This blog has been rather neglected over the past two months… I lost my primary blogging & browsing computer, Amos – a Dell Inspiron 1721 laptop running Vista - to a hardware failure in late June, and then my six-month old Windows 7 HP Pavilion desktop started tanking with software problems less than a week later. I was already overloaded with an abnormal level of professional work, and was also struggling to maintain engagement in a Distance Learning class I had fallen well behind in. It’s been a frustrating summer, during which it’s seemed I’ve gotten nothing done. At least I finally finished that DL course. It’s time to recollect myself, and turn the page.
Tag Archive: Work
Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011 (10:37 pm), by John W Gillis
Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 (9:23 pm), by John W Gillis
Quote of the Day for Tuesday, March 8th, 2011:
More from A. G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life, from the section “Reading” in the chapter “Preparation for Work,” on “not reading much” as a prerequisite to intellectual vitality:
What we are proscribing is the passion for reading, the uncontrolled habit, the poisoning of the mind by excess of mental food, the laziness in disguise which prefers easy familiarity with others’ thought to personal effort.
The passion for reading which many pride themselves on as a precious intellectual quality, is in reality a defect; it differs in no wise from the other passions that monopolize the soul, keep it in a state of disturbance, set up in it uncertain currents and cross-currents, and exhaust its powers.
The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production; it grows inwardly extroverted, if one can so express oneself, becomes the slave of its mental images, of the ebb and flow of ideas on which it has eagerly fastened its attention. This uncontrolled delight is an escape from self; it ousts the intelligence from its function and allows it merely to follow point for point the thoughts of others, to be carried along in the stream of words, developments, chapters, volumes.
Can you imagine what this guy would have had to say regarding television?
As unintuitive as this thought might seem at first blush, I quickly recognized its truth as I read through it. I cannot deny, for example, that when I am feeling mentally lazy, I reach for something to read – so I won’t have to think too much. At its worst, that amounts to web browsing. At best, it means making headway in a book, but at times like those I tend to avoid the books I’m grinding through in favor of something either light or novel (or both), and the fact that I’m inclined to doze off while reading unless I’m mentally sharp at the time just further proves the point.
And then there’s truly useless reading (Sertillanges even says of newspapers: “defend yourself against them” – Amen, I say!), about which I’ll say nothing more than that Sertillanges’ proscription is a useful parallel to my occasional snarky reply to the invariably breathless claim that education is an important and necessary good: It might be important, but it’s not good. An education in virtue is an important and necessary good, yes, but an education in evil is an education neither necessary nor good, and one I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. The distinction is important.
Posted: Monday, December 8, 2008 (11:52 pm), by John W Gillis
A true winter chill has settled in to Massachusetts tonight, as we begin to close in on the winter solstice. I took the dog outside a few minutes ago to prepare for locking up the house for the night, and I was taken aback by the beauty of the night as I headed down the porch stairs. The sky is crystal clear, the moon and stars: brilliant. The temperature is just below 20 degrees.
As I was wandering around the back yard, I was thinking how I so enjoyed these kinds of nights when I was young and carefree, and walking all over town with my friends at night – instead of being inside doing homework or other useful things. I think I enjoyed them even more when I was working nights, in my early twenties, loading trucks and sampling drums of chemical waste. It’s not so cold as to be oppressive, just cold enough to keep everything crisp: the ground, the air, the shadows, and the mind. There’s something about a cold, brightly moonlit night that clears the cobwebs from the head, and invites clarity of thought.
I had a lot of room in my life back then for thinking, though I can’t honestly say I did a very good job of it – especially as a teenager. But there were plenty of nights, spent – mostly alone – jockeying trucks and loading them up in the yard over at General Chemical, that I would let my mind wander over various ideas: working out moral problems, trying to understand political questions, wrestling with religious doctrines, and generally trying to find my place in the world of ideas. I wish I could reach back and grab that kid by the lapels, give him a little direction, and dispossess him of a few particularly noxious notions, but that’s just not the way life works.
One thing I might tell that young man, were I to have the chance, would be not to get impatient with life, but to treasure the opportunity that such a life provided for reflection. By the end of the decade, I’d grown quite tired of the kind of labor that provided me that opportunity for reflection because of the lack of mental challenge inherent in the work. I wanted work that allowed me to use my mind, and eventually, that’s exactly what I found.
But what I lost in the process of finding “meaningful work” was the freedom to think for myself. It could hardly be any other way: how could I possibly think for myself if I was busy thinking for somebody else? The great questions of my life would have to wait for my “spare time,” so that I could focus my mind on “meaningful” matters like desktop configurations, networking protocols, technical security schemes, business benefits, requirements analysis, project dashboards, and stakeholder satisfaction.
Life, it turns out, is full of trade-offs – not simple solutions, or “progress.” I should also not have been surprised when my weight ballooned after giving up manual labor – though I’m sure it never crossed my mind at the time. No doubt, I’ve appreciated the financial benefits of my current career – and I’m hardly ready to give them up. But as I find it harder and harder to keep my mind focused, during the day, on matters that seem to me ever more trivial, I have to wonder where this is all leading.
I took a deep breath this weekend, and began the process of applying to Franciscan University’s Masters in Theology program. This is going to be a long road, and I hope I’ve weighed the trade-offs appropriately. For all the good – and there is plenty of it – that the last 15 or so years have meant for me, I can’t deny that I feel myself being called back to an earlier, simpler way, in many respects – even as I look forward to brand new possibilities. Truth be told, there have even been plenty of days over the years (more recently than prior) that I’ve wished I was working outside again. I’m not sure how reasonable that is at this point, but I do need some kind of fresh start.