Walking To Work

This morning it was raining gently outside. Seems as though everyone is complaining about it. I shrugged. For whatever reason the rain isn't bothering me. Our basement is dry. I had no picnic planned. My umbrella and raincoat keep me dry enough. I pulled the door behind me and walked from home toward my new job, thirteen minutes up the road. Yeah, I've timed it.

Walking to work is a change for me. Until yesterday I drove nearly twenty minutes to school on the highway. It wasn't bad and was an improvement on the hour-long commute I had before that. I'd put on music or podcast or ride in silence, but it wasn't fun. It's no fun to commute to where I was going, but even riding home I felt blah about it.

This morning, though I was tired, I didn't feel blah. Even if I had felt blah, the walk seems to change things. The exertion, slight as it is, feels good. My mind wanders or turns off in a way that would be too dangerous in traffic but is fine on the sidewalk. I feel the commute from toes up to my head and it feels good.

There are books about walking and writing, the connection between the two. Maybe this daily walk will rub off on my writing (as I suppose it has here). I felt almost as if my feet and legs were writing on the short walk this morning. I'm just not sure yet how to read what they've set down.

When the workday ended, I packed my things and pulled the bag over my shoulder. The weather had cleared. I stuffed the rain coat in the bag, pulled the umbrella down from the hook, walked downstairs, and headed out into the world. I found myself smiling as my legs carried me one step at a time back toward home. My mind and heart had already arrived where they need to go.

Clear Behind, Work Ahead

I got a message that an old email account of mine had been used to send spam. Well, that's disconcerting. It's an account through an organization I'm still part of but I no longer use that address. I logged in, changed the password, then looked through what had been sent. Russian spam, God love those little bastards. Scrolling past those I saw messages from the past showing all the ways in which I used to be logged into the web. It got me working.

Years ago I had accounts on so many things I can no longer remember a tenth of them. Many of the sites are defunct or have been largely forgotten. One, of which I was an early subscriber, had a couple million members then but gets fewer than a thousand hits today. I still have the account. Finding all this was like that moment when the closet is so full it won't shut. I started clearing, removing the breached email account from my online presence, learning what trails I have left behind.

The process is tedious but I don't mind tedious sometimes. It reminds me of a summer I rooted out the grape vine in our backyard, cutting, digging, clipping, pulling, ripping, and carrying brush to the curb. That summer I needed a project. I sweat and swore at it for hours at a time over a week or two and when it was done I smiled. Two years later the whole thing was back as if I had done nothing because there's no getting rid of grape vine without lethal doses of roundup or napalm. I'll never clean up my online presence either. The roots go too deep and have spread. Still, it's a useful exercise.

For some reason the work got me down. The hacked account, when I first created it, was going to be my way forward, my way out of a job I'm still in. It was to connect me with bigger, better things. It did that, but I got involved with idiocy and foolishness which became a total mess and near disaster. These kept me from doing my best work, from believing in myself, and from making good choices. Cleaning out the old online roots could have felt empowering as if I was starting anew but I felt depressed over mistakes I made, opportunities I missed, and the feeling that I won't ever get where I want to go. A couple hours into pruning and pulling internet roots, I took my depression to bed and sleep. I dreamed of being lost in a house the size of a shopping mall filled with people I don't want to know. I kept trying to get away but was called back again, again, and again while the lights in the mall/house grew dimmer and darker.

It snowed hard that night and I woke to eight inches of heavy snow in the driveway and on the sidewalks. I made coffee, took that and my pen to the nook to write Morning Pages, and found myself having an idea for the future. I wrote it on a post-it noteand finished Morning Pages. The idea still percolating, I pulled on boots, coat, gloves, and wool hat, walked out to the garage, pushed the button for the door, and grabbed the shovel. Before the door had opened all the way I dug into the snow and counted "one." It was nine degrees with a stiff wind and snow still falling. "Two," I counted as I threw the next shovel of snow up and over the wall.

I imagined a clear driveway but it takes a lot of shoveling and the snow was still coming. One hundred strokes in I had a section cleared to the blacktop. "But there's so much to go," I thought and began figuring how many shovels of snow it would all take. I stopped halfway through the figuring and looked back at the area I had cleared. It was already well dusted with snow. "I will never be done," I said in a Charlie Brown voice. A thought came to me and when I said again, "I will never be done," the tone was different. I've cleared snow out of that driveway for eighteen years. I pushed the shovel in and threw snow up over the wall. "One hundred one," I said into the wind and snow. "One hundred two," I said throwing another.

It took 941 shovels-full to clear the driveway and all the sidewalks. I took a break to pet the big black dog who is the neighborhood mayor and speak to his owner. I took another to say good morning to my wife and our smaller black dog as they went for a walk/run. I took several short breaks to recall my father clearing snow when I was a child and checking on me clearing snow from the parking lot of his funeral home when I was in school. I imagined him in the driveway, me telling him to just talk and not worry about helping me shovel. I kept counting each full shovel of snow as I shifted it up onto the banks.

When I finished the sidewalks I put the shovel on the wall of the garage and took down the scraper. An inch of new snow lay where I had begun shoveling an hour before. I scraped back down to blacktop then stood in the open garage to consider what I had done.

The snow was coming down and would cover the driveway and sidewalks. In two hours I would shovel again but the snow would be lighter than the overnight accumulation. "I will never be done," I said again looking up into the infinite grey.

This spring the grapevine will come back. I may rip it out again. I could use that kind of project, something long-term, difficult, and with no hope of being completely finished.

I may try to clean up my online profile some more, deleting old accounts, unsubscribing from more and more clutter. There will remain fragments of me out there and every so often some cretin will hack in and spam people. That's just one way in which the world works.

Looking over my shoulder I see the stuff of my past: mistakes, projects that didn't work out as I hoped, the continuing misery of my job. But I also see that I clear down to the blacktop in places, make piles of brush at the curb, and delet some of the detritus of my online past. I nod twice at that view over my shoulder, turn around, dig the shovel in and resume counting as I push on through whatever comes down, clearing a wide path to wherever it is I'm going.

Spiritual Life & Creative Work

“Writing is like putting together Ikea furniture.
There’s a right way to do it, but nobody knows what it is.”

Paulette Perhach, author of Welcome To The Writier’s Life
qtd in How to Finally Write Your Nonfiction Book

Most every morning I take a few minutes to meditate and read from Daily Doses Of Wisdom. It helps me calm and see a bigger picture. I'm trying to learn to accept and let go. Good thing I'm working at it most every day. I have a lot to learn.

Today's dose from Mary Jo Meadow's and Kevin Culligan's book Christian Insight Meditation intrigued me:

Let us look at spiritual life as many spiritual giants have portrayed it. At the beginning, the work is mostly ours. We must do our part or nothing else will happen. In the middle, increasing purity is both God's and our work together. In the end, God will do it all. Twentieth-century Vedantic mystic Sri Aurobindo added that, in the very, very end, we realize it was God all along.

I like that movement even if I'm not a religious person. It begins with my choice, becomes the work and me, and maybe at the very, very end I'll realize that it was the work all along and I was a willing instrument of it.

Writing is like that. It first requires the choosing. People say I could write a book about that but don't pick up the pen. Even with pen in hand and paper at the ready, we must choose not just to want to write but to actually do the work. Deciding to do something isn't worth much until I get deep into it, preferably weeks and months in. Only then do I know I've really decided instead of just wishing it were so. Writing begins with the choosing.

After we've chosen writing, there's a long period of tension that can be difficult. We pull and push against the work which pulls and pushes back. The work goes well or disastrously without our understanding of how to engineer things so the good outweighs the bad. It feels difficult if not impossible. Many times it feels as if instead of God working together with us some demon keeps us from good writing.

This is when persistence and perhaps faith come into play. We come back to the page again and again. We keep going. And we hold onto faith both in the writing and in ourselves.

I'm still in this middle land, feeling those tensions, but I've had flashes, brief moments of the feeling that may become a realization at the very, very end. There are those moments when the work takes over and I dissolve before it. The words come to the page not out of thin air but through me, a nearly frictionless conduit. It's as if I'm pulled along by the words. Call it writer's high or God working through me. Whatever its name, I think of it as the work, my personal savior.

Letting go and accepting apply to writing as much to meditating. Creation is an act requiring more than just diligence and sweat. There must be a willingness to let something work through us and an acceptance that the most creative act may be deciding to get out of the way of something that just might be a miracle.