Thursday, January 19, 2012

Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Shakespeare is brilliant.  Let me explain… no there is too much let me sum up.  The title of this post is a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and is generally considered to be a nice proverb that makes lots of sense.   It is and it does but lets look at it in context.  There’s more there.

“My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
What day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time;
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief. Your noble son is mad. . . .”
- Polonius, Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 86–92

Yes the quote is a lovely idea but in this context Polonius is being anything but brief in his simple task of telling the King and Queen that their son is mad.   Brevity is the soul of wit but in real life, or Shakespeare for that matter, things are more complicated.  Take Peace Corps for example.  Yes this post is still about Peace Corps.   There is something brilliant about the brevity of our services here.  Two years isn’t very much time in the great scheme of things and in a way that ensures that this remains an experience rather than just a job.  Its long enough to dig in and get our hands dirty but short enough that we still have to work quickly and value each holiday, birthday, rainy season, etc… 

Now about that getting our hands dirty thing.  My hands are filthy.   Yes in the end I’ll be able to look back on my service with cathartic nostalgia, mixed with inspirational quotes, remembering forever that short time I lived in West Africa.   In the thick of it though, much like Hamlet, I’m not quite sure what to do and I’m going a little mad… or I’m faking madness to avenge my father… that’s probably not likely though.  I mean for me not Hamlet, but that’s beside the point.  Anyways, I had a dream the other day, and by the other day I mean 6 weeks ago because that’s how often I blog lately, that my service was over and I had to find a way to adjust back to America.  I was terrified, I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t feel like I did enough, and I had no idea how to relate to my own country.  Thanks brain… Gotta love those moments when subconscious thoughts and fears are so blatantly easy to interpret.  Yes these are my thoughts and fears as of late.  I’m trying to set up the rest of my service, write grants, start projects, hang out with friends before they leave, and right in the thick of it have a Family Vacation!

My Mother, Father, Brother and Girlfriend just came for a whirlwind 12-day family vacation to Senegal.  How can you sum up Senegal in 12 days?  In spite of the obvious answer you can’t, I think we did a pretty good job.  There was pick pocketing and culture clash, sheep eating and dancing, gift giving and gratitude, and finally towards the end even some rest and relaxation at the beach.  12 days of every emotion under the sun and the inevitable bitterness of fresh separation once again.  Brevity is the soul of wit.  This trip really was brief, and it was book ended on my side by a lot of work.  It’s almost like it never even happened.  It provided some much needed perspective though and fresh eyes to remind me why all of this is so important.  We can get pretty cynical about helping people here so its nice to have guests come in and remind us that the village standard of living really is bad and they do need help.  The finer points of development theory are important but we can’t get so bogged down in them that we sabotage our potential to actually do the work.  Speaking of work, this vacation also showed me that even after all of my worrying about putting work aside and not getting things done, nothing bad really happened and all my projects are still there right where I left them.  We need vacations, not just to recharge but to break up the stream of events in our lives.  I talk a lot about narratives, did I ever mention that I’m an actor, and in the course of narratives the action can’t just go up and on in one direction forever.  There is an overall arc to my service and that will be what I remember in the end, but for now while I’m living it I need those little wins, those little rises and falls, climaxes and denouements.  It’s what makes the day to day bearable. 

Not that the day to day is ever that bad really.  I recently finished watching Band of Brothers and was reminded how easy my life is.  No one is trying to kill me, I have plenty of food, and ultimately I have control over my life and can leave whenever I want.  Perspective.  Sorry this post has been a long time coming so there are lots of random thoughts I’m trying to work in.  Compared to life in America things here are difficult, compared to wartime it’s easy.  Apples and Oranges really but these things are important to remember when trying to make up excuses to be unhappy. 

After the family left I went straight to the 2012 West African All Volunteer Conference for Peace Corps Volunteers and was given even more perspective.  This was held in Thies and I presented on two projects, rope pumps and mangrove reforestation.  I also had the pleasure of watching several other presentations, which got me thinking about new projects that I could be doing but for which, in reality, I have hardly the time to think.  Yes I’m trying to set up the end of my service and yet I still have no idea what I’m doing or on what I should really be focusing my time.  The only thing for certain is that there isn’t much time: Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief. Your noble son is mad. . . .  But at least I’m enthusiastically mad.  Back to village my friends…