Confucius in Moscow.

A few weeks ago I read this article in The Guardian by two scholars of Chinese philosophy. I have been thinking a lot lately about their suggestion to “see the world as capricious” and to not get too fixated on the fulfillment of a singular goal. To do so is to risk losing sight of the bigger picture and its multiple interconnections, and to literally lose opportunities and experiences that might ultimately turn out to be more important than the original goal or plan itself. I learned from my dissertation experience, that when I try to force myself to stick to an exact, militaristic writing plan that my productivity goes way way down. And as a consequence, I get really frustrated and angry with myself for not meeting my “quotas” or as a Stalinist might put it, for not (metaphorically) “fulfilling the Five Year Plan in four years.” I am thus approaching the book manuscript production process a bit differently. I know roughly how much I need to get done (two pages/day in June) in particular amount of time. Having the goal helps keep me on track. Or rather, as Anne Lamott would say, it gets my butt in the chair. But I also know that the goal is somewhat lofty, and if I don’t meet it every single day, I don’t panic. Why? Because the world is indeed capricious. Life has a way of intervening into the best laid plans and changing the course of everything, whether we like it or not. Interestingly, once writer-me accepted this, both my work-life and my real life improved. Yesterday was, for example, was an exceptionally capricious day. And even though I only write 150 words, I could not have been happier with the way things turned out, even though they started off quite badly.

It rained all morning. Hard. Everything was grey and cold. I woke up thinking about some residual health-related anxieties that have mostly now resolved, but were still nagging at the time. I had planned to go to the archive in the afternoon, but was also expecting a friend over for tea after work. Since the archive would have involved a long walk in the rain from the metro with a backpack, I decided that combining that with a grocery schlep had the potential to be too taxing. Better to take the shorter trip to the library and focus exclusively on writing. I wrote at home for half and hour. Cranked out 50 words and then headed to the library after lunch. After two hours of work and 100 more words, I headed off to the grocery store. I arrived home with a bag of cheeses, smoked fish, and cake, only to see that my friend had left me a panicked series of messages. She was on an article deadline and trapped in the library until 8 pm. She would not be able to make it over. Rats. What to do with all that smoked fish? I could have stayed home and kept working, since I had in fact not met my two-page quota. But I had also been invited to another friend’s exhibition opening. Didn’t think I would be able to make it originally, because of the tea for two I was planning to host. But now an opening. Instead of buckling back down at my laptop I headed off to see my friend’s show, which was part of a diploma exhibition showcasing the work of some of Russia’s up and coming contemporary artists. Describing it all would require another blog post. Suffice it to say, some of the works were great. All of the people were interesting. And since the rain had finally passed we all enjoyed the glow of the northern twilight underneath of one of Moscow’s landmarks, Vera Mukhina’s 1937 statue of the Soviet Industrial Worker and Collective Farmer:

Mukhina at Twilight

And as an unexpected bonus, I ran once again into my colleague from New Zealand. She hadn’t eaten all afternoon, so after the show she stopped by my place where we enjoyed our fill of cheese, smoked fish, tea, and cake. Time very well spent.


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