November 17, 2010

What I Want from My Life

A Matter of Definition

For most of my conscious life, I have wanted to know, to pursue ideas, to achieve something significant and lasting, and to write.  All these desires interrelate, weaving together.  Whether any accomplishment actually followed these desires plagues me.  Life satisfies me in its modicum of compromises at far greater measure than imagined in my romantic youth.  I have become bourgeois in habit, a likely good citizen, but not with the original creativity once craved to the point of idiosyncrasy.

Neither do I feel I accomplished much in my 40-year profession in library and information services.  I know I developed my skills and understanding and used them to give pertinent and reliable public service as a reference librarian and library director as well as learning direction and coaching in librarianship when an undergraduate and graduate instructor and professor.  Yet, I always felt myself to be the principal beneficiary of what I experienced and learned.

As a library consultant and grant administrator, I was never in alignment with the prevailing assumptions and practices of my colleagues.  Although I thought I played a pivotal role in the development of library services, I now view that nothing from those days lasts in the way I then envisioned it.

As a result, any hope for success has become a matter of personal satisfaction as though I now return to the romantic idea of egoism that had so captivated me when I was a teenager and college student.  Ideals still command my attention, and if I am to achieve any measure of success, I must to be faithful to them: the best in art, equality in life, learning as our vocation, the work in life of making the ideal into the real.  Thus far in my ideational world, I am not satisfied that I have done my part to further any of these matters.

What remains for me to do in my latter years?  I do not care for wealth, fame, notice or recognition.  I crave conversation that transcends the phatic but find it rare if not impossible.  I seek thinking that is rational, reflective, self-critical and discerning but find it not only rare and self-justifying at best, but a slave to emotion at worst and seemingly smothering amidst the distractions of contemporary life.  I find enjoyment and the reassurance of human competence in the endeavors of my creative forbearers and cumulative heritage of the past in the arts, in philosophy and science, in the expansion of knowledge and the ceaseless quest for it, and in the potentials of the human brain and mind.

Success for me is to make the most of my situation and opportunities according to my highest values.

What in Life Is Most Important?

I want to gain understanding and share it.
I want to do something good, worthwhile, and basic.
I want to leave something lasting at the end of my life.

Ten instances when I felt the most competent, confident, connected, and joyous:
(Dates are approximate.  In areas marked *, I served multiple roles as researcher, consultant, facilitator, author, editor, and publisher.)

  1. 1968 – Development of a methodology for teaching reference services based upon real questions, a core of 100 most frequently useful resources, and the practice of question negotiation to the accurate and efficient satisfaction of the questioner.
  2. 1969 – “Lyman Beecher and the Lane Seminary Controversy,” a research paper submitted in the course on Puritanism in the graduate program on intellectual history at the University of Iowa.
  3. 1980 – Completion of the novel Phaeton Flight, the story of Frederic Hanreid, an information professional, and Prince Henry Cadly (afterwards Henry II) set in early 39th century Loria.
  4. 1984 – Completion of the novel The Rodi.  Vodar (afterwards Vodarodi I) discovers his unique place in the history of the Seidonese people; he becomes in his early twenties the founder of Loria, 3000.
  5. *1988 – Completion of background and issues papers for the Minnesota Governor’s Pre-White House Conference on Library and Information Services.
  6. *1997 – Development of the criteria and application process for awarding Minnesota technology grants to library systems.
  7. *1998 – Development of the Long Range Plan and application process for federal Library Services and Technology Act funds.
  8. *1999 – Development of the document on the recommended approach to and procedures for the establishment of co-located public and school library services.
  9. 2002-2006 – Service as Administrative Assistant to the State Board of the American Association of University Women – Minnesota under two state presidents.
  10. 2007 – Completion of the story “Inheritance.”  Louisa Enders at 13 years travels with her two very different grandmothers and learns her actual ancestry as an American, the same summer WWI begins.  Intended as Chapter 1 of Progress about the life of small town public librarian through the 20th century.

Five people I most admire, and whose traits I would like to have:

  1. William Shakespeare, 1564-1616.  No one is superior to Shakespeare in the revealing poetry of language; even his “minor” plays are major to me.  He never disappoints but grows in esteem with every renewed experience of his work.
  2. Gordon Sween, 1911-1980.  My father, who led a seemingly ordinary life, has become an exemplar for me due to his self-directed learning, rationality, sense of discipline, family loyalty, and exercise of responsibility.
  3. Frederic Bolton, dates unknown.  Dr. Bolton was one of my religion professors at St. Olaf College.  A student of Reinhold Niebuhr at Princeton, Bolton influenced me with his thoughtful and rigorous approach to Christianity and Christian theology while being honestly critical, but kind and encouraging to a youngster struggling to come to grips with the intellectus quarens fidem (understanding seeking faith) issue.
  4. Ursula K. Le Guin, born 1929.  No contemporary author has written so elegantly and meaningfully for me and my interests in as consistent and beautifully articulate a fashion as has Le Guin.  I rejoice that I once heard her in person when she said in reference to The Dispossessed, “I want everyone arguing and discussing over the meaning of what I wrote,” or words to that effect.
  5. Patricia Anne Worringer Sween, born 1939.  Patty continually impresses me with her understanding of other people, her generosity, and her evenness of temper and gracious tact in dealing with all whom she encounters.

Ranking of ten value areas:

At my stage of development, 70 years old this year in a life of reflection considering what lasts and what transpires, value areas do not mean what they meant to me at earlier stages.  I cannot rank them first to last (1 – 10) appropriate to my current stage and for other various reasons; instead, I group them.

A. Faith in a higher power.  This area is by theological definition of ultimate concern, yet faith, being the work of God in us, exists without my wanting, willing, or working for it.  Ranking here perpetuates a falsity.

B. The areas harder to attain are all of equal high importance to me: Fulfilling relationships, individual accomplishments, making a difference in the lives of others, and legacy (understood as leaving some work significant and lasting).

C. The lesser areas cluster to the bottom.
7. Health I seem to have by virtue of inheritance and caution; that is, I am lucky and careful.  I do not obsess over my health and know that I will die, probably after a long time, probably soon.
8. Wealth, since I am comfortable with enough already.
9. Fame I regard as shallow and transitory.
10. Fun I regard as even more shallow and insubstantial in the ultimate scheme of things.

My plans for success in 2010:

I will attend more intentionally to how I spend my time on my primary ambitions.  I will track my time and quantify it in regards to a schedule I currently regard as ideal in order to hold myself more accountable in aiming for greater success than I have had and thereby attain my chosen ends.

My ideal schedule of a 16-hour waking day has the following areas in priority order.  I will try to sleep eight hours out of every 24 even though that is not often the case.

1. Major writing – 4 hours.  This year I will finish the first draft of At Last, I Depart.  In this novel, Lady Frivovla of Allonor grows from an innocent devotion to her sense of duty into a self-directing and successful champion of her own life.  She becomes in time the consort of Vodarodi II King Loria and the progenitor of all the following monarchs for its ensuing thousand-year history.

2. Study/Pre-writing – 3 hours.  This year I will do the work necessary to establish the bases for two controversial equity issues: one is the ministry of same-gender couples in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the other concerns mission-based membership in the American Association of University Women.

3. Reading – 3 hours.  I will read to completion more novels and other books than I finished in 2009.

4. Organization – 2 hours.  I will gain a “house cleaning” and orderly control of my book collection and other files and prepare for the likeliness of moving to a different dwelling and possibly different city.

5. Miscellaneous – 4 hours.  These four hours are the elastic cushion for all the routine and irregular instances of life that one must do or are more difficult to anticipate and control. 

Note: I assume that most weekends and holidays fall outside the ideal schedule since these days are more interruptible because they invite both travel and interaction with others, chiefly family.

Copyright © 2010 by Roger Sween.

I am indebted to Dr. Daniel G. Amen, Magnificent Mind at Any Age (2008), especially chapter 10, “Make Your Own Miracles,” for guidance in thinking through this issue.

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