I spent the weekend at a conference for historians, and as I walked away from the conference hotel to catch the shuttle to the airport, I found myself thinking about the processes involved in this thoroughly enjoyable social and intellectual activity.
Most people with experiences of languages other than their first have a passing familiarity with the concept of immersion. We learn best how to speak a new language through immersion in a context in which we have the opportunity to speak that language consistently for a period of time.
Conferences offer a similar kind of immersion experience with reference to the “languages” of professional life. Since I attend a variety of conferences associated with higher education, it often takes me a bit of time to adjust to the cultural context of any particular context. Visits with family involve a similar immersion process; this time with reference to personal relationships.
One of the things I like best about myself is my ability to adjust to these kinds of immersion experiences. I think I did particularly well this summer when my mother’s needs led my to my unintentionally long stay in Texas. One of the things I think I could most improve is my ability to be so fully immersed in my own life. Finding an ideal level of such immersion is a recurring theme for me.
With conferences, extraction tends to come around the time I’m beginning to feel well immersed. These professional events tend to last only a few days, with the advantage that one tends to leave them wanting more. With family, especially now that I have reached the age when care for an aging parent has become more of a constant in my life, extraction tends to be more fraught.
Perhaps my experiences with conferences over the past twenty years will help me learn how better to manage both the process of extraction and the re-centering that is the ideal next stage. Centering has always been an issue for me, in part I think because I tend to engage so fully when I am immersed in a particular context.
In any context other than my own life, that is. I haven’t yet managed to achieve the kind of re-centering that I would hope for in the wake of my father’s death just over a year ago. I know that these things take time. And I am frustrated that the world expects a rapidity of adjustment quite out of proportion to the impact that loss of a parent and family restructuring actually require.
One of my goals at the moment is to experiment with the immersion, extraction, re-centering process over the next year. This meshes with associated goals about full engagement in my own life in order to use my limited time on this planet in fulfilling ways, as well as ones aimed at increasing my ability to focus on tasks in various sectors of my life so as to assure for myself the best, most well-rounded experience to look back on twenty years from now.