Thursday, May 28, 2015

Empty Mind: A Survival Strategy for the Overly Imaginative

In 1980 I took the Greyhound bus from Eugene, Oregon, to Washington, DC. Straight shot, no layovers, just three days of incarceration. On the very first day, the guy in the seat next to me offered me a hit of speed.

"Why?" I asked. "Are we going to have to take turns driving this thing?"

With nothing to do for the next three days but sit in a bus seat and look out the window, read, talk with fellow passengers and gradually get more greasy, why would anyone want to crank themselves up? Hallucinogens I could see. Maybe. But you run the risk of wanting to get interactive with your imaginary friends. The most complicated thing any of us had to do was get back on the bus after a coffee stop and not blow our transfers in Salt Lake City and Chicago.

With no duties to perform, we found ways to amuse ourselves. But eventually it was the middle of the third night somewhere in Pennsylvania and I was standing in the aisle, reaching out cruciform to hang from the luggage racks, my self-entertaining fantasies exhausted, my body incapable of remaining seated. I needed emptiness.

My day job demands more from me than mere stillness on a bus ride, but there are some crucial similarities. I have to stay until the journey is complete. Misbehavior could get me thrown off. And too much energy or imagination just make it harder to endure.

Yesterday I went in feeling empty from the start. With my employer's volatility, interaction with him is like trying to have a backyard barbecue in a minefield. The mines are few and widely spaced, but they're out there, trust me. He doesn't follow most of the twists and turns of my imagination anyway. Big G does, but the company can't afford to have us both on duty at the same time anymore. We intersect on Saturdays, and some Fridays and Sundays. But really, what's the point of wasting a lot of energy and imagination at work? It's not like I get to do anything with it. Instead of cheering me up, it's just bringing me down. Empty it.

The emptiness does not mean I bring any less attention to the work itself. It means that I dismiss anything that does not relate to the task in front of me. Anything that is not on my work stand is not my business.

I'd gotten so that I talked to myself constantly. It's a harmless habit that I continue on my bike rides and at home. But at work it's a gateway to too much thinking. And too much thinking just causes trouble. There's a time and place for that. Just not at work. Beyond my work stand I need to ignore anything but an actual fire breaking out.

Emptiness is not suppression. Thoughts occur. You let them go. Suppression takes effort. Emptiness saves effort. Silence saves effort.

Yesterday was easy. I felt a little sick from the stress of returning there after the monumental ass-reaming I had received on Saturday. I could focus on that to make my posture small. I moved slowly because I really couldn't move any faster. I kept my eyes down. I spoke only when spoken to or when I needed to cover the front while The Boss ate his lunch at the Bayview Cafe -- our name for the desk in the workshop, with what used to be a nice view of the water. The trees have filled back in after our clandestine pruning, so mostly all you see are people in our back parking lot. But we still call it the Bayview in sentimental remembrance of better days.

At lunch I sat at the Bayview only because my original plan to sit in the dusk of the back room, to avoid mental stimulation, would probably have provoked another big scene because I was not behaving "normally." But I did not look out the window, because I did into want to think about anything I might see out there: cars left idling, otherwise nice people sucking cancer sticks, the usual crap. I turned the chair toward the room and looked at the floor. It was a mess I could accept more easily than the mess of the outside world. My emptiness is fragile. Perhaps -- with time -- the empty eggshell will grow thicker around the vacant center.

I started to lose the lyrical drift around 3 in the afternoon. I needed to think a bit more about not thinking. The weather gave me a bit of a hand, because I could use it as an excuse to bolt about 15 minutes early to beat a line of thunderstorms bearing down on us.

Depending on whether I am furloughed again this Sunday, yesterday was the first of five or four days under the new approach. Breathe. Release. Relinquish. Be alive on your own time.

No comments: