I used to get a lot more excited about goals that I set for myself than I do now. Now, I’ve grown to mistrust any kind of concrete goal to such an extent that, believe it or not, I still haven’t written down my New Years Resolutions for 2011 even though I fully intend to at some point (I like to tell myself).
This week, I’ve been reading Dave Goetz’s Death by Suburb, a study of how to improve a suburbanite’s “spirituality”. In his chapter titled “Inside Space”, Goetz discusses this idea of goal futility.
Not to echo here the disillusionment of Ecclesiastes (you know, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”) but it seems impossibly hard to correlate happiness with goal achievement. The suburbs are a great illustration of this idea.
The suburban environment is one where individuals are cloistered into safe and sanitary housing units where each person creates goals, capitalizes on the abundant opportunities available, and then amasses the spoils of his labor in the form of goods or social status. It’s almost the epitome of “the good life”. And yet almost anyone who actually experiences this kind of lifestyle will feel some sort of dissatisfaction with goal achievement.
The new car just doesn’t seem so satisfying a few months after the purchase (but how much work went into affording it). The mansion seems a lot better as an idea than as a reality. Yes, the friends will be impressed, but why do I need to lord it (or anything) over them? And what do I admire about the thing itself – the spaciousness, the beauty of the woodwork and wall colors and flooring? The outdoors are spacious too and there are much more beautiful buildings to be seen in the city. I must just want to possess this immensity and this beauty as my own.
And yet these goals require so much – perhaps, all – of our work capacity to fulfill. For someone like me who always needs a plan to feel at ease with himself, it’s maddening that the things that really matter to us – love, vocation, relationships – we can’t really achieve by setting any kind of goals. Goetz thinks that relinquishing control and embracing silence can help a suburbanite find the peace of mind of which the achievement race robs us. I don’t know about this; I just think it’s maddening that we can’t goal-orient towards happiness.
One way to measure the success of a blog is by how much spam its WordPress filters catch. Somehow, I think the bots that troll the blogosphere know which blogs get more traffic and target their “marketing” strategy at them. The blog that I keep at work, where keywords and headings are meticulously crafted to optimize hits from the search engines, is visited as often as Don Corleone on “this, the day of his daughter’s wedding” in comparison to this, my personal blog. Each day nets dozens of spam comments in my work blog’s filter. HistoryJournal.org, on the other hand, is lucky if the errant male-enhancement ad washes up on shore once or twice a week. I don’t care. Not search-engine-optimizing my
<h2> tags on HistoryJournal.org is my rebellion against marketing, my current profession.
(Yes, folks. This is the one day of the year, my blog’s anniversary – it was technically on March 8 – where I blog about blogging. Feel free to turn away. There is not so much a sign of a blog’s decay, writer’s block, or an author’s sickness of the writing craft as when he or she begins to write about what it feels like to be writing. Like a historian writing about what good history should be written like instead of showing you by writing good history himself. Nevertheless, the historiography demons need to be exorcised at least once a year, so I’ll try to keep it as short and sweet as possible.)
An opportunity presented itself to me a year ago after I wrote the post, “History, the History Channel, and Dairy Queen”. I had been looking for a way to a way to write about history that would be fresh, interesting, and relevant to the living world. With that post, I hit upon a style or genre which I could develop upon in the future. I desperately wanted to avoid writing history in the dusty forms everyone is so used to, either ringing grandiose notes that always fall flat (“Since the dawn of man…” or, “Our world would not be the same if it were not for…”) or delving into minutiae that interests nobody but the collector of such informational tidbits (“On this day in history…”). The style that I have tried to work on this past year (in between peddling my marketing skills, chasing various pet hobbies, and staving off spirit-sapping ennui which has been waging war against me since 2007) has been to present history in an extremely personal narrative. (more…)