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Flexing the Brain Muscle

Today I got off work around 2:30 in the afternoon for my break between shifts. As I waited at the bar for my cash out, I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting there. We ended up chatting for a half an hour about politics and religion (yes, in a bar!) — but not the way you think.

You see, we spent a half an hour discussing the ways people approach these things through their own respective biases. Our conversation rarely showed any red or blue, crosses or crescents, or any other indication of our own views. We discussed the way people think about politics based on their own religions. How the inherent irony in works like The Terminator and my current read Robopocalypse manifests itself — like how the technology we have all come to rely on so fully eventually turns against us and thinks for itself.

We discussed books, and how his favorite six-book collection of Winston Churchill’s recollections of the Second World War is loved in part because of the coffee stains on some of the pages. We discussed quantum physics and string theory and how physicists sometimes consult philosophers as they reach their arms toward the upper echelons of the universe’s mysteries.

I realized something profound as I left my restaurant to spend my couple hours at Starbucks blogging and reading.

I miss learning. I miss my brain.

I miss learning languages and struggling to meet each threshold of understanding. I miss conversations like the one I had today, where two or more minds just talk about life and history and science and evolution and faith and religion and all those subjects. I miss the stimulation of being surrounded by others who push my mind in new directions, who force me to analyze and evaluate instead of regurgitate and accept.

I don’t have any funny quips or bits of wisdom to offer. Only a yearning to find that kind of camaraderie again. I have so many interests, from microbiology to art to String Theory to philosophy. Language. Not just my own.

As I walked in the discordant warm December rain, I found my life wanting. I love my husband. I love our home. But I think if you were to ask him, he’d say something is missing as well. Neither of our careers are where we want them right now, and though I can usually get through a day or a week or a month chugging away paying my dues, today reared its head to show me that change is coming soon, and soon indeed.

This isn’t to say I’m foretelling my imminent success as an urban fantasist. This is not even to say I’m foretelling my imminent piddling attempt at urban fantasy. What I am saying is that no matter what my writing career holds in terms of the c-word (career), something must change soon.

Whether it means I go back to university and hire a Caterpillar to dig me into another mountain of debt to get my Ph.D or start building a freelance career in non-fiction isn’t the issue. One of those things will probably happen.

About the future I know three things:

1. I want to move to Scotland and raise a family with my husband.

2. I will write no matter what I do to pay the bills.

3. If I am to have a long-term career, it must be an intellectually stimulating one.

Those are evident in my every day life. While I have the occasional enlightening moment with my tables as I wait on them, it doesn’t change the fact that Sunday when a guest was looking for me to order dessert, she couldn’t so much as describe me by my fiery red hair. To most of the people I serve on a daily basis, I am faceless. Nameless as soon as they walk out the door. No amount of cooing over their babies will change that for many of them. As much as I love the regulars who do treat me like a worthwhile person, I know this isn’t my place forever.

And so I find myself today contemplating the future and what it might hold.  I know I’m getting close to something big, but I feel that it lies just around the bend in the mountainside. It’s coming, and I don’t know what it is.

If I were to be run off the road on the way home, what would I regret?

I would feel like I was being a bit wasted where I am. I can do more than waiting tables, I know I can. This is not to be down on people who do this for a living — I chose this job. It didn’t choose me. There are aspects I enjoy, but ultimately this job does not challenge me.

I would feel like I got stuck somewhere that wasn’t the end goal. I would wonder why I didn’t try just a little bit harder to do what I want to do with this life.

Could I die today and be content? No. I couldn’t. There would be that something missing.

In one area of my life I am fulfilled, and that is love. I could not ask for a better family, a better husband, or better and truer friends than the ones I have. In this one area, I know that I am content.

But the others need some work.

I will close with a quote from one of my all-time favorite authors, a man who helped me discover epic fantasy and showed me that it doesn’t have to be high prose full of doom and gloom — that you could build a fantastical world full of humor and laughter and real people who eat and sometimes discuss bathroom breaks. David Eddings passed away two and a half years ago, shamefully outside my notice. His passing did not make headlines that reached my eyes. I thought of him just the other day and wondered how he was getting on. The question got answered much by accident.

This man will not be forgotten, and I will ensure that his words endure, if only in a tiny library owned by a redhead writer.

This is what I was talking about earlier when I suggested most aspiring fantasists will lose heart fairly early on. I was in my mid-teens when I discovered that I was a writer. Notice that I didn’t say “wanted to be a writer.” “Want” has almost nothing to do with it. It’s either there or it isn’t. If you happen to be one, you’re stuck with it. You’ll write whether you get paid for it or not. You won’t be able to help yourself. When it’s going well, it’s like reaching up into heaven and pulling down fire. It’s better than any dope you can buy. When it’s not going well, it’s much like giving birth to a baby elephant.

-David Eddings, from The Rivan Codex

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