Over the holidays I had a chance to read Gibson's new novel, The Peripheral. I won't discuss the book itself, but instead want to pause over one word. What I enjoy so much about Gibson's style is that his unit of thought is so often the single word, and moving through his sentences demands frequent stops and care.

At one point Netherton is talking to Flynne, and says the following about 'the future' and Ash's disposition toward it:

Ash makes an avocation of not liking it.

At which point I had to put the book down and spend some time thinking over that word, avocation. And indeed, this is precisely what it asks of us, that we withdraw from what we are doing, that we allow ourselves to be called away, diverting our thought and action, and inviting us to go in a different direction, if only temporarily.

Remind me the last time you encountered the word? I can't remember having done so. Google tends to agree, its use is slipping both on- and offline.

I spent some time thinking over why that might be. In truth a similar fate is also befalling vocation.

In both cases, one needs to be listening for the call; one has to be ready to be summoned, and willing to accept the invitation that vocatio makes. The slow decline in use makes me wonder what we are listening to instead, such that we no longer hear it. Have we simply ceased to listen?

For myself, the sense of a vocation and (numerous) avocations is central to my identity. I believe that teaching chose me, and not the other way around. At the heart of how I teach is the readiness to be called in new directions, and thus that that I continue to learn, that I, on the one hand, allow myself to be focused, but not closed off what else may come. The people I know that are most interesting all seem to have an avocation, and I am often attracted to their disciplined approach to living in intentional ways.

Gibson has done important work bringing this word back to us, and we would all do well to listen to what it has to say.

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