Happy New Year, and a Personal Reflection at the Close of My Fourth Decade

Signs on a post off Mountain View Road, rising out of the Anderson Valley, California

Today is the last day of 2016, and my last day in my 30’s.

It feels significant, somehow, turning 40.

Perhaps it’s because my love of history and my long background in collecting, buying and selling vintage goods. They’ve put me in the habit of organizing things into chunks of time: decades, centuries, eras. It’s a useful tool, even if a blunt one, since of course events and styles don’t come into and out of existence based on the turn of a calendar page. But the human mind looks for patterns existent in nature, which leads to the impulse to impose more precise ones on top of those, artificial even as they’re based on natural phenomenon. The calendar year traces the earth’s yearly rotation around the sun, and units of ten reflect the number of fingers we’ve used to count since our infancy.

As I enter my fifth decade of life, I’m looking forward to big changes. It’s been my habit generally to follow my whims, whatever sparked my interest and excited my imagination at the moment, wherever they’ve led, much as the Native Americans of the plains (which I’m reading about now) followed wherever the buffalo herds, fresh water, and new grasses led them. This free-spirit predisposition has given me a varied life, often an exciting one. But my tendency to take the short view has also hampered me in many ways, since pursuing a meaningful career, achieving larger goals, and making enough money to fund them usually demands strategic planning and sacrificing short term needs and desires. And the lack of long term strategy and planning has often severely frustrated my deeper desires for the former. Sometime luck smooths our way and facilitates our talents and passions, such as landing the right job, meeting the people who can help us, inheriting money or having the knack for making it, or hitting upon the right invention or idea which meets the need or captures the imagination of the public. But sometimes, we need to make our own luck in other ways.

I love what I do and pursue my interests as avidly as time allows, but I’ve found myself driven and bothered by a sense of ambition new to me. I suppose I’m one of those late bloomers, at least I hope so. I wish, no, need, to bloom. I’m not satisfied any longer cramming the pursuit of my deepest interests into the scraps of time left to me before and after the hours I’m busy making a living. Don’t get me wrong, I value what I do for a living: I believe I’ve done good, honest work, I’ve learned so much from my jobs, and I’m grateful for the opportunities. But I also believe I can accomplish some things more in line with my particular talents and passions if I impose more and much-needed discipline upon myself, and place myself in situations where I can meet others who share my passion for this kind of learning. I have so much learning to do, knowing only enough to realize I know so little.

So I’ve prepared for my return to academic studies and applied to many grad schools, casting my nets widely and ambitiously, waiting with baited breath to see what comes of it. My education is drawn out and rather piecemeal, but I’m hoping some great institution(s) of learning will do me the honor of finding my body of work, both academic and independent, compelling enough to place their faith in me. The last time I returned to university was one of the richest, most exciting, and most satisfying parts of my life, and I’m looking forward to my next immersion in learning with the greatest excitement.

In the meantime, I’m celebrating the turn of the year and of the next decade of my life quietly on a little camping trip, one of my favorite things to do. I’m feeling reflective so I’m not partying, which I’ve so enjoyed doing for past New Years’. I love carefree conversation, carousing a little, and dancing with my friends. But somehow, this feels like a different sort of occasion.

Happy New Year, my dear friends, family, and all of you who take an interest in my work. I thank you all sincerely, and with much love. I hope this year satisfies the deepest needs and desires of your minds and hearts.

~ Amy Cools

A Mind Like A Dog Endlessly Chasing Its Tail: Confessions of an Obsessive Thinker

I’ve always been a person with a lot of existential anxiety, but in a good way, I think. Ever since childhood, I obsessively think about the things I observe people say and do, about what I see around me, about the beliefs I and other people hold, and so on, and wonder what they mean and what they’re really like outside of my own perception.

I feel this driving urgency to question what I’ve been told, to understand what myself and what other people are really like, what they think, and why they think it (including, especially, our heroes: I want to know their flaws as well as their strengths, otherwise I know what I’m getting is not the full richness of a personality, but a glittering, hollow icon), and what is going on out there that I’m missing out on right now. I’m endlessly curious, and need change and adventure to keep me from becoming miserably restlessness. I like to mix it up, to, and hang out with people who are very different than me, since they present me with new and interesting viewpoints (including disturbing ones!), challenge my assumptions, and broaden my understanding of human nature. I use the dog chasing its tail analogy, in short, because I just can’t seem to stop endlessly evaluating and reevaluating every idea that’s every been in my mind, new or old.

I’m also an obsessive explainer: I find it very difficult to make simple statements of fact or opinion, without fully explaining what I really mean or describing the full set of circumstances surrounding the issue at hand. Although I’ve no doubt the latter is often a source of annoyance for my friends and family (in fact, I’ve been told as much), it’s something I really like about myself. Discovering what this world is like, both within and and without my own mind, is a project that I find endlessly fascinating and fulfilling, and I have no plans to break these habits anytime soon. (I call all of this ‘nerding’.)

But all of this often makes me an uncomfortable companion to have and even, sometimes, a shitty friend. When half your life is an existential crisis and you’re constantly chasing some new ideas around, you end up so scattered that it’s very unlikely you’ll make the decision nearly often enough to sit down and make that phone call, or write that email, or plan that group trip, or invite people over for dinner or a movie or a board game. Which is ridiculous of me, really, because I think that the human race, and its features and products (such as consciousness, and morality, and culture), is the most interesting phenomenon of the whole world! And not just the human race in the abstract: I mean the actual people in my life too. One of these days, I hope to settle down and improve my habits, all you loved ones out there that I neglect, and I am always glad when you’re a good influence on my flibbertigibbet self.

Anyway, I hope I’m reasonably adept at thinking some things through in an intelligent and capable fashion, but not because I’m at all brilliant. If so, I would have come up with some amazing original ideas long before now: the great minds, I’ve often heard, come up with their best ideas before they’re thirty. I’m most definitely nowhere near their league. I’m just hoping that in my case, the constant practice might be fruitful at some point, and in any case, I’ll keep myself busy and amused ’till I die.

One thing I think I’m okay at is explaining, in plain enough language, those complex or obscure ideas that I have managed to wrap my mind around. Another thing I like to do and might not be half bad at sometimes is to put together the disparate things I’ve learned into a larger, coherent picture or narrative, to reconcile or unify those aspects of reality that seem to exist contradictorily. For example, why do human beings, whose evolutionary success is due to highly developed social instincts, so often display such violent tendencies? (Still, like so many others, figuring that one out.)

So that’s what I’ll do: I’ll keep thinking, and thinking, and thinking, but now, since I’ve subjected my thoughts to the discipline of writing them down and sharing them with all of you out there on a regular basis, hopefully, my ideas and scribblings will improve in quality and even, I dare to hope, become useful for something other than my own amusement and satisfaction.