Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beauty Breathes, Day Four: The Perfectly Fine, Not So Bad, Really Sort of Okay Day

Beauty Breathes, Day Four: The Perfectly Fine, Not So Bad, Really Sort of Okay Day

I was tethered to my computer today, juggling all sorts of to-do's and meetings and inventory-ing our stash of rainbow-colored, off-brand Slinkies—you know how it is. I kept remembering that I have this project: I am going to think about beauty in a minute okay notice something I need to notice something shit what am I going to write about where did I leave that proposal right I am doing that beauty thing should I write about the rain I like the rain what about leaves I need that e-mail printed out where did my pen go okay I don't think anyone likes me find something pretty find something touching go. I couldn't slow down, and whenever I did I was immediately distracted by something else.

But I also had sense of flow, of deep, humming concentration, of one thing sliding smoothly into the next. I felt a sense mastery and control over each little challenge. I felt a little, happy excitement upon completing each thing: Bam! I felt focused and competent. I realized that I may be good at my job. Every now and then, I hit a sweet spot, where work is just enough hard enough to keep me interested but not so hard or frustrating that I go from a state of more or less okay to clinically depressed in the course of eight hours. Most of the time it leans more towards the latter, and could possibly, occasionally, have more to do with what goes in my own brain than objective reality, (but I assure you that's really quite rare).

I know that being a multi-tasker has fallen out of favor in recent “how to succeed at the office” trends, but I think I concentrate best when I am juggling lots of activities. I fall into a state of presence, and everything somehow fits together and works. I can see patterns and connections, and ideas occur to me naturally and easily. This is the state of flow I long to be in when I write poetry, although it occurs only about 30% of the time on average, I would guess. It's the state of being I would fall into when I was a massage therapist, and I was completely and somehow effortlessly tuned into state the of my client's physiology, knowing without trying to know, without making an effort to know.

Of course, some of this is about practicing craft so intensely that it becomes natural—you don't have to think about each move; it's just there in your neurons, in your muscle memory. But at it's core, it's about being fully present. I know that this is not a magic trick or a state of grace, that this is something that can be practiced and cultivated. And it's where I prefer to be. Today it was a gimme—I just slipped into it without trying and without actively wishing for it. And it turned out to be a perfectly fine, not so bad, really sort of okay day.


Frank Moraes said...

I am reading The Mind of the Mathematician by Fitzgerald and James. In it, there is a brief discussion of "human calculators"—people who can instantly multiply two ten-digit numbers and similar feats. One such man, when probed about his abilities was quite exasperated. He said, "I just do it. Just as it seems natural to you to formulate a sentence without consulting the rules of grammar or tallying the meaning of each word, I calculate." That's flow. I know that the only thing that stops me from doing such things is me—I'm constantly interrupting myself.

On the bus today, my pack was full from the many stores and libraries I had visited. As a result, I did not have a book out, because all the books were underneath ears of corn, a bottle of heavy cream, bagels, and such. So instead, I had a deck of cards out, and I was doing perfect faro shuffles, one after the other. Eight in a row returns the deck to its starting sequence. Other people bite their nails, I have nothing to explain!

I thought about Beauty Breathes and I looked around. Everything on the bus looked worn, tattered, understandably forgotten—even, sadly for what it says of me, the people. And outside: depressed suburban commerce. Beauty was not breathing. In fact, this project was making me think the world was an awfully ugly place.

Then I looked down at the cards, and the way they mechanically interlace from bottom to top. It reminded me of the hammers on a piano during a glissando. And I thought: that's very pretty.

Pretty is nice.

Dana said...

Kristen, are you chewing slowly? Try that for a few days. I'm serious. I am realizing that I can tell a lot about my overall state by the pace of my chewing and my attitude toward eating. If I feel myself eating too quickly, I ask myself to slow down. It changes things; it makes things shift.