In my last post, I stated that I haven’t really been happy since I graduated from university in the spring of 2011. Since that time, I’ve struggled to find work and meaning and a place in life I can be happy with. My body has also undergone some massive work. The two operations to remove my colon and get my J-pouch running took a toll on my physical being, particularly the first operation, which did not go anywhere according to plan. But what I’ve noticed more recently, and what upsets me now, is that my mind has weakened considerably since I left the University of Toronto.
I used to read. A lot. And not just for school. In addition to doing all the required readings from all of my courses, I usually had another book in my backpack that I could read on the bus to and from school. I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid, Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil, and Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, among others. I’d highlight passages I found especially interesting or well written, and I’d make notes in the margins of my books if I agreed or disagreed with something the author had stated. I would do the same in my textbooks for philosophy, psychology, visual culture, and communications.
Being immersed in books, having to read them on tight deadlines, and needing to really absorb the material to then prove my knowledge on tests and essays made me feel happy. It made me feel useful. It made me feel as though I was getting better each week, each semester, each year.
That all went away when I graduated. Maybe I should have gone to grad school, just to keep the momentum of higher education going, not for the sake of earning another degree, but for the sake of my own happiness. But I was 26 when I graduated, and desperate to regain the independence I had in my early twenties, when I lived on my own and worked full-time; two or more years at school would mean two or more years of living at home.
I didn’t think finding full-time work would be so hard. I had some impressive educational credentials, but little work experience. I didn’t have the 2-3 years of relevant experience needed for “entry level” jobs. I struggled to find unpaid internships. I still had part-time work, which I actually enjoyed, announcing traffic reports for radio stations through a media company that has been very good to me over the years; I just never had the chance to move into full-time hours with them. When I finally landed an internship, my mind started growing again as I learned new things and created original work for a magazine. On my commute to and from work, I read again: god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens, Harperland by Lawrence Martin, The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, The New Machiavelli by Jonathan Powell, and wonderful graphic book by Richard Horne called A is for Armageddon.
When my internship ended in December 2011, I moved on to another free internship at a community newspaper. It was around that time that my ulcerative colitis really took over. I stopped reading books and started reading about medications and diets and natural remedies and surgery for UC. I still worked part-time, still as an announcer. I’m grateful I at least had that to keep me occupied and keep some money coming in – that useless homeopathic “medicine” didn’t come cheap.
Eventually I started Remicade in December 2012, around the time that I landed my first, full-time job after graduation, as a social media specialist. I had to drive my dad’s Honda CR-V to work, and I put in nine-hour days at a job I didn’t like. I had little time to read, and I didn’t really want to. When Remicade, and my job, crapped out in the spring of 2013, I had my first surgery.
My friends and family gave me a number of books to read after I was released from hospital, but I didn’t feel like opening any of them. Books? Who the fuck cares? I had black shit squirting out of a hole in my abdomen into a bag. I had a wound that needed packing from a home care nurse. I had a tube in my buttcheek that spewed yellow fluid into another bag strapped to my thigh. I didn’t give a shit about reading. I aimlessly browsed the internet. Listened to the radio. Looked at pictures of things that I wanted. Went for walks to get out of the house.
Eventually, I got around to reading Illustrado by Miguel Syjuco, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (both of which my girlfriend, Jayee, loaned to me), and This Love is Not for Cowards by Robert Andrew Powell. I finished all three in the summer of 2013. Since then I’ve flipped around The Portable Atheist, a collection of readings for non-believers such as myself, curated by Christopher Hitchens, and that’s it. Even when I’ve tried to read passages from the book, I’ve found myself skipping over some dense, wordy philosophical material from the likes of Thomas Hobbes and Benedict de Spinoza and David Hume. If I were reading the same passages in university, I would have forced myself to read an reread and reread every line until I could make some sense of it. Now… meh. There are lots of other books I’d like to read, but I don’t often feel the drive to actually open them.
Maybe I need the regimentation and testing of school to stay motivated to read and learn with a hearty appetite. But I can’t be in school forever. I need to figure out how to regain that drive to learn, even when I’m not being graded. For too long now, my mind has been consumed with sadness and anger and frustration and despair. I look back now on the 15 months since my first operation and regret not doing more during my recovery. Yes, I had to focus on healing, but I could have read more, I could have written more, I could have bought a Rosetta Stone kit and learned some basic French. I could have done a lot of things. But when you’re struggling to come to terms with how your shitty life has turned out, when you’re in immense physical pain, when you’re sad, when you’re angry, when you’re frustratingly dependent, there’s little drive to learn.
All my bitching aside, my J-pouch is functioning pretty well these days. I can deal with the bathroom trips and the occasional discomfort. Now that my body is starting to feel better, maybe now I can work on my intellect, or lack thereof. I recently bought a new book, Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges. I’m about 40 pages in, and it’s great. Not just the book itself, but the act of being engaged with a book again. I hope I can keep reading, and maybe write some more again too. I neglected my mind while I tried to repair my broken body, and that was a mistake. I’ll try not to be so dumb anymore.
Image via Drunken Insomniac Writer