Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thoughts while mowing

This post comes from nothing and goes nowhere. Assess your participation accordingly.

I had to mow the lawn late last week. Not because it needed mowing: Really it didn't.

We haven't watered it in a year and a half. All I accomplished was lopping the heads off volunteer wheat that had found sanctuary around the mailbox post, and slicing through some of the tall thick blades representing the last spots of green lawn, growing despite every deprivation.

The most our claptrap push mower can do is gum the grass anyway, so that the trompe l'oleil of shorn lawn is really performed by my feet, shuffling for traction to shove the mower ahead another stride.

I mowed in order to cast off one ritual and take up another, just for a moment, just for a change. This one, at least, gave me cleansing sun.

Life has been ritual and rut lately, habit and order. Obey the dog's summons to wake, turn on computer, start the hot water, let the dog out, have her treat ready, check the computer, pour the dog food, add a dash of hot water she likes, pour the coffee. Sit. Work. Bid good morning to the inhabitants of our home as they pass my office door. If it's Tuesday, I must be doing what I did Monday.

Same ol', same ol.'

So I stumbled into the garage and out into the light instead. To mow. To write. That's where I wrestle with the big snags, the jammed ice of ideas or problems or sentences or sense. Just like you use washing laundry and mopping floors, I use walking the dog and washing dishes and mowing: To disengage the mind for work while the body is distracted with its own pattern of toil.

To the steady strum and ter-packeta-kacketa of the mower, I listened to the thrum in my disengaged head:
What is wrong with me?
What is wrong with me?
What is wrong with me?
What is wrong with me?
What is wrong with me?
I toyed with every emphasis of the words because I was processing a steady diet of the same message lately: Humans are social animals. I've been hearing it more and more, or paying closer and closer attention, from the media I consume steadily — National Public Radio programs, left on all day, and San Francisco Giants broadcasts, which is seasonal fare.

We social creatures gather around a meal and good food, NPR often tells me (and really, is there a worse medium for food and cooking than radio? But NPR plows on). That is the way of us. It's our nature to gather for music, for art.

Come out to the game! the Giants plead between innings. Tickets still available! That's where everyone else will be!

Not me.

I don't think any of those things. Humans are social, I agree, and I'm grateful for that, having been begotten, and having begotten myself. But humans differ widely in their socializing, and I think I'm at the shallow end. So I wonder:
What is wrong with me?
What makes me like that, if any culprit could be found — if any need be? I am comfortable being alone for long stretches, for much of each day. It suits the nonlinear way I work, the flitty way I become curious about one thing and look for answers while abandoning the other thing I was working on at the time. I like to amuse myself with things I find funny but which don't depend on others' humor. I enjoy wrestling myself over thoughts and ideas and philosophies, though I recognize I may not be coming up with the best answers and guidelines in the vacuum of my own bubble.

I love creative collaborations, but the stuff I do lends itself to long periods between cooperative work.
What is wrong with me?
If it's quirk of me to feel more comfortable by myself, it's been part of me a long time. As long as I can remember, I can stay in conversations only for so long before I wander off in my mind, springing off some word I heard in the conversation, and I'm leaping far away toward other ideas until something brings me back.

I stick with conversations when it's about stuff I need to know, or fanciful funny stuff, made up for entertainment solely. After-swim conversations are a lot like that; good example, swim buddy David one day brought up the out-of-the-blue notion of us building a rustic lodge at the boat dock where we usually swim. See? Just utter stupidity: Let's just clear space and start building, gin up some fake-vintage photos of people holding up fish by their gills. Tack up old oars and faded life buoys and do everything possible to make the lodge look like it's been there a while, so that when the state park people eventually come to protest this illegal structure, we can act like it's been there a long while, long enough to be grandfathered into any land use agreement.

We laugh as we alternately add to this absurd scenario, like bricks in a lodge wall.

Coming from nothing and going nowhere: A conversation like that requires one to be present, to build on the nonsense that came before.

Ordinary conversation about the ordinary goings on of an ordinary day? I'm apt to opt out, and soon. People who know me know that.

Some I know have expressed surprise that I can talk so much when I lead tours of the Sacramento Underground, but then I'm playing a character with a concrete story to tell.
What is wrong with me?
This being far less social, is it wrong? Maybe it's not healthy to be solitary too much, maybe better to balance it out among people. If I'm being rude in doing so, I suppose that's bad. The older I get, the ruder I appear, I'm sure, because I'm more likely to seek solitude among people without explaining myself or pretending I like to be in on an ordinary conversation about the day.

I'd like to stick with the conversation, but I really can't.

The media I consume implies solitude or shyness or social awkwardness may be wrong, but I don't take offense. Most people are social creatures, I understand, and the media is casting a wide net to the consumers who are listening and buying.

I don't write this for pity, and certainly not for praise. It is, as they say, what it is. Lord knows atrocities and injustices and really wrong things are going on right now that I could and should express my frustration over instead. I don't really know why I write this post at all, except to follow a trail of thought and see where it goes. You're kind to stick around this long for so much navel gazing.
What is wrong with me?
Our son is with friends right now at a music festival. He loves that stuff. So does our daughter, who likes to attend concerts with her cousins.

The running joke in our family is my obligatory knee-jerk comment, "Why don't you just buy a CD? It's cheaper and you can listen to it over and over?" Which is entirely true and sensible.

But they like what thousands and thousands of others like: The shared experience, people hearing and seeing and smelling the same as you, finding something transcendent.

They can keep it. I can't imagine wanting to be in a crowd at a concert. Maybe it's a phobia. Maybe I'm pulling my curmudgeon card, because I don't crave to be amid so many people. I become uneasy. The same goes for baseball, for as much as I like the old ballgame, I don't necessarily like being taken out to it. Broadcasters, for one thing, do such a wonderful job of telling the story of a game that to be in the stadium is to be disconnected from the game, even if I'm literally right in front of the action.

Plus, few people around are really watching the game, and someone in your section will inevitably exhort all the other bored nonwatchers to start The Wave, an utter abomination of baseball fandom. Yeah, definitely I'm pulling the curmudgeon card.
What is wrong with me?
Maybe I've got it right — or maybe less wrong — and we humans could stand a bit less socializing and more introspection.

Maybe all of us need more balance. One reason I love swimming with others is the balance of aloneness and individual challenge in the water, bookended by conversations about stupid amusing things and tips and shared advice on the swim. And cocoa. Just enough cocoa, just enough conversation and socializing.

Hmmm. So where was I?

I wonder if the grass needs mowing.


  1. You have written my life. Maybe it's how writers are born.

    1. thanks wilhelmine! i had no idea how this might resonate.