictionaries and volumes of Greek Tragedy. I also spent hours around theater rehearsals, an experience that leaves me still marveling at the power of written and spoken word. Those days marked me- I’m the guy who listens to “Spoon River Anthology” because I enjoy the intimacy the language brings to me. I am a student out of choice; I am a scholar because I am willing to learn, and I hope to teach this willingness. This self-inflicted pressure, a desire to learn, has never abandoned me, even as I grow into my arthritic body. The pressure I face is to continue my studies, to do well enough to feel proud of what I have learned.
Though I hurt, pain alone cannot prevent me from thinking. The struggle I experience in dealing with the self-inflicted pressure to learn manifests in three significant ways: One, my enthusiasm for learning often leads me to overexert. I am learning better time management. Two, my overexertion causes my anxiety. I am learning to stop, and breathe, and allow for the material to process. Three, in the face of over-exertion, with anxiety ever rising, I move from subject to subject, adding subgroups of interest as necessary- and always away from my confirmation bias. This allows me to see a larger, truer picture, and feel more motivated to apply my efforts to the task at hand. This task is always to include new information and assimilate it properly. Whew. Sisyphus.
I have a number of injuries that prevent prolonged activity of any sort. My impatience with my own failings over the period of time before I returned to school recently lead me to realize a painful choice: I can give up and watch political theater all day (and be angry all the time)…or, I can put my physical failings to use, and work in bursts of useful energy to better understand what I am angry about. I spend my time researching the stories that are interesting to me, and learning to write about the understory in a more compelling, professional way. For brief moments, I am able to control my cramping as I type, and follow the threads where they go. Next thing, I am venting about the cruelty of the world around me, in a tone no-one enjoys. This is the pressure that I mean; there are no easy answers in trying to understand our country, and my lack of ability to focus for a long time often means crunching more into less time later. Difficult though focus can be, the pressure to follow through on my life’s goal is larger. Managing study time means remembering to step away from the task, also.
Second, the pain I spend the day in causes so much anxiety that at times, I forget in mid-sentence what I am typing. Not because I hurt so badly, and no-one else does…no, no. But as I get really into a subject, tracing the thoughts and patterns of thought in a piece, I sometimes forget that I have these physical liabilities. That is when I cramp up, realize I have over exerted, and get anxious. I usually lose my good attitude along with my thought. This is a self-inflicted pressure that builds from the expectation I have to not bother sleeping or allowing my body to recover- the story might get away! My zeal is my boon and my downfall. When I do not remember the brake as well as the gas pedal, my work is not half as useful as I would hope it to be. I am learning to remember that I must stop and kiss my baby, pet the dog, love on my wife. These things are all very helpful in bringing me back to my more cheerful, charming self.
Thirdly, and this is key, I have never minded being wrong. I hope to learn where I made mistakes. I can’t wait for my grades, and not because I care as much about the score but because I aim to improve no matter the score. To do this requires feedback. I will often take a position in conversation I am less than certain with near absolute certainty for the express purpose of figuring out where I am wrong. There is no shortage today of people willing to tell me when I am wrong. This is a pressure I accept, a helpful pressure in companion to my craving for knowledge and new thought. I can be taught, and thus, be right where I was wrong. That is a pressure, a fun pressure, and a difficult one to control.
When I grow up and get older, I want to look back and know I focused on my focus, not on my lack of it. I want to spend my time being zealous and driven, but not anxious or fanatical. I want to know that I was not bull-headed and ignorant out of choice, like so many people do choose these days. I want to know that when I worked too hard, I also remembered to be nice, and to take a break. I want the pressure I feel in me to become a better “schooler” before I go “bye-bye” to be the comforting gift I give my daughter, the blanket she can wrap herself in when she is older, hurting, and feels pressured by the cruelty of the world to give in and camp out on a couch, angry at the political theater. That I would leave her feeling pressured to learn a better way, and even pressured to teach that way- that’s what the pressure to do better, learn more has become. That’s the pressure I face as a college student; those are the difficulties I struggle with, and how.