On work, philosophy, and burning

Want to hear something odd? I read philosophy better now that I’m out of the academe. I read better in general. I writer better: I’m beginning to recover my words. No longer empty or grappling, I found the water running underneath. Words are no longer threateningly elusive, they’ve returned to their jaunty playfulness, their skipping stones.
Looking back on those days, though there was the pervasive air of uncertainty and fear of my inability to cope, there was deep and settled boredom. Everything that I heard had already been said several times in same and different words, stories. Most of the teachers had, really, only one thing to say. Those things are usually the brilliant locus of their teaching, research, and lives. Their lives dedicated to the polishing of their gem, every question seems like an invitation to raise their rock to boast its glitter.
In more cynical days, I’d think bitterly that their prized grand insights are nothing but fog that fools them into thinking that is all there is. Who could blame them? Perhaps it’s the very thing of which they’re certain—the motherboard to which all their circuits connect. Who could blame their staunch certainty that it should likewise be yours?
Should I venture to be so brave as to think: I understand and I appreciate their central insights. The first times I learned them they glittered so gorgeously that I kept idols of all of them. They all became beautiful circuits to my motherboard. They all made sense; even though I couldn’t hope to articulate to others the same long and piecemeal eloquent way I have been convinced of their certainty.
After that, I gathered dust for so long. There was hardly anything that engaged me; that challenged the confines of my expansive net of concepts and beliefs. Nothing surprised me anymore. And I felt old, really old and tired. Paradoxically, in a place that engaged the truths of centuries and centuries of human thought, I learned all that I could.
Where I am right now, I’m being poked and prodded. I think there’s a certain conceit in academic philosophy that sees the tasks of selling soap or bottled water as derisory activities—as befitting the mindless labors of ants, and not beings who could contemplate the universe and being. But there is beauty in the grit of an ordinary working life. It is in common work, if ever any be called such, that our entire selves are engaged: shoulders sag in fatigue, brows knit in stress, our unselfconscious laughter with colleagues. We are so close to ourselves and to the world that we lose ourselves in engrossing work. The questions and gifts of philosophy are most relevant here.
The air is very thin up high in the tower. On Earth, where there are nourishments abound, the gems I inherited are muddied and cleaned every once in a while, and I appreciate them more than when they had been kept in unsullied repose inside glass pedestals.
On the way to work earlier today, I thought about the Burning Man festival, held every year in the States. I read somewhere that the festival emphasizes that art is not about the static and inert artifacts we serenely contemplate in museums, it’s about creation. Too often, there’s the temptation to stick to what we already know, to do things in ways we have always done them, to stay where it is proven to be safe. The festival celebrates the artists’ courage to liberate themselves from their work. More importantly, it celebrates their courage to begin again, anew. The most apt word is: renaissance, rebirth.
May we be forever young.

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