Intellectual humility

Someone mentioned in passing that I should go for a run to break my writers’ block (18 days and counting) – so I did, after a LONG time. I lasted barely thirty minutes and felt pain in parts of my body that I’d forgotten existed, but it was still ten minutes longer than I typically last against against A.S. in a game of badminton and I was happy. In fact, I would’ve gone on for longer if my supposedly 4G connection hadn’t outlived its promise and paused in the middle of a gripping Radiolab episode about addictions. It was a bummer.

It was my first time listening to Radiolab even though dozens of (I don’t have so many) friends have been recommending it for a few a years now. I’m usually dismissive of the ability of any production, no matter its provenance or the credentials of its producers, to excite me. This has become so as much of research as it has of the creative nonfiction I once used to enjoy reading. My senses have become dulled and my appreciation, extremely reserved.

A new research paper? It takes less than a minute to be able to say if it’s actually exciting, exciting in the way incremental developments are or if it’s simply hype. A new feature article? A quick skim followed by a few seconds to recall the author’s previous work as well as the publication’s preferences is all I need to guess how it will conclude – and I’m usually right. Hell, it wouldn’t be amiss to say my disappointments reach into the compositions of sentences and stories: every device and technique seems rehashed, every agent’s visage immediately cracks open to reveal all its inspirations. This isn’t bragging; it’s a lament. I’ve lost the ability to be surprised and I don’t like it. It affects my own ability to craft suspense in the article and blog posts I write. It feeds my cynicism of the world.

Even Tamil cinema – which I particularly cherish for its often goofy plots and goofier characterisations – has failed. The last straw was Pichaikkaran (2016), which took so fecund a premise and trampled upon it. It feels as if nothing can surprise me anymore. T.M. had once used a phrase in a different context, but I think it applies here: I’ve lost all intellectual humility. And I’ve replaced it with an addiction to my own comprehension, wisdom and judgment. I often sit in one place and think myself into a well of darkness.

I’m not sure what could be to blame; my own depression comes first to mind but I don’t think it deserves to take the fall on this one. It’s probably the news I consume day in and day out, the confidence it feeds me about how the world will behave, how the world’s constituents will behave, tomorrow and in all the days after. It’s probably my job as an editor, to spot mistakes in the pieces I edit and figure out the best ways to fix them. It’s probably my lifestyle, most days spent mostly indoors, with my laptop, hacking WordPress and Ghost, figuring out VPSs. It’s most probably me, with my quest for imperfections and my newly inculcated worldview that celebrates their discovery.

All that I’ve said thus far is the background against which I’m evaluating my 30-minute stumble of a jog, and I’m quite pleased. My writers’ block is clearly broken. I’m hoping that, in the coming days, the thing to defeat my intellectual boastfulness – which had spread to physical exercise as well – will work against and break my lethargy. Somehow, I had never considered my physical body to be among those imperfections I was picking out – but even now I’m not sure if that’s the way to go either, and this is where I’m hoping Radiolab will help. The episode I’d chosen at random was quite splendid (The Fix). I can’t wait to hear how it will end, tomorrow evening at 5 pm.

Featured image credit: djedj/pixabay.