#WrightNews 18-24 Sep 2023
Noticing the body and mind
I’m bringing the weekly newsletter back. Writing an off-the-cuff summary of how the week has gone is helpful for me, and it’s one of the few ways I can guarantee that I’ll actually publish something. See, the problem isn’t writing — I do loads of it. It’s finishing. And that’s not a case of procrastination, but rather a sense that the more I write, the less I know. I’m trying to develop a more regular publishing rhythm, with my Substack as a weekly newsletter, and alexdavidwright.com for smaller, more focussed pieces that are parts of much larger wholes.
The narrative of this week has been dominated by health. I threw my lower back out at the start of the month, and I’ve been off work most of this week with what my GP worried was appendicitis, but which turned out to be some sort of infection. I’m fine now, but there were a few days of intense, searing abdominal pain that crushed most of the life out of the week. I also had to spend the week unmedicated due to a series of delays to my Vyvanse prescription, meaning it was doubly hard to get any real writing or thinking done.
The week wasn’t a write-off, though — they never are, really. This week has made me reflect on my physical health. Fortunately, my pills showed up the other day, so I’ve been able to think clearly again. I’ve noticed — and this is mid-thirties for you — that my body doesn’t bounce back so easily. It’s slower, creakier. My spine sounds like a bag of marbles being dropped. It boots up like an old Windows laptop, with a whirr and a whine and a shrug. Since my daughter was born, I’ve neglected my physical systems, relative to how I used to be. I used to be able to run at marathon level; now, a jog around the (hilly) park makes my lungs ache — and that’s just while I’m lacing up and stretching. I’m not a glutton, but I seem now to be mostly carbohydrate.
I’ve used the Apple Fitness+ app for a while, mostly for yoga, which is a form of exercise I’ve managed to stick at in some form for about a year, though I’m not as consistent as I’d like. There’s a new feature: it will make you a fitness plan. Just tell it what exercise you want, on what days, and for how long, and it’ll make you a plan. I’ve opted for 30 mins three times a week. My phone pinged this morning to remind me that I’ve got 10 mins of core and 20 of yoga later. I’m quite looking forward to it.
I want to move more because I want my body to feel good. There is no substitute for it. This closer attention to my body and health is part of a wider recent trend in my thinking. I am more aware of what I’m paying attention to, and more readily ask myself whether I want to be paying attention to that thing. (I discuss this more here.) I’ve noticed that I get frustrated with my creative pursuits, such as playing the guitar and drawing — I think it’s because I’m not really getting better. And I’m not getting better because I’m not really paying attention, which means I’m not spending my time intentionally. Next week, I’m going to try to deliberately get better at one guitar skill. In fact, I’ve started making myself a small menu of things I might like to do. Here’s this week’s:
I haven’t even touched some of this — blame abdo-agony and ADHD, perhaps — but now I look back at it, I did do some of it. It’s about finding the sweet spot between freedom and constraint. I’m probably going to keep it the same for next week.
Such thinking has influenced my teaching, too. The opening lesson for each of my classes this academic year saw three words displayed as the class entered:
They feed into each other. A baseline level of respect for what’s in front of you requires you to give it your attention — your full attention. And only then can you be properly curious about it. And your curiosity feeds your respect — the more you are curious, the more receptive you become to the experiences of others. It means that my lessons have become simpler: most of my lessons involve students doing two things.
Asking good questions about the things they’ve noticed.
There’s a cycle here: the questions yield more things to notice, which are in turn questioned. Some lessons, I just ask the students to write down questions that they don’t answer. I want them to be curious, but curiosity is a skill, which means it has to be practiced. If students can ask their own questions, they are on the path to independence and self-determination.
The more I ask my students to notice things, the more I find that I do. I realised that when I was struggling to write earlier this week that there were other things far more worthy of my attention anyway. While I’ve got writing projects I’m working on, and I aim to be more intentional with what I create, I’m also (ostensibly paradoxically) care far less. I’m going to have fun. And I’m going to reserve my fullest time and attention for those I love. My daughter is four next month, and I want to hold her in my gaze as often as I can, while I can.