The beach, and thoughts from the beach, still remain. For me, it is the one of the most rewarding places to experience just as an experience, with little else expected of it. But maybe the runners of resolve don’t have that kind of attachment to it, and maybe that’s why they can see it as a kind of neutral ground upon which to be self-absorbed. Perhaps I should cut them some slack, particularly if each of them has a place where outer goals and drives are submerged under the inner need just to revel. Consider the slack cut.
A few months ago on Facebook, I posted the thought that there was a fine line between improvisation and dementia. Maybe the same comparison could be made between being in the moment and being disoriented. If being oriented means being focused on something identifiable, either inside or outside the self, and resisting the distractions that might deflect that orientation, then sometimes being in the moment reflects that. But not always. I might be in the moment but focused on a set of waves forming, rolling, breaking, dissolving at my feet. I am both oriented and appreciating the experience just as an experience.
I bring these distinctions up because it occurred to me, as I walked on the last day I was there, that my teaching style is somewhat in the moment, but never disoriented. The original question about improvisation and dementia came from the recognition that I improvise a lot during the process of teaching philosophy, and it’s a part of the process that makes teaching both fun and a challenge. As I age, but continue to teach, will I or my students be alert to the transition, if it occurs? And will it matter to either of us? I’d like to think it would matter to me, though I’m guessing that severe enough dementia would render me beyond thinking anything mattered. That state doesn’t seem to have arrived yet.
Of course, I don’t wing entire semesters, pulling lectures and questions out of the aether and referring seldom, if at all, to the reading assignments. Students charged with understanding Plato, or Descartes, or Machiavelli get my best attempt to open the door to those, and other texts. But I never teach them the same way twice. The content remains, the process changes. I test, more or less on the content, remembering that philosophy is primarily a process-driven discipline. That means I also test on the mechanics of the process as well as their ability to use that process. But the teaching process is a different process, and it’s a part of what makes me feel a tingle of excitement at the start of each semester. But if I couldn’t savor teaching by making it alive for me each time I did it, I’d be retired truly now.
I suppose I’ve found a way to combine a satisfying goal with a way of doing it that incorporates a satisfying process. In that, I am truly fortunate. But sometimes I just want to pause and watch the wild turkeys meander across my path in the woods rather than keep my eye on the stopwatch. The beach is my ultimate place to do that. But nothing is perfect, not even a beach. My final entry from LA will also be a reflection from the beach, and the pervasive Cult of Perfection.