Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
Pretentious And/Or Portentous
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
Ramble ramble ramble, in rather an autumnal tradition.
Leonard and I bought a new wall clock Saturday. The thing about living in a super walkable but not absolutely gentrified neighborhood (that is to say, our corner of Astoria) is that we don't have a Williams-Sonoma or something like that within walking distance, so we satisficed pretty quick. For $2.18 (including tax) we got a thing that is nearly certainly made under terrible labour conditions, which now sits above me and sweeps past the seconds.
Later we watched the "In the Cards" episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Leonard's favourite) and a couple episodes of the 1990s animated Superman TV series. It's so much less interesting than the contemporaneous Batman, which I loved and can still enjoy! I've always preferred Batman to Superman, in that I find stories about extraordinary humans more interesting than stories about gods. More suspense, better balance of power, and more wit. I think Batman:Superman::Yudhisthira or Arjuna:Rama, in that no one in the Mahabharata is as perfect, as much of an idol as is Rama in the Ramayana. But a few years ago I came across some litcrit suggesting that the big interesting question the Ramayana addresses is: how do you reconcile conflicting obligations? And at its best, Superman does that too, e.g., Red Son which shows the urge to utopia leading to tyranny.
I want to describe my internal state, which is a generally optimistic one, but find the words don't come easily. I don't usually think in images but I consistently come back to this imaginary scene, of a grimy encrusted clump breaking up to allow for an unobstructed flow. I've taken to attending a meditation class regularly, and at one session I confessed that I find meditation scary -- what if I let myself change and I do? What if some bit of me that constituted an important part of my identity slips away, because I let it go, or because I looked at it too hard?
And one of the other fellas in the class, who practices meditation to deal with his anger, responded (and I'm paraphrasing): but isn't that the goal of meditation, traditionally? to let go of the illusion of self, to get rid of the ostensible divisions distinguishing us from the other? I took his point, on an intellectual level at least, and then he said, "The less you carry, the further you can walk."
In 2012 my colleague said, offhand, "You're an everything person, you just don't know it yet." Which is to say that it's okay to say yes and try something new, that I don't have to run a TSA-style inspection on every new experience or feeling or idea that wants to come inside me. Then, this year, Christie Koehler's advice (in podcast form as well!) about leaving old commitments so as to make room for new ones spoke to me; I left some mailing lists, I changed my job, I left the Geek Feminism bloggers, I limited how much time I'd put into the Outreach Program for Women career advising, and so on. And then a couple of months ago I heard, "The less you carry, the further you can walk," just a little bit before I really did experience that, again, walking (for instance) thirteen hours in a single day, away from the internet, "taking away the usual stimuli so I can hear the susurrations of the self beneath".
And I decided to leave my job, the best job I've ever had, working on the infrastructure of one of the world's most important intellectual resources. My last day there is the 30th and when I go to Wikipedia I can't believe that in just a few days I won't be able to say "we" the way I do right now.
The Hacker School sabbatical last year, the meditation, the practice at letting go of projects and expectations, the Coast-to-Coast walk, all of it contributed to this ongoing disintegration of the anxious mental and emotional hoarding I've been doing since I was a little kid. I am dropping a great deal, really, carrying less and less, and I don't have an Ordnance Survey map to highlight tomorrow's route on each night at dinner. I have skimmed some guidebooks but I think there are things they aren't telling me, elisions and oversights I want to rectify for myself.
How do you reconcile conflicting obligations? To yourself, to the great work, to your household, to those who admire your work and ask your advice? How do you use your power, and your time?
The old clock just had an hours hand and a minutes hand. This new clock we bought has a red seconds hand that sweeps smoothly past the seconds. I counted along with it, one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand, because that red needle seemed to be pivoting just a bit fast. But everything seems to be in order. I am in my mid-thirties now. I have perhaps 40+ years to go. At the moment that I write these words I feel closer than I have for many years to a rapprochement with the fact of mortality; I'll do my bit and then pass on, the choir will take over, and that's okay. Practically speaking, it'll have to be, as none of us get much of a choice.