There are a few things I will be focusing on in 2010. I am happy in my home life and my work life, and I am getting back into a pattern of exercise that is starting to feel good again. So my hope is that I can attend to other things without screwing any of that up.
I've been thinking about Fun, as I wrote a little while ago. I'd like to have More Fun in 2010. I realized that I haven't quite learned what is fun for me at this stage of my life -- there are things I used to love doing, and some of them I might want to do more of, but some of them don't sound like fun right now (e.g. gathering a ton of friends to meet out at a bar, or come over to play games). Those don't sound awful, but they aren't necessarily the best way for me to have fun at this stage of life. On Christmas Eve some friends and I walked to the pond in the park in the center of town and went ice skating, and then came home for an afternoon of cooking and hot cider. That was fun. I think I can have more fun by taking more excursions, planning more adventures, participating in more pranks. I think it's kind of fun to play cards with people. When I sat down and thought about fun I thought about a few categories of fun: there's solo fun, couple fun, and fun with friends. I think that in the late 30s "fun with friends" changes, so noticing how and when the different opportunities for fun show up will be something I pay more attention to this year. "Couple fun" is tricky, too -- there's lots of contentment in cooking together and curling up with our books or a video, but that's not quite what I mean by "fun." Ice skating, swing dancing, and walking a few blocks to see the Red Claws play: those seem like good bits of fun we can add, and I think paying more attention will yield more ideas. And then there's solo fun. It was really easy for me to identify what is fun for me by myself. I like to take the dogs on rambly walks. But the thing that immediately jumps out as the most fun thing I can spend my time doing is going to be the biggest focus of 2010: The Brain.
The Year of the Brain (Comic Book). What is really, really fun for me is to learn about the brain. And the funnest way for me to learn something is to draw cartoons about the concepts and how they relate to one another. When I thought about how I might have more fun the obvious answer was to spend the year learning as much as I can about the brain -- specifically, cognition and decision-making, and the systematic flaws or limitations that seem to be part of the way we process information and make meaning out of it. What I care a lot about is how people make sense of the world and how they can make better decisions -- that's why I like the job I'm in right now, and that's what I am curious about when I read the books I read. I am not sure if what I need is psychology or neuroscience or philosophy -- I've been checking books out of all three areas of the library. When I'm further along on this project I think I'll have some better ideas about which field I'm most specifically interested in, but for now there's a lot of reading and drawing I need to do just to start asking the right questions. I don't know or care right now whether anyone will ever want to read my comic book about how to use your brain better, but I know that learning enough to figure out what goes in it, and drawing the pictures to tell whatever story I've arrived at, will be the most fun I can have by myself. I'm cheating by starting early, gobbling up lectures on DVD by a Vanderbilt neuroscientist. Actually, I started on this years ago, in 1994 when I first read The Moral Animal. But 2010 is the year I'm going to do it in a more specific, focused way. (Want to see some pictures of what I'm talking about? Here you go.)
It's also going to be the Year of Using My Power For Good. I hope it won't be the only year of that. I spend a lot of time doing volunteer work of one sort or another, and I've been thinking about that, just as I've been thinking about Fun. I want that time to be more meaningful than it has been so far. I have a law degree, and a license to practice, so I've been going to the district court about once a month to help people get protection from abuse orders. I'm not sure it's the best way for me to help, although I do think that, mostly, I've helped make something hard a little tiny bit easier for some people. That feels good, but it's not as good as it could be if I were doing something slightly different with my time. I have some ideas that might be a better use of my time and my brain and my law license, but I'm not quite sure how to make those things work yet. I'm also on the board of a nonprofit that I started, with my dad, a long time ago. I've been doing a lot to help that organization, but I'm still not sure I'm doing enough, or doing the right sorts of things. Finally, at work, I think mostly what I do is useful, and if I can do it well I am helping some people who need it. But I think there are ways I'm not using all of my power -- that sounds groovy, but I don't want to get more specific just yet. I'm trying to think about how to be a better advocate for my students in particular, and for people looking for jobs more generally. There are some charlatans out there, ready to prey on the confusion and insecurity of people who aren't sure whether or how they will get hired. I don't like those folks very much, and I'm trying to figure out what my role in that landscape should be. So this idea has a couple of components. One is "Use My Power" -- by which I mean, the things that I do especially well, that are different than what other people offer, that make me feel fulfilled when I exercise them. And the other is "For Good," by which I mean, well, to help the world in some way that feels meaningful. I'm not sure what the scope of that kind of contribution should be. Something that makes me different from you is that I seem to be blindedly devoted to individuals. I can't think about groups or populations, at least not while retaining any passion or sense of purpose. I'm not very capable of abstraction, even though I'm reasonably smart, and can fake being logical and rational pretty well if necessary. I care about individuals, not groups. I haven't figured out how to be efficient and effective and to make as broad a contribution as possible when that seems to be my mindset.
I need to sit down and review 2009, so we can all set our expectations about these goals appropriately low. I didn't cure Crohn's disease, or read all of Shakespeare, or even do a very good job planning my reading. But I have more to say about all of that, so I'll write that down in the next couple of days.