Digging for Creativity
Digging through the remnants of a fire thought long dead, only to find a single ember still glowing underneath a mountain of ash.
Digging for Creativity
Digging through the remnants of a fire thought long dead, only to find a single ember still glowing underneath a mountain of ash.
“What was it about the rice?” you say.
“Ah yes,” I reply, “the rice was what made me realize this entire situation.”
“The situation?” You have been traveling yourself, and haven’t had time to inspect the surroundings. But you have seen your fair share of hotels, and from what you have seen this one bears no special differences from any other mid-tier hotel you have been in before.
“Yes, the situation,” I reply, “Have you not seen the paintings on the walls?” I motion with my head towards the art on the wall, “Do you see anything off there?”
You turn your gaze in the direction of my nod and see two paintings on the wall. “I see nothing special about those paintings except for the fact that they are unexceptional,” you turn back to meet my eyes and in them you can see that you have missed the point. “Well,” you continue, “perhaps if I look again?”
“Yes,” I reply, “take another look and tell me what you see.” I take a sip of my red wine while waiting for your second inspection. After setting my glass down on the table I twirl the thick stem of the hotel glass in my fingers. The wine has no legs, it’s the kind a hotel provides for free at their evening social.
You look back at the two paintings hung on the wall, trying desperately to see what I am trying to lead you towards. The frames are black, cheap bulk industrial frames no doubt. Between the two paintings is a TV that is blaring tonight’s Wheel of Fortune, but that is just a distraction. What could it be about these paintings? And then you see it.
“The matting!” you shout too loud for this lazy hotel lounge.
“Yes, so you’ve seen it too now,” I lean in closer, “why so much on the bottom? It seems intentionally off doesn’t it?”
The paintings are being dragged visually to the floor by an over-abundance of matting. There is the print, and then as much unused matting under the print as the print is high. Perhaps an artistic choice, or perhaps some frame shop’s idea of a joke. In any case, it’s unattractive and looks annoyingly out of place. Once you see it you cannot stop seeing it, the giant white blank spots of matting scream out at viewers from across the room.
“So,” you ask turning back to me, “that’s the situation?” You give me an incredulous smirk, “that’s why you distracted me from my buffet salad?
I have to think now, how to explain the oddness of this place, how to best explain it, and then I remember what first made me realize the ridiculousness of it all. “No,” I say, “it was the rice.”
“The rice. You mentioned that before but I didn’t know what you meant,” you nervously nudge your glass of white wine a millimeter across the table with your finger.
“It was what I noticed before everything else. This buffet we both ate at tonight, they had rice, cream of mushroom soup, Italian-type sandwich-sized bruschetta things, salad fixings, and more. But two people,” I pause to make sure you’re still with me, “two people just had rice,” my voice trails off as I point out that last detail.
“Just rice?” You’re unsure how to respond except by reiterating my last words in the form of a question.
“Yep, a giant bowl of rice and nothing else. Big mounds of it in a bowl. And they just dug right into it like it was perfectly normal. Like it was the best bowl of Cheerios they ever had!” I can see now that you understand and my own voice has risen above the din of the hotel’s makeshift dining room.
You correct my eagerness by continuing softly, “Well, perhaps it was perfectly normal for them?”
“No, I think it was something else,” I say, “I think they just have no clue how to put food together, as in seriously no idea at all. So instead of risking putting the wrong thing in the wrong place, they just ate an entire bowl of rice because it was safer that way.”
“That sounds horrible,” you say.
“It is!” I stop and point at your plate, “Look, you put salad on top of your rice. Right? And I put the broccoli soup on top of my rice. Both perfectly reasonable things to choose. Something any normal human would know to do.”
“Yes,” you say, an unsure frown forming on your lips.
“Neither of us in our wildest dreams would have thought that filling up a large bowl with plain white rice and eating it was a reasonable thing to do!”
“No, clearly not,” you say.
“So why them? Why would they do that?” I ask, “To say nothing of the pool. Have you seen that yet? That’s even worse.”
Upon opening the shower curtain I saw it. At first I assumed it was a piece of lint, or perhaps a torn bit of cloth from a towel. But when it began to move towards me I realized my mistake. Aha! It is A Dot! It was too far away from me to see what kind of Dot, so I cautiously exited the shower and toweled off while keeping a periodic eye on The Dot. After reaching a satisfactory level of dryness I turned my full attention back to The Dot. I stooped over and inspected the creature. The Dot is a Spider Dot.
There is a set of rules I have created between The Dots and myself:
Since The Dot did not surprise me (he was marching across the bathroom in plain sight), it had earned a free trip outside. I informed it of its impending travel plans and told it not to move because I would be back soon to provide transport.
I went off to the kitchen to find a suitable Container, and after a few short seconds found a small plastic Tupperware Container with a matching Lid. Perfect! With Dot Transport Device in hand I returned to the bathroom to find The Dot waiting patiently for me. Still wrapped in my towel I crouched down low over The Dot and set about my work.
Being closer to the dot revealed more about him (I do not know how to tell male Spider Dot from female Spider Dot, but I have decided this is a he, perhaps because he is travelling alone across the empty desert that is my tile floor). He was black, with legs extending perhaps as wide in diameter as a penny. Examining his legs closer I realized a problem. The Dot had four legs on one side, but only two on the other. Spider Dots are supposed to have four legs on each side.
Now I felt bad for The Dot. Somehow he had managed to lose his two front-left legs. For a Spider Dot this must be a major inconvenience, I thought. But he seemed to be walking alright to me, so perhaps my logic was faulty and Spider Dots do not need all their legs as much as I imagined. I continued with my plan to move The Dot into my round Transport Device.
Each Dot is unique in the way they let themselves be ushered. Some Dots seem completely oblivious to the events going around them, they go about their business without a care to what you might be doing just inches away from them. These Dots are the easiest to usher. You just put a Transport Device in front of them and they walk right into (or onto) it. Beetle Dots seem to be in this category. The Dot was not a Beetle Dot.
Other Dots will take a more regulated approach. They will walk up to your transport device and stop just short of it. They will commence an inspection of it, feeling around the edges, perhaps trying to identify the plant that this strange new object is made of. More often than not, after this short inspection is complete, they will march ahead and into (or onto) the Transport Device and put their faith in you to get them to a better locale. Ant Dots seems to be in this category. The Dot was not an Ant Dot.
The Dot was a Spider Dot, and you never know how Spider Dots will react. Sometimes they act like Beetle Dots, and sometimes like Ant Dots, but The Dot acted like neither of those. The Dot approached round my round Transport Device, which was now on its edge in front of The Dot. He inspected it quickly and then brought a leg up onto the rim. He wanted to get in, but could not make the final climb over the rim due to his missing appendages. I used the lid in an attempt to help The Dot (sometimes Dots need a final light encouragement to enter the Transport Device). This worked, but his remaining legs found no purchase, and he slid back onto the tile floor.
I imagined The Dot’s eight eyes (Spider Dots have eight eyes too, did you know that?) looking up at me, annoyed with my choice in Transport Device. I tried again, but this time with the Transport Lid instead of the Transport Container (this Transport Device came in two pieces). This had much the same result – The Dot was able to get onto half of the lid, but when The Lid was raised he slipped off to the tile floor, tumbled once, righted himself, and then resumed his annoyed glare at me.
I had it! The round Transport Bowl needed to be flattened to create more of a ramp for The Dot. I pressed down on the Transport Bowl and created a much better loading zone for The Dot. With some encouragement from The Lid I was able to coax The Dot closer to The Container. Much the same as last time he began with his front-most leg. This he followed with the leg right behind that one (his second right leg if you are having trouble visualizing it). He scrambled with the rest of his legs, nearly over the round edge and almost fully into the container now. He just needed one last push to get in. I brought The Lid behind him and positioned it so it would provide the lifting action that The Dot so desperately needed to get into The Container.
That’s when it happened. I’m not sure exactly how it did. Maybe The Dot was startled by The Lid, or maybe he slipped and fell back to the tile floor. It didn’t matter exactly how it happened, the reality was that he was no longer in a position to be lifted by the approaching lid. Instead he was directly between wall of The Container and the approaching Lid. There was the most faint ‘snap’ sound I have ever heard, and The Dot was no longer spread out like a penny, but instead curled up on himself like a fist.
Spider Dots don’t have muscles like you and me. Instead Spider Dots use hydraulics, like the kind that the big tractors have. Like us, Spider Dots have hearts though, and it is their hearts that provide the pressure to control their legs. Without the pressure of their beating hearts, Spider Dot legs curls up underneath them, just like The Dot did.
I hoped he was pretending, but if I was being true to myself I knew he wasn’t. The Dot was no more. I scooped him into the Container, and lightly placed The Lid on top. Now that he was inside the Transport Device I granted The Dot his trip to The Outside – he had certainly earned it. I placed him in The Planter on my porch which holds the Basil in the summer months. I hope he likes it there.
I don’t know why I remember him but I do. I first noticed him in the produce aisle. There was something about the way he pushed his cart – perhaps slightly unsure of himself. He was old, the kind where you can see all the veins in his wrist, and discolored blotches of skin appeared in random places along his exposed forearm. There was also frizzy, thinning white hair trying to escape from under his baseball hat.
As he picked through peppers I watched him for a few seconds; he would pick one up, study it as best he could with shaking hands and then put it back. He’d select another, look at it inquisitively, and then place that one back on the shelf too. Picking through produce is normal, but the way he did it indicated inexperience in the exercise. After watching for a few seconds I left him to his peppers and continued on to the next item on my list.
Later, I saw him again in the transition between the hair products aisle and the one with paper stuff in it. I probably would not have recognized him again if I hadn’t been so intrigued by his pepper-picking before. I was following behind him as he pushed his cart when he and another woman passed each other going different directions. At the same moment two bottles of shampoo from a supermarket display fell to the floor. The woman was closest to the display, and she picked up one of the bottles and put it back. The old man picked up the second bottle, and with a wide grin as if to say “Ha! Isn’t this a hoot!”, handed it to the lady who was still standing in front of the display case. The lady returned his good-natured smile with a scowl, grabbed the bottle from his hand and put it back on the display. She pushed her cart off in a hurry, and left him standing there with his smile fading. Finally he turned back to his cart and continued on to the juice aisle.
As I watched him turn into his next aisle I felt I understood his story. He was inexperienced at this. Very inexperienced. He had been married for sixty years to a woman he loved. She always did this part while he was away at work. Now she was gone and he was left to fend for himself. What’s a “good pepper” look like? Who knows? He knows they tasted good when she made them, that’s for sure. Now he lives alone in the house they built together, mostly reading his favorite books or maybe watching some TV.
The only time he really gets out and has some human interaction is when he has to do the shopping, and that was the smile I saw when he handed that lady the shampoo bottle from the floor. It was interaction, it was life, it was a chance to strike up a conversation about the weather. Maybe he was about to tell her she looked a little like his wife, at least until she gave him that I’m Too Busy For This Shit snarl. Not then. Nope. She grabbed that bottle from his hand and unknowingly threw something away. He might not have a whole lot left to give the world, but he had a little bit that day, and she didn’t want it.
This is the journal from my experience on the Betty Ann sailboat during a delivery from Annapolis, Maryland to Point Judith, Rhode Island. This would be my first of many trips aboard this fine vessel. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did living (and writing) it!
After reading (or during, whatever your preference), make sure to view the pictures of this trip over at photo.killfly.com! There are also some pictures of a more recent southbound delivery, which are even geotagged, a new feature I was trying out.
Eventually, I’ll get my pictures of yet another northbound delivery, this one from Tampa, Florida to Charlestown, South Carolina. We had a stopover in Key West, which was, obviously, one of the highlights of the trip.
So grab a glass of your favorite beverage, light a fire if it’s cold out, and prepare to go on an adventure with me and the crew of the Betty Ann…
Sunday, May 20th : 8:38 PM
Whew man, long day. Today started at 5:30am in Quonny, RI. I cautiously opened my eyes to reveal a day starting much darker than I’m used to. “What is this daylight savings?”, no, just dawn AM, or the butt crack of morning, whatever you want to call it. No one cares about this part of the trip so I’ll just get right to the point so we can get to the good stuff:
Ok, now we’re getting to some boat talk, after all that’s why you’re reading this right? Let’s back up a little bit to breakfast. We all watched in detached pleasure (pleasure because it wasn’t us) as a sailboat attempted to depart its slip only to realize that the turn was too tight, and they weren’t ready for the wind that was going to blow them down towards the pier wall. I bet the wish they had a bow thruster (we do, ha ha ha). After watching the mini-drama unfold we took our first crew-vote on what to do today. There were two options:
We all chose option 2, let’s go sail!
Rowing into the fog, steady and sure, a captain steers his boat. To attempt such a thing, they said, would be crazy. The boat is too small, and the distance too long. Yet standing on the shore, they watch him leave.
Expressionless and stern, the rowboat captain dips the oars into the water and takes another stroke. He pulls hard and the boat rushes forward, gladly accepting the captain’s direction. Friends forever, the boat and man’s trust in each other is complete. One would never fail the other.
The shore is gone; enclosed in a shroud of fog they continue their journey.
“Trust is important.” The captain says to the boat. The boat agrees and accepts another pull of the oars. In fog there is no time, only gray suspense, and the sound of your motion.
A shore appears ahead, a black smudge in the gray. It becomes a beach and the captain takes the boat there. The beach is sand, not stone.
“This is better.” The captain says to the boat. The boat agrees and lets itself be pulled up onto the sand which feels better than the rocks of their old beach. The captain walks away and the rowboat waits for his return, it waits for their next journey into the fog.
A recent conversation at a coffee shop caused me to start thinking about religion, specifically mine. I’ve never been an ultra religious person, but sometimes you can’t avoid being asked the question. I ended up writing the text below at around 3 in the morning in order to answer the question more thoroughly for myself. And for anyone else who is interested….obviously.
“So Andrew, what about you?” John asked.
“I guess I would have to say agnostic.” Andrew replied.
Discussions on religion, like politics, are ones I tend to do my best to stay out of, partly because of their ability to so quickly divide a group. I realize that submitting a typed document on the subject is directly opposed to that behavior, but my answer has been bothering me and I think it needs clarification. Since I tend to write better than I speak, this seems like a good way to submit that clarification.
As I spoke aloud my original answer to John’s question, I felt like I lost standing in John’s eyes, and possibly Jane’s as well. This is certainly what bothers me about my response most, enough so that I had to get up out of bed and work out this explanation. I definitely feel like the answer I gave was incomplete, and that I need to fill in the gaps.
A better, but still incomplete answer to John’s question would have been to reply that I’m a non-practicing Congregationalist (Protestant). This is how someone else at the table responded to the question, although for a different faith. Basically, Congregationalism has as a defining characteristic no select Priesthood; the Ministers and Deacons are “leaders in a community of equals” 1. This is the religion I was taught and baptized as a child; I just haven’t been to the church in a while except for the occasional wedding or funeral, thankfully more of the former than the latter. In fact, as is obvious from the footnote above, I had to do some research just to make sure I had the correct definition of Congregationalist.
In order to begin my search for more information, I first need to see exactly what it is I said in my original answer to John’s question. My first stop was a few Google searches, the first of which led me to a page defining agnostic as:
An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. Or, if not impossible, at least impossible at the present time. 2
I agree with those two sentences. Actually, after reading that entire page it turns out that I agree with a lot of what is said. However, that’s just one person’s view on agnostic beliefs.
I suppose that’s what bothered me a little about my original answer, the fact that I was compelled to place beliefs after agnostic in that last sentence. Also, agnostic seems to carry with it a negative connotation, which is why I felt like I had lost some standing in both John and Jane’s eyes. Being labeled agnostic by my own answer to a question, I begin to feel constrained already by the limits of a definition.
One day I took one of those “See what religion you should be” tests. One of the religions that came to the top of the list was Buddhism. Another Google search led me to the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order web site where they offer a definition of Buddhism as:
Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to Insight into the true nature of life. Buddhist practices such as meditation are means of changing oneself in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom. 3
Another definition I can agree with. Who can deny that awareness, kindness and wisdom are things that we should strive for? However, I again run into the same problem of feeling constrained by the boundaries of one particular system. Why should we have to force ourselves into one definition when most religions contain things we believe anyway? I have a feeling I could probably continue this exercise of investigating different religions and find that I agree with a lot of what is said, but there may always be a few things here and there that make me take pause.
I suppose the conclusion I’m starting to arrive at is that I have no answer for the question “What is your religion?” because I shy away from anything labeled as such. I definitely have a personal set of beliefs and principles that I try to follow to the best of my ability, but I cannot say that they all belong to one religion. So the real answer to John’s question is that I have no answer, and yes, I realize that that’s a lousy answer.