Busy, yes, but in my case, only comparatively so in relation to my recent year of shirking all responsibility. After receiving my textbook in the mail about a week and a half ago, I awoke at 5:00 a.m. the next day and hit the ground running. I learned the correct directional terms on an animal’s body used in veterinary clinics, the names of all the bones in the canine and feline skeletal systems, the proper operation of a radiograph and ECG machine, the roles of the circulatory, endocrine, digestive and respiratory systems of domesticated animals, and the signs and symptoms of common diseases. I continued this pace for another few days, acing the quizzes for each lesson, until it dawned on me that I had to slow my roll. I mean, of course I was getting 100% on these quizzes – I was taking them literally two seconds after sitting through the corresponding lesson. Perhaps this signifies a better short-term memory than I thought I possessed, but it doesn’t mean I retained the information. So now, I’m taking a lesson a day and saving the quiz for the following morning after I’ve slept on it.
I’m surprised I didn’t nod off while typing that tedious opening paragraph. Does that imply disinterest in the details of this new career I’m so impetuously pursuing? Yes. Yes, it does. For instance, when I think about the woman in my past with whom I was most in love, I can’t ever remember taking even the most cursory interest in the function and structure of her spleen. Ditto for Jesse. I love dogs, but the individual parts and systems that compose and animate them have nothing to do with that fondness. I guess I view veterinary medicine similarly to human medicine: it’s awesome when you have a broken leg or a rash on your naughty bits, but is the human animal really meant to survive for nearly a fucking century? The precarious state of the planet on which all 7.8 billion of us live and its (naturally) ever-depleting resources is all the answer anyone should need for that one.
It’s so weird how excited everyone but me seems to be about the fact that I’m going to school. I appreciate the enthusiastic votes of confidence, but I also think they’re somewhat misguided. “You’ll do great, Paul!”; “How perfect! You love animals!”; “Wow, a new chapter in your life!” That last one’s the real kicker. I’ve recently realized that my mind is in an obsolescent, nearly geriatric state. I’m cool with hanging around for as long as my body holds out, observing things with varying degrees of interest and filling my head with silly frivolities, but I have zero interest in starting any “new chapters”. In a recent post, I chalked this up to a short attention span, but that’s an oversimplification. What I seem to be lacking is the ability to form an extended, long-term (i.e. lifelong) interest in any subject, discipline, activity or person. I absorb most information that I take in, assuming I’m at least moderately curious about it. For example, all of that Buddhist reading and practice into which I delved for five or six years left many lasting impressions on me, some of which inform most of my thoughts and behaviors in positive ways and will probably continue to do so since they’ve become habitual. But the terminology? The history? The unpronounceable names of countless Tibetan and Indian “masters”? The endless ritual and mantras and meditation practices? What I found fascinating just a few short years ago bores the crap out of me now. It’s the fact that I no longer seek out an image, you see. If I had kept going with this and reached the point where I walked around wearing monks robes and greeting everyone with the word “Namaste”, that would indicate I’d deliberately decided to adopt the image of a “guru”, astoundingly inaccurate as that may be. It’s also a pretty safe bet that many people would justifiably find me pathetic and laughable, just like I view anyone whose obsession is of the religious or spiritual variety.
Survival is incredibly overrated. In the novel Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut expressed this opinion thusly (as the godlike narrative voice describing hapless protagonist Kilgore Trout): “I had given him a life not worth living, but I had also given him an iron will to live. This was a common combination on the Planet Earth.” The thing is, most people seem able to fool themselves into believing they’re still passionate about the same stale old things, whether it’s a career, religion, football, romance, politics or whatever else people utilize to fill the time while they’re in the process of surviving. What’s that you say? What about Notes From The Avalon? Hey, Eastern philosophy held my interest for a half dozen years; it only took me 6 months to finish that admirable online crap-fest and if you’ll recall, I nearly threw in the towel more than once before its completion. In other words, I would have reached the end of my Fifteen rope sooner or later had the series not conveniently ended before I got bored. I don’t know how anyone can spend the better part of 100 years forcing themselves to keep sounding passionate about their childhood religion or the high school sweetheart to whom they’ve been betrothed for decades. How exhausting! What if we just allowed ourselves more honesty and less ego-stroking by admitting that sometimes, sparks fade and interests die? Would society collapse? Maybe it would. Some professions do indeed require an inextinguishable passion for the work. I don’t know how the hell people do it.
So we survive for the sake of surviving. So do tapeworms.
Learning for me is always better when it’s spontaneous. School doesn’t provide that type of learning, so I go by rote. Cram, memorize, hope to hell I never have to apply the knowledge in a real-world setting.
Regardless, I think you made a great list of the major components of learning. I know that it’s great because it is the lack of ability or willingness to engage in these processes that makes humanity as odious and hopeless as it is. The one that really struck me was “Holistic lessons are useless…sweeping statements provide no guidance”. This should be self-evident, but obviously it isn’t. The best illustrative example I can think of is that of the alcoholic or drug addict who, in the interest of survival, turns to A.A. or N.A. for help. Tangible help might be expected but sweeping statements and holistic lessons are all they receive. “Fake it ‘til you make it!” “One day at a time.” “Let go and let God!” What an industrial sized vat of hogwash. 12 step programs are so popular, in fact, because they provide so little pragmatic instruction – most folks just replace the liquor entering their mouths with stupid, trite slogans exiting them. And this is the method of “recovery” that’s still fully endorsed by the AMA. Those dedicating themselves to the spurious views espoused by Bill Wilson in the 1930s have essentially two choices: go back to being a drunk or become the ultimate buzzkill that only other recovery automatons can tolerate. The vital thing missing from 12 step programs, of course, is an exit strategy, and that’s why, in the absence of anything else, many people embrace it as a lifelong passion.
So we fill the time however we choose while we wait on our survival instinct as it fulfills its curious, often century-long purpose. Those who still see “importance” in this (i.e. a divine plan or lofty visions of human destiny) are obviously too frightened to look at the foundational facts. And those facts, once again, can be summed up very simply: we live until we don’t because that’s the way it is. Everything else is just window dressing, usually of the gaudiest variety.
Do you enjoy teaching? If so, how do you manage to nurture enough optimism about the future of our species to consider the transfer of knowledge a worthwhile endeavor? Would creative writing even be publicly applicable in the oppressive authoritarian world we’re clearly determined to bring about?
Dogs have a bone in their penis called, appropriately enough, the os penis.
I retained that one.