12 April 2011

On Being Exhausted

There was a time when Sunday morning meant a long run—anywhere from eight to twenty miles.  Regardless of the time of year Sunday was devoted to this test of will and endurance. For many years I shared the time with my dear friend Gary. On those Sunday mornings we explored the community choosing a somewhat different route each week. There were steep hills to climb and any number of neighborhoods to explore. A life long resident of the town, Gary narrated the history of the farms and sites we passed as we ran. In the winters we shivered and dressed in layers; in the summer we wore our supplies of water, and on special runs even planted extra water bottles at strategic places along our route. There was rarely a moment of exhaustion, though we certainly experienced fatigue. At the end of a run—an hour or three after we had begun—we parted company and entered the rest of the day.
We were tired. Our muscles had made a great effort and they felt a bit rubbery, not necessarily an unpleasant feeling, and I think we probably climbed the stairs holding more tightly onto the banister that facilitated our rise. And the day went continued—sometimes we each and separately would cut the grass of our lawns, he at his home and I at mine, or complete some other household chores. On too many Sundays (to my mind and much to my chagrin) Gary would then go out to work!! I would read and write (which is the work that I do, I suppose), and allow the day to flow slowly and smoothly before me. But at sometime in the afternoon, I think we both would take a nap. We were rightfully tired.
I recall other moments of experiencing great fatigue. Sometimes when I have been studying a particularly difficult text, struggling through the syntax, the vocabularies and the concepts, my head would begin to ache and my eyes would grow heavy. I would move from desk to chair where I could close my eyes and rest for even a few minutes, refresh my mind (even in sleep) only to begin again (willingly) the effort to comprehend. Gramsci says somewhere that one must train to become an intellectual as one trains to become a great athlete: as the long distance runner increases his distance daily, so the intellectual should learn to sit for sixteen hours a day reading and thinking. I have never been that ambitious (ambition should be made of sterner stuff!), but I have enjoyed some significant growth and not a little success from my efforts. I have read a considerable quantity of books and have had some interesting thoughts. I have at times been justly tired.
But lately I find myself oft-times exhausted by the flood of information that continues to assault me over the course of any single day. I read the newspapers (I glance at the news), but am forever directed to further articles readily available on the same or similar topic. I listen to a report on the radio and am told that if I desire more information on the particular story I can go to the station website; I can download podcasts to hear more or join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook, or I can continue on to discover the visual accompaniment to the oral report. Extended versions of articles from journals are posted on the various websites, and there I will also find additional links leading to further information on this and related topics. There is no end to what I can do and where I can go to obtain further knowledge on any topic. There is no end to knowledge. I know. I know. I have, of course, always known this, but all of these announcements only emphasize what I do not and yet should know. My inadequacies are forever posted before me.
I am exhausted by the amount of information that has been not only made available to me, but to which I have been urged to attend: I could spend my entire life following stories and pursuing leads. Hypertexts mean that there is no end to the direction I can next take; I am exhausted by the possibilities even moreso than by the journey itself. Two roads diverging in a wood are manageable, but ninety-six (hundred-thousand) paths deplete my energies. And having refused so many offers I am then condemned to suffer the guilt of not pursuing each story as it spreads like the web of a spider. Each element of a story explodes like cancer cells (yes, I’m changing the metaphor) and like them, threatens to consume over my life. The whole process exhausts me. I know that there exists the phrase “Too Much Information (TMI)”, and mostly I choose not to pursue too much. But I find myself exhausted merely by the constant directives after every report to go to yet another source for more information or audio or visual content. I grow weary when at the end of every article I am informed that a more complete report or extended version of the article is available at another source. I wonder what crucial knowledge I am missing, despite my present effort. What am I missing? Whatever I know it is not sufficient.
There is no end to this effort, no break in the activity, no time for a respite. I am often exhausted by this media assault. But I am not content in this exhaustion.


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