It’s interesting to notice when you’ve stopped caring about something, especially those things you feel you “should” like for the sake of being a “legit” human being, sophisticated city-dweller, cool kid on the gentrified city block, whatever. You know what I mean: grown-ups read the world politics section everyday. Grown-ups speak at least two foreign languages and can converse upon any subject at a dinner party. When I was four, this is what I thought being a grown-up was.
Lately, I’ve stopped caring about these following things that I thought successful dinner party adults should pay attention to — or perhaps just admitted to myself that, deep down, I can’t fire up the sustained interest to pay attention anymore. I feel like I’m being a bad grown-up admitting some of these — but that’s something I’ll sacrifice, I suppose, for the sake of feeling free and honest and all those good things in life.
U.S. Congressional and Electoral Politics
I’m very politically minded — I’m one of the most bolshie people I know! I have deep and abiding interests on feminism, Africa, Asia, poverty, reproductive rights and several other topics. I like reading tomes and U.N. white papers on stuff like this. But keeping up with what is going on in Capitol Hill doesn’t interest me in the slightest, mostly because all the fighting and politicking distresses me. I forget who the “whips” are; I have to look up major senators all the time. Even when it’s people who reflect my beliefs and values, I find it highly upsetting to hear the vitriol and mudslinging. During the recent presidential election, I hid everyone with aggressive politicking tendencies from my Facebook timeline because every time I went on there, I’d just get this awful feeling, the one I call “hives of the soul,” where you feel stressed out and helpless and angry.
The truth is that I can only handle a certain kind of political news as filtered through people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, because if I couldn’t laugh at the stories of senators name-calling and obstructing one another, I’d probably just cry myself sick every night at how senseless and utterly fucked the world is. I do read The Economist every week (best reporting ever, if you ignore the free market stuff), but that’s all I can manage, and there’s something fun about getting a more distant perspective on our politics from an overseas publication. And you know what? I feel okay about this. If anything really important happens, there are more than enough people in my life to tell me in fine, hashed-out detail and strong opinion. I know lots of smart, well-informed people, and I’m happy to outsource some of my nitty-gritty U.S. Congressional political knowledge to them.
Don’t get me wrong — I really like food. Who doesn’t like food? If you didn’t like food, you’d die. But it’s taken time for me to accept that I’m just not that fancy when it comes to cooking. Sure, I like eating sushi, oysters with a perfect mignonette sauce, unusually flavored ice creams and the like. I’m not going to turn down a friend’s suggestion to eat at Blackbird or Loneman & Eagle or Momofuku or a million other delicious places. I’m intrigued by Prohibition-style cocktails when the opportunity presents itself to drink them. But when it comes to the food I make myself and everyday life in general, I’m more on the side of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese — which is my favorite food of all time, honest to God. I like trying different recipes, but they’re all peasant food, really: simple, hearty, unpretentious and easy to throw together. Slow cooker and one-pot recipes: this is what works in my life. I can fancy up anything out of a box. But tell me I have to run out to the snobby whatever-cuterie for an ingredient I can’t use in at least five other dishes? Forget it.
Contemporary Literary Fiction as a Scene
I think I feel the most guilt about this, because am I not a writer? And don’t I read everything else: Restoration-era comedy, Greek history, the Harlem Renaissance, science fiction, young-adult steampunk fantasy, magical realism? And don’t I read plenty of contemporary genre novels? But after forcing myself to read any number of contemporary writers that all the smart grown-ups read (you know the ones), I realized I couldn’t remember any of the characters’ first names, nor remember much of the stories when I tried to talk about the books with other people. (I’m a terrible book club member.) I can’t fake engagement when it isn’t really there. I just have to admit that outside of a few writers emerging as true masters, I don’t resonate with the books of my time as I’d wish, and it’s not something I can force. (One exception: contemporary poetry. For some reason — probably because I began writing as a poet — I find it hella easy to keep up and engage with modern poets. Especially if the poems have heavy metal references.)
Multitasking/Productivity In General
Every real grown-up I know prides themselves on how busy and productive they are and how much they can cram in a day. And I used to, as well. You should’ve seen my to-do list — it was this bananas Excel spreadsheet with color-coded columns and merged cells traversing 2+ columns. You practically needed a special associates degree to read it! I would do things like read scripts and make notes while cycling on the elliptical or grade a random paper while riding on the subway downtown to a bar. Once I spilled a Jack-and-coke on a paper because I was trying to scrawl out comments at a bar while waiting for my boyfriend at the time to meet me, but luckily the student thought it was hilarious.
Eventually I realized: I just can’t live like this anymore. It was driving me nuts. I felt like I was never fully present. I was doing lots of things, none of them skillfully, adroitly and with utter and beautiful grace. And the only way to do that — and to have great presence in your own life — is to focus. At least for me; maybe some of you are great at multitasking. I’m not, so I stopped.
Oddly, this has had the biggest effect on how people interact to me: like everyone thinks I’m a slacker now because my to-do list everyday has only 3-5 things on it! I say “no” a lot more and people are puzzled, like, “Kat! You have 3-5 things on your to-do list! Why can’t you just add this one more thing?” But I tell you: I do fewer things now, accomplish more because I can do them faster and better, and I enjoy them ten times as much — and that’s because I keep a velvet rope around my to-do list! Still working on that utter and beautiful grace, though…
I almost didn’t publish this entry because it’s easy to misinterpret a list like this. I’m only admitting that I’m not interested in these things not to bag on anyone that does; I fully recognize that these many of these subjects are interesting, complex and rich with insight, and I love hearing people who are genuinely passionate about these things talk about them. I always learn a lot when I do.
I think “genuinely passionate” is the key phrase here. I used to think, when I was young, that “educated” or “sophisticated” people were well-informed, shopped organic exclusively, insert whatever achingly cool/beguilingly intriguing behavior and interest here. And sometimes you think, Ah, that’s a good idea or habit or interest…let’s try it! Because, after all, are you a curious person? Aren’t you intellectually and creatively adventurous?
But curiosity doesn’t directly equate to genuine passion. Sometimes you find something that lingers, but sometimes you don’t. I think it’s fine to exercise your curiosity, realize something doesn’t genuinely light up your synapses and let it go. Because when you let go, the real fires of your heart and soul take root and start to grow in interesting, unexpected ways. You have to let go and make room for them to run rampant and inspire; you have to leave room and energy and time to cultivate them with purpose and attention.
It’s surprisingly hard to do this sometimes. Interestingly, as I realized that I couldn’t fake more than a passing interest in a few of the subjects above, I felt an odd sort of anxiety: What would I talk about with some friends? What if they think I’m stupid and ignorant? Well: my real friends know I am reasonably intelligent, so hopefully they forgive this of me. But I’m also humble enough to say, “I don’t know much about that — what can you tell me about it?” I’ve discovered that in doing so, you let other people share what they know and are passionate about. You see their eyes light up with what they’ve learned and are excited to share — and that’s a good feeling all around.
Other sadnesses are existential: You realize you’re a human being with limitations, after all. The world is so rich with beauty and wisdom and things to know: and here I am, gently closing the doors on some of these. Funnily enough, I remember feeling a minor-chord version of this feeling when I declared my major — when I realized I’d never become a cultural anthropologist or a classics professor or a historian. I’m older now, though, and it feels like an ache. But sometimes in post-college life, you still have to “declare your major” all over again and shut the door — even temporarily — on some subjects, in order to gain mastery, skill and knowledge in other areas of your life.
You probably have your own list of things you feel you should know more about or be better-informed upon: modern art, maybe, fashion, pop music, public policy, technology, whatever. With spring coming, it’s a good time come up with your own “burn list” and officially let these “obligations of legitimacy” go. Acknowledge their beauty and resonance and good intentions, recognize that they just don’t vibe with your particular expression of singularity and part ways amiably.
These days, I think so much about growing up and become a real adult is accepting the deep truth about your own nature and character, and getting out of your own way to grow. After all, to get a little cheesy but Real Truth about it: why be legit when you can be yourself, really?