The MP3 player that Jennifer gave me for my birthday last year has room for forty gigabytes worth of music; I’ve filled up about twenty-seven so far. I don’t have a lot of pop music in my collection, but my MP3 player has music from many different genres. I have about a dozen different playlists, organized thematically. For example, this morning as I drove to work I listened to my “Clooneyverse” mix, which consists of music that I put together because it reminds me of some of the different themes and stories and characters and ideas that are swimming in my head for this particular universe (which I mentioned in an earlier post). The Clooneyverse Mix has music by Emry Arthur, Angelo Badalamente, Tom Waits, Alison Krause, Iron Maiden, Switchblade Symphony, and Nine Inch Nails, among many others. It seems to be generally bluegrass and blues. Still, though, I could be listening to an old, scratching recording of Emry Arthur singing “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow” (recorded digitally from an old 78 RPM recording, I think), and then a few seconds later find myself mouthing along to “Sanctified” by Nine Inch Nails. Most of the other playlists on my MP3 player have similar variety, though with different overall themes. I have a significant number of songs from different cultures around the world as well on my MP3 player. Sometimes I play my “All Over the World” mix to hear Irish, Mexican, Cajun, and African music.
I find that this kind of eclecticism is reflected on my bookshelf as well. I have my books on philosophy and theology sitting next to my history books and my science books. And while I enjoy reading horror fiction, fantasy, and science fiction, my fiction bookshelf also has novels and short stories from all kinds of folks from all over the world. One of the best books I’ve read recently was The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad, which I thought did a great job of blurring the lines between different cultural groups. Nowhere else have I seen African mythology, Muslim theology, and Star Trek all so well woven together. Or at all, come to think of it. Right now I’m heavy into a Tolkien/Lewis phase, as my friends and wife can probably attest to with some annoyance.
And I find that I’m still looking for new sounds, new ideas, new ways of thinking. I wander into a Borders bookstore and spend time darting about from section to section, looking at books in just about every section, browsing here and there, listening to different songs at all the different music stations (that’s how I found Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys as well as Kassav and Buckwheat Zydeco). At work I’m almost always logged on to Live365, thanks to the suggestion of a couple of friends, and I love finding new genres. I’ve even found a hip hop station that I enjoy, after years of insisting that I could never learn to enjoy modern hip hop.
This has been a pattern all through my life. In college, as I’ve mentioned in plenty of places, I took a major which required relatively few units for completion, so that I could take as many classes outside of that major as possible. Even so, I never managed to accrue enough units in any other field to actually get any sort of minor in anything else. And even in my high school years, with my rather limited exposure to world literature and news in my small Catholic high school, I still managed to find quite a bit.
Is all this a sign of a well-rounded, broad, expansive personality and intellect? Or an inability to focus and give serious attention to any one field for a significant period of time? Over the past few years, I’ve found my own opinion on the matter shifting from the first point of view to the second. I enjoy conversations about all kinds of topics and can hold my own pretty well and speak intelligently about world history, philosophy, technology, cosmology, mythology, religion, philosophy, and so on (I don’t mean to brag; at times, I only really know enough to ask intelligent questions). And that’s neat, but where do I go with it?
Since I graduated from college fourteen years ago, I haven’t been able to find a focus or a direction that was a suitable match with my eclectic nature. I wasn’t able to take seriously the idea of doing graduate level work in philosophy (though sometimes I wish I had), or in English (though sometimes I wish I had), or in folklore (though sometimes… well, you get the picture). I’ve had a lot of different jobs, and considered a lot of different fields. For awhile there, I was gung-ho about going into ecological engineering or conservation biology until my lack of skill in calculus was thrown painfully into my face. Even so, I decided to stick with it, take those remedial math classes, even got a job working with a hydrology professor at UC Davis doing library research and field research (I actually miss the field research; it was a lot of fun getting all muddy and collecting water samples). But then I kind of just… lost interest.
An intellectual moving on? Or an inability to focus and commit?
My work history since college has been spotty. Instead of picking a career and being able to focus on it, I’ve jumped among part-time jobs like video store clerk and barista, and doing temp work. I’ve stumbled into web development and programming, discovering to my amazement that I’m actually pretty good at it, but it’s not necessarily where I want to be for the rest of my life.
About two years ago, Jennifer showed me an article which showed that California was in danger of facing a shortage of librarians. After researching the field online, talking to as many librarians as I could track down, both online and off, and visiting a few libraries, I decided to take the plunge and start going to library school. And so far I’ve enjoyed it.
Very annoyingly, though, I’m finding my enthusiasm waning yet again. Part of it has to do with a professor I’m having some difficulties with right now, but part of it has been watching our local district librarian doing his job and seeing what he has to put up with: the issues, the politics, the management issues, and so on. I had nurtured this dream that, as a librarian, I would be surrounded by the ideas and thoughts and literature and poetry of people from around the world, and have the opportunity to peruse those ideas and meet people from cultures and countries from everywhere as well. It looks like that was more dream than reality. In addition, I’ve discovered that the job market for librarians in California is not as rosy as it once was (due to massive budget cuts), and at some point in my schooling I will have to take a practicum of some sort, which usually involves working in a library facility. Unfortunately, I like my current job a little too much to want to dump it for a practicum somewhere. I know that there are practicum opportunities that don’t involve working physically somewhere for a few months, but such opportunities are few and far between and hotly contested for.
Add to all that the fact that I’m really starting to focus on my writing, which I think is a really good thing. With the Writing Plan that I outlined in a previous entry, I feel like I can focus more on my writing than I have been able to in years. The one class I’m taking this semester — with its subject matter that I can’t really get into and the professor that I’m having trouble with — seems a lot more like a chore than a pleasure to me.
And yet, I know that if I drop out of library school, I will kick myself, hard, in years to come for having failed yet again to follow through.
There are the folks who say that every now and then we come to a crossroads in life where we have opportunities to make great changes. I think that the truth is more likely that every step we take is on a crossroads. Every moment we have the opportunity to make big changes in our lives.
Which, of course, makes it even harder to know what the right decision is.