Off the Hamster Wheel

I dreamed this morning that I was paying a visit to the Associated Press broadcast newsroom where I used to work. One person asked me a question about email usage; another, something about news technology, both being fields from which I retired quite a few years ago. I replied that not only did I have no answer, but that I'm also not current at all in either case.

 Figure study by William Ernest Braxton, published in  Ebony

Figure study by William Ernest Braxton, published in Ebony

And when I woke up, I realized that's what retirement means, at least for those of us who have been in some way knowledge workers — no longer feeling the compulsion to stay up to date on the latest developments in a particular field. That doesn't mean that I'm no longer curious. Give me even the hint of a little research question, and away I may go! I enjoy the challenge, especially if it takes me into an area that's new to me but important to someone I care about. Just yesterday, that impulse introduced me to William Ernest Braxton (1878-1932) — Pullman porter, expressionist painter, pioneering printmaker, and member of the Harlem Renaissance. But the thrill of such a hunt lasts only for a short while. Once I've located what feels like a sufficient body of information — or sources for future research — I am happy to pass the topic back to the person who issued the challenge and let them take it from there. 

I also have my own modest ongoing research interests. I'm something of an expert on my own family's history, and I may know more than anyone else about the family and life of Rev. Carolina Augusta White Soule, American frontier novelist and Universalist missionary to Scotland. The number of continuous hours that I can spend on Ancestry.com certainly reflects those minor obsessions. But it's not like those fields are rapidly changing (except for new babies being added to the family), nothing like the technology fields where I used to work. My focus is now on discovery, integration, and preservation, at a sustainable pace. 

And that applies, too, to the area where I do most of my "work" these days, such as it is — as an ordained teacher in the Céile Dé spiritual tradition. My continual learning is aimed not so much at absorbing all the wisdom that this ancient, yet living path has to offer, but of living out what wisdom I am able to take in. It feels good to be off the head-spinning, fragmenting rotation of the hamster wheel that so often characterizes our era's drive to amass and consume information. There is so much that I don't need to know. 

 Kaleidescopic view of the human-sized hamster wheel at the  City Museum , St. Louis

Kaleidescopic view of the human-sized hamster wheel at the City Museum, St. Louis