Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Gears of Progress and Change

Thanks go out to Dawn Xiana Moon for giving me the tip to work at a cafe every once in lieu of working at home.

It certainly helped me to relax and not let the weight of responsibility distract and irritate me. Nothing like having compulsions to wash dishes, vacuum the floor, take out the trash, etc. etc. . . or feeling the weight of emotional energy leftover in my mind while in the space at home.

Anyway, I realized last night that I have to change gears on the project at the moment. I had been so focused on producing material that it had become a habit. Not attending to it made me feel guilty or as if I wasn't getting anything done.

That attitude makes for a problem in my current stage, though. Sure, I could transcribe what I've written for the novel and produce stuff on paper. I'm at a point where I want to feel conceptual progress, though, not "administrative" progress. This is probably one of those tasks that I would love to give to an intern or something.

I have, while reading material about Brook Farm over the last couple months or so, been trying to write up an outline of the paper on the community. With the abstract theory down about the utopian psychology that we all probably have for the communities in which we live (ie, the desire to feel integrated, the importance of meaning, the need for transcendence of our current existential state when it has grown old and the contributions of other people and our work and acts to our sense of meaning and feeling of integration), I figured I could make up the outline and adjust it as I advanced in my research. At some point, the research would end when the outline finished coherently.

The material, as I have encounter it, though, hasn't yielded to this plan. Maybe I should have felt more humble since it took two or more years to right the first draft of that last paper. . .and a lot of the real core ideas came together in the last couple months, after moving to Chicago.

I guess the extreme change help to jar my set way of thinking and the time freed up by not having a 9-5 job for awhile helped free up the emotional energy to dedicate to wrestling with the subject matter better. And oh yeah, a few revelations (including a freelance writing class that introduced me to the idea of the 'angle' to a piece of writing) during the last couple months back in Boston helped a bit, too.

Suffice to say, having such a rush of inspiration and success after years of frustration left me feeling cocky after finishing that last paper. Of course I could just steamroll into the next paper, start doing some research and write the paper at the same time. I now totally know what I'm doing. . .completely.

Yeah, right! Having my core characterization the psychological experience of utopianism helps a lot. . .a ton, actually. It helps me feel VERY confident about moving forward and trying to wrap my head around Brook Farm.

That doesn't mean I've got things down pat, though. The fun of any kind of project and the devil is in the details. Telling myself this doesn't immediately help deal with my habitual impatience for production, but it certainly humbles me a little bit and helps to remind myself that I need to enjoy the process. After all, when it comes down to feeling frustrated about the process, the culprit is really having to work a day job and not being able to dedicate myself to the project more than eight hours a day, kinda like back in college, when I was supposed to get this damned thing done in the first place.

And ironically, Brook Farm tried to address issues such as this one. They wanted to free up time, through the economy of scale in the communities labor, so that individuals would have more time to enculture themselves and develop their relationship with God (this was back when Unitarians were Christians descended from the Puritan tradition rather than a pluralist spiritual community).

(This entry now comes a little full circle now indirectly since it addresses a little bit of a conversation that Dawn and I had weeks ago about how uncultured Americans are because adults want to protect children from the difficulties of reading Shakespeare or similarly difficult texts and topics or simply from neglect and busyness.)

My problem before had been that I needed to get impressions of how people living in Brook Farm felt about their experience there. I need to know if they like it there or not, how much they get a sense of meaning there, do they feel integrated there, etc. etc. On another level, did Brook Farm help the members feel integrated, especially did it do so by following its original intent (by reconciling the needs of the group and providing the expression of the individual creative spirit)?

I've already mentioned in Some Intellectual History of My Project the need for me to understand the idea that people had back then about the "dignity of labor." While reading up on the primary sources for Brook Farm at home (the book is too fragile to take it with me in transit), I've been read up on the "dignity of labor," which includes comparisons of rational and traditional capitalism (rational looks to grow for the sake of growth and progress while traditional looks to make enough money for your needs and desires, get those needs and desires then stop working) and also the transition of the older household/family centered economy to the more individualcentric economy.

Suffice to say, I haven't come up with any groundbreaking ideas. I need to get those concrete feelings from the Brook Farm members and also get a better understanding of the intent of Brook Farm, the older household centered economy, the major delineations of the psychological and philosophical moorings of labor and the economy that permeated back from the 17th century to the 19th century (let's not even bring up the slavery and American aristocracy. . .Brook Farm was trying to work against those forces) and the transitional force that Brook Farm tried to take at the time it existed.

Having the intent of enculturing members of a community and bettering their relationship with God as probably the central tenet of organizing the labor and economy in a community certainly makes for an interesting investigation, which could address something or another in current the state of the American intellect. Don't know what exactly, but the fun is in working through the details, isn't it?

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