Intellectually Flabby

If you don’t exercise enough, you get out-of-shape (i.e., flabby). I feel a bit like that’s been happening with me intellectually. It’s not that I do nothing; it’s just that I don’t have all that many deadlines, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the last while away from my own research. I have been thinking, but it’s been about other things.

I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten lazy; as well, I’m super easily distracted and content to do little for longer periods of time. The following description that I found on Alan Jacobs’s blog, text patterns, resonates with me:

these days

Tom Bisell, from his book Extra Lives, an extended defense of the art of the video game and the value of spending large chunks of your life playing them:

Once upon a time, I wrote in the morning, jogged in the late afternoon, and spent most of my evenings reading. Once upon a time, I wrote off as unproductive those days in which I had managed to put down “only” a thousand words. Once upon a time, I played video games almost exclusively with friends. Once upon a time, I did occasionally binge on games, but these binges rarely had less than fortnight between them. Once upon a time, I was, more or less, content.

“Once upon a time” refers to relatively recent years (2001-2006) during which I wrote several books and published more than fifty pieces of magazine journalism and criticism — a total output of, give or take, 4,500 manuscript pages. I rarely felt very disciplined during this half decade, though I realize this admission invites accusations of disingenuousness or, failing that, a savage and justified beating. Obviously, I was disciplined. These days, however, I am lucky if I finish reading one book every fortnight. These days, I have read from start to finish exactly two works of fiction — excepting those I was not also reviewing — in the last year. These days, I play video games in the morning, play video games in the afternoon, and spend my evenings playing video games. These days, I still manage to write, but the times I am able to do so for more than three sustained hours have the temporal periodicity of comets with near-Earth trajectories.

I remember writing paper after paper while working on my master’s degree(s) in the United States; it wasn’t always easy nor were they always of the highest quality but I was ‘in shape’ to do that. And I worry about fossilizing, about not moving forward in my knowledge. I don’t think that’s happening (except perhaps with my dutch knowledge), but it’s enough of a concern that I’m looking for some extra exercise (intellectually) this summer.
A variation of this post was originally posted at “so this fits how?

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