Scream When You Burn

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.

-Charles Bukowski

This blog has become a chore for me.

Grad school has become a chore for me.  I’ve barely started it (both grad school and the blog) and the spirit wanes.

These past few weeks have been unmotivated and stagnant.  Of course, immersed as a grad student at Berkeley, that still means I have been reading and learning a great deal and have been having great conversations and new experiences but, relative to what I could and should be doing, it’s certainly unmotivated and stagnant in my eyes.  But, mostly, it’s unmotivated.

It’s not bursting out of me.

I’ve been having to force myself to get to campus and force myself to work and even force myself to blog.  Blog!  What was supposed to be my outlet and human endeavor, especially for times like these, is another chore.

The last couple of blogs were meant to capture a simple thought I was kicking around that I thought could be fun to put down and think about.  But it turned into multiple posts and seems to hardly capture what I want.  I can’t put what’s in my head into your head.  Not without bastardizing it.  Through a glass, darkly.

And so finishing this thought process in the next couple of posts intimidates me.  And I have to force myself to sit down and finish it.  And often fail at that.

So, what’s been up with me?  Why can I not get my blog and my work and my life to come bursting out of me?

Maybe it doesn’t have to.  Maybe Bukowski’s strong belief, that you shouldn’t try to be creative or try to do what your passionate about, that it should come bursting out of you, is over-simplistic.

Ben Caulfield said that one thing he learned in grad school is that research isn’t just a stream of immense passion.  That it ends up more being forcing yourself to get out of bed, and to do work for an hour when you don’t want to.  Of course, there are periods of immense passion that burst through throughout this experience, but it seems like research needs a great deal of trying and pushing.

So should I just keep myself on schedule and get my work done incrementally, not caring about being soulful and artistic enough for it to all come bursting through me and out of me because it’s just that powerful?  It’s certainly less poetic that way.  But maybe Bukowski’s claim is just an oversimplification and unnecessarily causes feeling of spiritual inadequacy.

Woke up this morning and it seemed to me,
That every night turns out to be
A little more like Bukowski.
And yeah, I know he’s a pretty good read.
But God who’d want to be?
God who’d want to be such an asshole?

-Modest Mouse

(Sorry, after reading some of my past few posts a friend said “Dude I liked your old posts about insecurity and modest mouse.”  So there we go.)

But I do agree with Bukowski.  At least partially.

I’m in theory.  I’m not doing research to create applications or have my work used in the “real world” or have impacts.  I personally do my research for the human experience.  For the hedonism of having that human experience of the Platonic and immutable and beautiful truth to come bursting through me.  To discover something much bigger than myself, have it revealed to me.  Something perfect.

It’s the artistic element and creativity and humanity I yearn for and I very much need it to burst through me.

But I also very much agree with Ben.  I’ve also learned since starting grad school that research isn’t a stream of passion you can glide on; self-discipline and forcing yourself to start something, that either frightens or bores you, must constantly be done (after you are able to get yourself out of bed).

So it is over-simplistic and unhealthy to think everything must come bursting forth for it to be worth doing.  But this post has unprecedentedly burst forth because there has been something that has scared me since I began grad school.

I’ve been terrified of drifting passively through my life and my research.  I need the beauty of the questions and the truth to overtake me and it terrifies me that I might go through life trying to make improvements on research simply because it’s generally good to get more publications and there’s more improvements to make.

Not only would research become circular to me, it would become pointless.  In theory, we do nothing but prove things true that were already true and will always be true or we prove things false that were already false and will always be false.  We’ve only made it palpable to our mortal minds.  This is pointless.

To me, research is the discovery, the chase, the humanity.  It’s all about the joys we take in the chase and how we share those moments with others.

I definitely make myself aware that I will have to schedule myself and that I will have to make myself work and be productive when I just feel apathetic, and I think that it’s good to acknowledge that this is a part being a researcher.  But let’s also be aware of what research is to us.

Why are we doing it and is something bursting forth?  Maybe not day-to-day, but on a larger scale is there an actual reason bubbling in us that makes us take this huge journey ?

Camus talked about anguish and terror and the miserable condition of Man but he…wrote like a man who had just finished a large dinner of steak and french fries, salad, and had topped it with a bottle of good French wine. Humanity may have been suffering but not him. A wise man, perhaps, but Henry preferred somebody who screamed when they burned.

-Charles Bukowski

I still don’t what this blog is meant to be, but I know I want to keep the human experience at the forefront of my pursuit.  Maybe not geared towards the tortured genius motif that Hollywood loves in order to scream while we burn.  But something human should be bursting and bustling within us.  Something that needs to be shared.  With as many people, in as many ways as possible, all for the human connections and moments that combust. Shared with naked hedonism and playfulness and wonderment and poeticism and fear and conviction and commiseration and irrepressible awe.

But if you’re going to drift through this world.  Giving talks and writing papers because that’s simply what you do as an academic and not because there’s beauty and humanity that needs to be had and shared.  If it doesn’t come bursting out of you, in spite of everything, don’t do it.

This entry was posted in Grad School, Humanity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Scream When You Burn

  1. Jerod Ewert says:

    My own motivation also leaves, sometimes when I need it. The two things that seem to help are reading interesting work on another topic, and preparing my affairs to minimize the damage of the next loss of motivation. For what it is worth, I am really enjoying your writing.


  2. Pingback: Bowie In Berkeley | On The Shoulders Of Windmills

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