Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, January 4, 2019
About 1 million years ago, in the early 1960s, in French elementary school, we actually learned to write with dip pens. Plastic pens with nibs you inserted. Purple ink in glass wells. The ubiquitous blotters close at hand. Stained cuticles. And hours upon hours spent copying forms to achieve the kind of handwriting that is virtually nonexistent in the world today, unless you’re contemplating a career in calligraphy. I have written about the terrors of that single-sex 1st grade experience before, which is not my purpose today.
Today, on the verge of yet another new year, which asks us to ponder yet again how we have behaved and how we might behave better in the 365 days ahead, I am thinking about that handwriting. About the varying degrees of pressure needed on the up and downstrokes, the gauging of ink in the nib, the method of dipping correctly for the next set of letters, the time taken to complete a page, let alone a paragraph, let alone a single capital “H,” for example. Inconceivable! (And all this before being allowed to ponder original content at all.)
I am thinking about it in relationship to something posted the other day on a social media platform, the kind of platform that generally asks us to see and assimilate thousands of images, statements, familiar lives, celebrity lives, mostly bad news, fantastically enviable living, geo-targeting of products aimed specifically at us and every other conceivable assault on the emotions — a vortex that draws us further and further away from one thing, which is the reality of the here and now.
This is what I read: “For 15 seconds, let go of any expectations you have of yourself.”
Brilliant! The part of me trained as a pen-dipping, nib-filling, pressure-applying writer of script that is more about appearance than content, however, did not even comprehend the sentence at first except to note that 15 seconds was in the realm of the possible, given today’s particularly busy schedule. You had me at 15 seconds, Instagram post. Well, sort of.
Hmm, 15 seconds? I have 15 seconds. After I do the hard boiled eggs, which is after I at least put the bookkeeping on my list of things to do. Which is after getting photos for the Christmas email, which supersedes the cards that couldn’t get mailed to Europe in time, which has now become a New Year’s email even though it’s short a few images. Why didn’t I take more pictures? There’s a big and painful mystery when it’s literally on my list of things to do every year, just like figuring out how to get exercise into my life every day instead of every other day. What do I do? An app? A consequence? Geez, shaming. Really? Maybe lower that expectation? What about the 3-minute plank workout, proven to work even though it only takes 3 minutes a day. There’s metaphor in core strength, for sure. And, it’s actually easier than 1-minute mountain climbers. Would I do it consistently enough to count, though, that’s the question. Maybe that’s my whole problem — consistency. Discipline! One thing you never hear is that discipline is the hobgoblin of little minds. Just actually sticking to the plan, a realistic but heartfelt plan. A plan driven by the heart and not the head, the head, the head that just gets in the way of all the Zen-koan time. Which is why meditation, now on my list for 35 years, would help. Ugh. That again. Take a conscious breath and engage the vagus nerve. Maybe you have been meditating somehow, some way. In the microseconds, for instance, that you stand and look at birds at the feeder every day, the tiny perfect wings glinting in the sun. You are staring, mesmerized and blank. Maybe you could do that, that sort of thing for 15 seconds every day, pondering without pondering the hermetically sealed beauty of bird world.
From some deep welling place in my heart and with birds in my consciousness, I take what is mine, just as you can take what is yours and we can take what is all of ours to make the world a better place, one present moment at a time. I take 15 seconds to let go of any expectations I have of myself and others. To free myself … into the present moment.
I see the words writing themselves in super slo-mo, the ink fluid, indelible, and in the inscrutable purple script of a 7-year-old striving so hard — without knowing it — to make those words come alive.