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Years later I come back to old commitments. Thereís no magic, just discipline, the same challenge repeated every time. Expend the energy. Put in the time. Develop the skill - the capacity only a scratch off ticket, product-wise, not a guarantee. Press on with a head full of echoes, hands coming up out of the water pulling me down, whispers ďshhhh, just relax, join us down here, give in, give upĒ and I want to, to stop pressing on. If thereís a reward itís a kind of tuning and turning off - product rewards are false - but thatís not the point.
Resentments fester in an emotional ecosystem without competitors. This house too small, too full, too empty of privacy and closeness, too much a workplace now, just another conduit for emails, my attachments to the work a ringing in my ears so I canít hear the actual sounds around me. ďWhat, sorry?Ē I think there is a way that thefts of our time can become written into our character, ďhere, take more, I want you to have it.Ē I develop preferences for spending my time on tasks I would prefer not to do, Bartlebyís compulsive attraction and revulsion. Must live better.
I look up book titles, find recommendations for similar books, request stacks of them from the library, enjoying the thought - and later, the reality - of the walk to our local branch, occasionally made with one of my children, their hand in mine, chatting a little, or a lot depending on which child it is. When itís one of the librarians I know their voices on the phone and their masked faces as they bring out the bag or bags of books are a joy - I am known, I am among others, I mean something! At home, stacks of unread books.
I woke up uncomfortable under the blanket of the sweaty season. I canít recall when it arrived, recent enough that itís not been long, hot enough that itís been forever. The temperature and humidity mean I am damp too much of the time and in that fluid grows mildew stenched dysmorphia - would that I were slim, fitter, younger...! I would be not so sweaty, and the sweat more attractive like the young men in movies, and less uncomfortable. It speaks to the limits of my wheezing imagine that the best I can envision is reduced discomfort. Canít wait for winter.
Indulging pretensions above my pay grade I speculate that attentionís a practice of relationship between self and world and simultaneously self and self, best lived unconsciously - self-awareness dissolving into attention to action, object, process - rather than overly reflexive and so tied into knots. Habitually, un-self-consciously attentive, thatís the sweet spot it seems to me, through both self-discipline and community. I was there to some extent for a while with music and fell off, habituated instead into overwork and overworry - against my will, with the result being the development of a bad will in need of overhaul.
Our gardenís sprouted. It happened in about week, just a few good days rain and it got tall enough that the smaller children can disappear into it. The berries are fruiting as well, and the peach treeís nubbed with the promise of a future harvest. I anticipate tomatoes with a thrill. I began reluctantly - my mother laughs to think of me gardening now - and found that now it gives me some of what I need and want, far more satisfying than I expected. There is, I think, something about a sense of it being mine yet also me being its.
List of objects in room: - two shelves and a small library cart, all stuffed with books - monitor for computer, use as a television - crate full of train tracks, serving as well as a small coffee table - a doll, two socks, beat up pair of jeans, childrenís shoes and pair of pants, all detritus from the dayís activities - two orange sheets spread on the couch-bed, coated in more detritus, visible grit; how do we generate so much dust, track in so much of the outdoor worldís filth - two eyes, doubled by glasses into four, which can no longer remain open
I have taken to watching TV before bed while I wash the dishes. It fills the emptiness in my house and mind, an emptiness that if left unfilled my brain will populate with bad memories and threats. Tonight I began watching a show about children at the end of the world. I had the thought that maybe as we grow bigger we see farther because higher up and so shrink in relative terms, seeing the scope of the world and so our own tiny stature by comparison. I am not nostalgic for being smaller but I am for feeling bigger.
Sounds in the room: rattle of the vent as the air conditioner blows, thrum of the compressor, the shush of moving air, flap of paper drawings taped to the wall, small clicks of my fingers on keys, clank of the wooden handle of the pull on the ceiling fan as it taps on the glass bell covering the light bulb, padding pawsteps of a cat across the room, itís small chirp of acknowledgment, chirp of a few early birds outside signaling Iíve been up too late listening to a buzz of thoughts I try to just recognize but not engage.
I made some primitive field recordings of my own on a family trip then later made them into some simple ambient music. I think my interest in this work partly reflects nostalgia for a relationship with nature that was an artifact of the pre-pandemic times when I was a little more carefree and casual. Iíve never been much more than a little of either, I think. One of the transitions I have still not got my head around yet is that at my age and life stage I must plan and not rely on spontaneity for contact with nature.
I worry June is washing away beneath me, so much sand before a tide of bullshit work, lack of focus, and poor planning. Work exacerbates these patterns. Thereís one of those eponymous laws about this - work will expand to take up the time allotted to it. My job forces me to allot time and inefficiently, the metrics having as much to do with the allotting than the output. The result is a kind of going through the motions, hollow actions like puppets on strings, and for so very much time. I hope to get clear so I can a vacation.
Three friends died in the past year. One from COVID-19, the others unrelated reasons. The need to stipulate that is strange but I feel it strongly, not sure why. I guess I donít want to presume a connection to othersí grief, donít want to invite that terrible sort of disconnect where someone else says ďyou and I, weíre alikeĒ only to find that we are not. Forced distance is so lonely. False proximity is even more so. I feel guilty that all three friends I had fallen out of regular touch with. I hope they know I loved them.
I think I am well but I am no longer entirely sure. Hitting the point of reassurance is itself a sign not being exactly optimal, after all, since reassuring is never needed under optimal circumstances. I think I am having situationally appropriate responses to hard circumstances. Iíve cried sometime in the very late finishing the dishes phase of the night, for instance, and when driving to the store for our grocery pickup I find myself gaming out arguments that havenít happen - what if I gave my boss a real piece of mind about it all, kind of thing. Iím fine.
I somehow stumbled my way onto watching a John Cleese video about creativity. He described thought as involving what he calls a closed mode - instrumentally oriented, goal-accomplishing - and an open mode - playful, oriented toward intrinsic goods and flow states. (Iím paraphrasing.) He suggested the point of laughter is to initiate an open mode from out a closed mode. It felt descriptively true to me. Iíve recently had some very moderate success as a writer to a degree I never expected. Itís nice, I like it. But I notice it and notice myself noticing it and itís very closed mode.
My kids and I did a drawing game where we shared pieces of paper with our doodles on them, involving drawing on each othersí papers. I wanted my youngest to have fun and to enjoy it myself so I started drawing versions of her doodles. I invented some silly cartoon characters, which has been fun. One is a creature called an Egg Walker. An Egg Walker is like if Godzilla had long spindly legs like a Daddy Long Legs and his body was a fried egg. Theyíre silly but also they step on drawn cities and lay them to waste.
The airís so humid you could cut slices from it like a loaf of bread. Iíve not been slim for decades - I am still not used to the fact Iím of an age where it makes sense to talk about decades - and Iíve been further fattened by the inactivity that came with parenting and pandemic. My bodyís an engine on high, and insulated, uh, heavily, so these humid days lead to me rapidly becoming soaked, or at least clammy. I suppose this is better than the skin-splitting desert dryness of our winter but I want a truly better better.
Iím just making shit up but roll with it, humor me. Part of my craving and unsuccessful grasping is a sense of absence, specifically a lack of equilibrium. Equilibrium is defined by stability over time. That doesnít rule out motion. I remember taking some boat-based day trip with my great uncle whoíd been a sailor (ďweíll get your sea legs Nathan!Ē). Iím momentarily distracted trying to recall a Minnesota accent - would it be ďoat and a boat in a boat?Ē It bothers me that I canít remember. Iíve lived too long away, subject to movement without pattern, a storm.
Japanese beetles returned to my garden this week, just some advanced scouts for now. In one hand I carry a 32 ounce container, once full of yogurt now full of sudsy water, and in the other a stick, my murder tools. I flick them into water where the dish soap coats the holes through which they breath, and they drown. I hope they donít feel. I donít enjoy the thought of them experiencing death. Yet I do enjoy the fact of killing them, the more dear the better: this garden is MINE. How many have died from that word, ďmine.Ē
All June I have reverberated with echoes of overwork from the fall, the spring, the summer, the fall, the spring. Too much for so long that I worry I wonít feel like myself without too much, like I need to learn to be another person altogether, not merely work less. I am impatient with the ways I still want deep down - not all that deep, really - for my employers to look me in the eye, apologize, and really care. They have automated contempt, treating people terribly without knowing that they do so. A fool, I think ďI could fix them.Ē
The work is itís own reward - the doing, the object for its intrinsic value, the ways the doing and the work open onto and facilitate community, specifically community that feeds back into the doing. That sits just inches yet a world away from credit and reputation - fixing everything in place, turning gold into coins made of spendable lead, offering other rewards some of which are instrumental goods and others intrinsic but a different kind, the kind that diverts - siphons life - from the doing rather than feedback into it. The work is work, exertion challenge. Credit is laziness and self-regard.
Juneís over. I donít know how that happened. I say that at the end of every month. Now that itís finally the end of June itís accurate this once. Ha. A joke as tired as I feel. I donít think I have long covid but I feel like I have its emotional analog. Itís hard to get and stay on track, focus, think, be motivated. Iíve been saying Iím burnt out at work but I think itís more like I lived through an earthquake and came out with a cracked foundation - like Iíve become structurally unsound, too easily swayed now.
I got some music gear and quickly found myself winded climbing the learning curve. I want to focus on spending as much of my learning time as I can in a flow state - if thatís a slower route to master, fine. I want the making to become the accretion of product generated by a doing I dissolve myself into. I can already feel my tastes expanding, letting myself enjoy with less judgment, developing greater capacity to appreciate. I read once that music trains the listener. I like that idea, especially thinking of it as training in meeting the artist halfway.
I had some mild success - and already I canít write straight but only sideways, my words feedback on themselves, a filter self-oscillating; feels arrogant to say I succeeded, and is false modesty, thus more arrogant, to say ďmildĒ? What I mean is Iím a small fish but in my small pond I made some waves. The problem: I live in the pond so when I move the water making waves the waves rebound and the water moves me. I must be a sickly little fish for such small waves to send me tail over gills, but thatís the truth.
Thereís a lot of evidence in my life of me changing and yet I still experience myself as frozen in place and unable to transform, with the changes I undergo understood more as a progression of snap shots frozen in time. ďIím at a new level,Ē I sometimes think, which is still a basically static metaphor. For me this is central to any creative and athletic activity, to start from changes that feel too small to matter and to keep going despite the felt sense of stasis. One key is to not need to feel motion in order to move.
Some gatherings lately, work and extended family. Navigating differences in risk taking/risk aversion while also navigating etiquette is challenging and tiring. I donít remember feeling this worn out by human contact before. I remind myself that it wasnít always like this, wonít always be like this. Time and tide flow wide. The other day I had the thought that itís not clear why thatís cause for hope, because they could also flow widely enough as to open on to new depths of barbarism, the pit being bottomless. Both directions of flow are true I suppose, part of the horror.
I love our garden. Our garden is a practice of love: I put in time through discipline and find joy in doing so and in so doing both lay the groundwork for greater joy later and create the opportunities for lucky moments of grace. The other day my oldest kid and I took a walk and our way back we saw birds swooping down into the tall flowers, perching just long enough to leave the stems swaying then flitting back into the sky. My middle kid and I took a walk around the garden and counted 25 different insect species.
I think my creative life has worked best in community but Iím not ready to talk about that. Secondarily, as an individual outside community, my creative life has worked best when I have a regular practice wherein I reach a flow state and that activity both creates elements of a product and also lets me practice and improve my craft. The flow state is the anchor and reward in important respects. Aside from that, having some deliberate work on craft - lately on guitar Iíve been doing scale runs for speed - and some of the more nervewracking revision and evaluation/submission.
A mentor of mine used to quote someone else - donít look it up, just type - saying ďluck is a residue of design.Ē Thereís the design of personal habits and circumstances - daily life routine, how one spends time and cultivates resources and skills - and the design of relationships and interpersonal contexts. The latter has mattered a lot for me in creating situations where I am, so to speak, pinged by someone who encourages me into creative activity rather than passivity. I have a pet theory that we are our best selves only in community, the self being ultimately a collective project.
I found some new to me but now old punk records by old people yet by what I think of as new and young bands because Iím even older and I took some relative hiatuses from times I prioritized music in my life. Had I found this music when I was still young it would meant the world to me. I still like it but I can feel that I am not someone who urgently needs this particular music in the way I did when I was young. One must be right in the right way and time and place.
I took a few days off and decompressed enough to realize I need more than a few daysí decompression. I need to live more sustainably a long time. This isnít a simple walk it off situation, Iím going to be limping a long while and will need to be deliberate in recovering. Iím not clear yet on what exactly that will mean, I have to figure that out. This level of clarity feels hard won and thereís more clarification pending. At a simple level I want to make things more often, more priority on creative pursuits, less waiting to live.
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