The annual restart

I must have had more than 200 articles saved for me to read over the month of December.

I started systematically reading through said list, the morning after I returned from my third fall semester in Athens. I started with an order, of course — my brain back on OCD-fault. First, I read all of the National Geographic News links one-by-one, followed by the hoard of links saved from The Guardian. Stories from the Washington Post, NPR, and New York Times were next. Then came all the Nature News & Comment, REI, and Patagonia blog posts.

I must have clicked on at least 100-or-so links in a matter of 8 days. My eyes and mind were starting to feel fatigued at the thought of finishing the self-prescribed (read self-enslaved) list. Would I be able to make it through them all? I wondered, actually worried. Would I have enough time before the start of another busy and heavy-reading semester? 

Somewhere inside my cluttered mind, I asked the ultimate question of the undecided jury: Would it really matter if I didn’t finish?

Huh. Never thought of that. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.

That afternoon, I stopped reading the news. I stopped searching for what news I was missing, or what I ‘should’ have known all along. I cancelled out the tabs and shut-off the Internet.

Instead, I picked up my well-worn copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson essays, a bargain-buy from the western-most bookstore in the United States. Thumbing through the words of my transcendentalist muse felt like returning to land after a long voyage away at sea. It felt right, it felt familiar, it felt free of expectation and discomfort.

Nodding through the words of the essay ‘Self-Reliance’ tethered me back to the present:

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” -Emerson, p. 64

See, I don’t just read the news or scan the headlines because I started college as a news junkie. I search through email listservs and Twitter timelines for the things in life I may be missing. In short, I’m a knowledge junkie.

Confession: I’m more like an information addict.

 

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My ever-expanding bookshelf, fall 2016

 

I surround myself with books and maps and periodical magazines. I archive everything I’ve ever read (see here, here, and here) on the Internet, just in case I want to reference any of it later. I keep track of how many books I’ve read (a conservative estimate of 331) and a looming list of books to-be read (161 and counting). I even keep the journals I scribbled on in school — all the way back to 6th grade Biology! — because I fear I’ll miss the knowledge I once mastered.

Ah, that’s it. I fear I’ll lose my knowledge. 

To be privileged, as I am at university with my current degree of study, assumes a so-called ‘burden of knowledge’. I have the opportunity to know (about Syria, about environmental pollution, about the best foods to eat for good probiotic digestion…etc.), therefore I should know. Knowledge and learning have always excited me, but they’re also my two-fold source of vanity.

I know I am privileged by this access to knowledge, and so I sometimes feel like it is my responsibility to ‘know it all’ for those who do not have such access.

Sometimes, though, I believe this knowing of knowledge inherently makes me a better person.

As a Peacock personality (Mr. Mike Walsh shoutout), I know this vanity of knowledge can manifest at default if I’m not in-tune with my actions. To paint a more vivid picture, I started to wear my glasses every day last year because I thought they would complement the academic persona I was striving so desperately for. (That didn’t last too long, thank God.)

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Me, posed with a new collection of archived National Geographic magazines, February 2016

It didn’t last because I don’t like wearing my glasses every day. I like being able to run and jump and dance without blurred vision. I like to see the world without frames.

And yet, I was willing to sacrifice how I like to see the world for the sake of how others would see me?

I’m still learning. I’m still learning that there’s a whole lot more about myself I have yet to learn … learning that doesn’t just come from the far corners of the Internet or in the classroom.

Every year, the month of December is my ‘restart’ phase. I observe my default habits, assess their truths and strive to return to (or keep) the actions that complete the ME that is me.

And this year, I would like to affirm to myself that I am more than just the books on my shelf. I am more than all of the knowledge I have learned in the unyielding construct our society has crafted for knowledge acquisition. I am more than the writers I read, the stories I hear, the places that I would someday like to visit.

I am my own story, and I’m still writing my own way out.

This entry is the first in the new ‘Body Mind Bella’ series of articles I hope to write on my blog in the next several months. Topics will span physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being more frequently than the monthly ‘la bella memoir’ entries. Comments and feedback on this and other new initiatives are always welcome. -bnb