In Pursuit of Nothing
By Jordan Israel • Rumble Contributor | I love the feeling of unfettered potential in a new notebook. This may explain my lifelong affection for office supplies, and why the prospect of the back-to-school season fills me with spiral-bound hope. I feel renewed in the fluorescent glow of a Staples in Mid-August.
My teenage daughter finds this far less restorative. I am the Tom Hanks to her begrudging Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail.” “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils . . .” Clearly, I have romanticized this parental ritual. It is emblematic of an idealized autumn and my own childhood nostalgia. These scholastic preparations are a new beginning, wrapped in a plaid scarf with a new Trapper Keeper. I can almost smell the cinnamon and that pink eraser rubber.
Many years have passed since I was a student, in the most conventional sense of the word. I still find myself chasing the notion of sheer possibility that exists on a blank page. Often, very literally. I think about how many times I’ve pulled out a new notepad – convinced that this time – I would make The Plan. I would come up with The Idea. That new paper was not just a tool – it was Tabula Rasa; ready to improve my life and mind with all it would soon contain. How often then - did those sheets wither at the bottom of a desk, a brief case, a coat pocket? So many half-baked plans and fledgling ideas that devolved into banal to-do agendas and scrawled grocery lists. Perhaps that is the insight my daughter has that I lack. The Newness fades and becomes worn. The excitement of new goals and learning can quickly return to drudgery and obligation.
I am no longer pursuing marks in a report card. Now, I go to work. This certainly accounts for some of my romantic notions about back-to-school shopping. The heady novelty of anything is much harder to sustain when a conventional adult life demands such consistency. Consistency leads to routine. Routine quickly becomes stagnation, without vigilance. Advancement is no longer measured in academic grades. It is marked by promotions, pay raises, titles, and possession of material goods. The Newness of this also fades, and we are on to next acquisition. Always chasing that feeling, knowing how impermanent it is. Personally, I believe it is this kind of dissatisfaction, and not curiosity, that is lately driving middle-aged billionaires into space.
The price for this advancement is often paid for by abandoning other pursuits. I recently read a refrain used in the early 20th century Labor Movement. In the push for greater rights for the worker, the cause was “eight hours for what we will.” Work, sleep, then – “what we will.” Chasing advancement for the sake of it leaves little space for willful pursuits. The push to work and attain an endless “more” feels more prevalent than ever. Day jobs are supplemented by gig-work. A pervasive obsession with productivity expands the eight-hour day to “always on.” In examining my own disillusionment with achievement and productivity, I want my daughter to learn differently. School isn’t just a springboard for a “good job.” There are reliable directions for her to follow, but there is space and time to take other roads. Even to wander down them somewhat aimlessly.
The idea that my daughter stands figuratively in front of vast unwritten pages is something I hope she grasps. Like the notebooks in her backpack, there will soon be messy notes in the margins and crumpled coffee-stained corners. But as the new school year begins, we both need a space for “what we will.” I hope she seeks out knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I hope she finds something that leaves her awestruck and makes her want to learn more, and not for any measurable achievement. I hope she chases a sense of internal satisfaction and peace that comes from following wherever it leads. In school, in life – we are always lured into acquiring “something,” often at too great a cost. Perhaps in occasionally pursuing nothing, we can have more of what we need.
Originally from Canton, Jordan Israel is a lawyer and lives in Clyde with her daughter.