Monday, October 11, 2004

The art of abstraction

I had a distubing realization last night while Darren and I were watching Before Sunrise, in preparation for the release of Before Sunset on DVD within the next few weeks. If you're not familiar with the film - which is sweet and smart, especially as it avoids what could have been some easy movie cliches - it's about a one-night encounter between a young American guy (Ethan Hawke) and a lovely French girl (Julie Delpy). They meet on a train in Europe, start talking and have an immediate connection. He's taking an early flight back to the states from Vienna the next day, and he talks her into getting off the train in Vienna with him so they can continue their conversation.

As the night goes on, they talk about the nature of relationships, the varying flaws in men and women, what influence your childhood has on your life, the importance of truly communicating with another person and all other deep sorts of things. And this is the realization that struck me: In the last few years, I have gotten myself to a state where I am practically incapable of abstract, theoretical thoughts. I prefer to talk, and think, about what is real, what can be quantified.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not too much of one. Darren and I talked about this for a while last night - he said he's noticed that, in long conversations about politics or poverty or any number of "ism"s, I tend to tune out. And I do. It's a long way from my passionate youth, which was full of angry pronouncements on social problems and the forces behind them.

Some of my disengagement, I think, comes from simply growing up a bit and learning that things are rarely as black-and-white as they once appeared. But somewhere in there I also gave myself the impression that everything is so damn complicated, there's no way I could possibly understand all the forces in play, and therefore my opinion on any of these topics is not valid. Tell yourself that long enough, and eventually you stop bothering to form opinions in the first place.

Another factor here, I think, is my career as a journalist, which has led me to focus almost entirely on Facts in recent years. I've written and edited lots of stories about complicated issues, but what they require me to do is listen carefully to the experts' theories, then synthesize them in a clear and engaging way -- not necessarily add to them myself.

In short, I'm out of practice at articulating how my daily experience, or the news in the paper, fits into a larger philosophy or worldview. (This is a stark contrast to Darren, who is constantly thinking about the big picture. Amazing we get along so well - but then, since I'm Detail Girl, we're quite complimentary.) I'm continually envious of people like Leah and Laura, who have the intellectual energy, in both their cases, to think about women's roles and domesticity and work and motherhood in serious, meaningful ways. When I started this blog, I was hoping it would prod me to write about some of those topics - but what I've done instead is write a public diary of sorts.

So, consider yourself warned: In weeks to come, you are likely to be subject to all sorts of Deep Thoughts from me, as I try to get the brain cells responsible for abstract thought firing again. And if that doesn't work, I promise I'll go back to funny stories about Lucy the Giantess.