Monday, August 23, 2010

Slow Walking Insights

On August 9th I had outpatient surgery to correct a hammertoe on my right foot.  In November of last year I had the right great toe (the big toe) amputated and the development of the hammertoe in the second toe is not unheard of, as the remaining toes are working pretty hard to compensate for the loss of the great toe.  The hammer toe developed over the course of two months or so. The surgery seems to have gone well.  It isn’t perfect, but it is a lot better than it used to be.  I’m also not a person who really expects any sort of perfection, so I am fine with that.

For the first two weeks after the surgery I wore a post-op shoe, as the swelling subsided and each subsequent visit to the doctor’s office resulted in a smaller, more comfortable bandage. After the last visit to the doctor I switched from the post-op shoe to a comfortable pair of Columbia sport sandals.  If I’d have been thinking I probably would have made the switch earlier, since the sport sandal and post-op shoe are essentially the same design – a sole with straps. The sport sandal even extends beyond the edge of the foot to about the same distance as the post-op shoe did.  Most importantly, it is a lot more comfortable.  I was telling people that wearing one running shoe and the post-op shoe was a lot like wearing a running shoe and a flip-flop. With the sport sandal the level of foot support and the height of the sole is about the same.

Anyway, as a result of the surgery I’ve been walking slowly.  I think, in general, I move around at about a third of the pace of everyone else.  It has given me a strange perspective on the world and an interesting set of insights into my friends and acquaintances. Here are some of the things that I have observed and thought about.

First, when you walk slowly, you really see a different world.  It is like I am walking in an alternate universe.  I work in a fairly big building and the restroom is about fifty yards from my desk.  Besides having to give myself plenty of lead time (there is no jumping up and dashing to the bathroom), I’ve become very aware of how bland the hallway is.  It is possible to become bored just walking down the hallway because it takes a long time and there is, generally, nothing to look at on the journey.

Second, the most dangerous part of having a foot injury is the people who try to help you without announcing their intention.  They reach out to steady you when they think you’re unsteady (and almost knock you over by pulling or pushing you off balance).  They suddenly jump in front of you to open a door (catching you off guard and throwing you off stride as you approach the door).  They “hover” by walking very close to you, with the best of intentions, but effectively throwing you off stride because they are crowing you.

Third, you can pretty much divide the world into people who are paying attention and people who aren’t paying attention.  Quite often I’ve been in a store or restaurant and the help (the host or hostess, a floor clerk) with turn and take off, not noticing that you’re not following them at anywhere near the same rate of speed. I’ve had hosts/hostesses in restaurants dash all the way through the restaurant, arrive at the table and look around with a bewildered gaze when they realize not only am I not behind them, I am not anywhere close to behind them.  I’ve had clerks in stores do the same thing.  The people who are paying attention do the little things like walk slowly, or seat you at a nearby table, or offer to pick an item up for you if it is clear across the store.  It has just been an interesting experience.

Fourth, you can also divide the world into people who ask and people who don’t ask. Then, you can divide the people who ask into those who express sympathy and words of encouragement and those who will insist on telling you some vaguely related horror story along the lines of - Oh yes, my Uncle had that surgery and then as he was limping around he was mauled by a pit bull who bit off the toe on his other foot.

Walking slow though, I have spent a lot of time studying the mechanics of walking, which are pretty fascinating.  I’ve also spent a lot of time watching other people walking (usually as they are zooming past me in either direction).  I’ve also just spent a lot of time…watching.  I am an addicted people watcher anyway, so limping slowly through crowds or finding someplace to sit and watch has always been fascinating to me anyways.

The slow walking can be frustrating, especially here, later in the healing process, when I want to do things. I’ve pretty much had the ongoing process of simplifying my surrounds on hold, tackling only a few very minor things, because it does require the ability to walk – if for no other reason than to take out the trash. However, I do feel that I am approaching the point where I can start doing some minor movements, much as I was when healing from the earlier amputation. Over the weekend I organized my movie collection and moved in from a pair of metal racks into a single bookcase and arranged it in alphabetical order.

But, I counter-act the frustrations of slow walking by focusing on Zen walking – that is, being as entirely in the moment and act of walking as I can be.  That is kind of an interesting experience as well.  I have a follow-up Doctors appointment on Wednesday, for a check and possible removal of the stitches along the top of the toe, and they may remove the temporary pin sometime next week, which I am definitely hoping for.  The approaching Labor Day weekend holds one of my favorite festivals – the Pleasanton Highland Games, and I am going to hate to have to cancel out of it if I am still in the sandal.  But, it is important to focus down on it and remember that healing is always more important.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Return To The Floating World

I was thinking about writing today. I’ve been suffering from some form of writers block for the last several months. I am able to write, but it is small bits and pieces of things. It has been pretty rare that I have managed to write anything of any substance or size. I have stories that I am inclined to tell. I have thoughts, ideas, observations and little journeys of imagination that are the basic building blocks of story-telling. But they are not reaching the page. They are not becoming full blown stories.

I seem to be mostly content just watching. Perhaps I’ve got too many things on my mind. Lord knows it has been a busy, and not always a good busy, year. Lord knows that the year has flown by. I’ve expressed a near continuous desire to slow time down. But, then things will happen that do slow time down…and I still don’t write. Maybe it is a time in my life when I should just be observing. Maybe it is a time for watching, listening, feeling, smelling, and tasting. I don’t know the answer to that question – but I do know I want to be writing. So I call it writers block without any real hesitation.

I know assorted tricks to overcome writers block. I have been writing long enough that I’ve encountered writers block before – in some cases far more profound writers block then this. But there is usually a reason for it that I can put my finger on. There is usually some visible obstacle that I can surmount or circumvent. Right now, there really isn’t. Not any external block anyway. There is just a space between the imagination and the paper.

Part of me knows that what I really need to do is just sit down and start filling that space with words. Part of me knows that the best way to get through writers block is to just simply start writing. Write anything. Write everything. Eventually the good stories manage to find their way through. Eventually the words return and the stories start to spill out onto the paper. I am hoping to find that balance point soon.

I’ve got two thoughts about how to move past this writers block. First, I’ve been contemplating staring a new online journal. Rod’s Floating World has a certain history, a certain weight to it. I started it at one point in my life and it was sort of a catch-all through a certain time. However, I am not in that time-space any more. I’ve moved out of it. Life has altered in the small and subtle ways that it does and those alterations seemed to pull me away from that place.

But then it dawns on me that any online journal is just a place. It is an empty piece of paper. What is in the journal has nothing to do with the dimensions of the journal itself. An online journal is like an empty bowl. The usefulness comes from its emptiness. It’s not about the bowl, but rather about what you put into the bowl. Lately, it seems I have been filling it with breakfast cereal. Not that there is anything wrong with breakfast cereal, but it’s not a meal. As a writer I’ve been hungry for a meal for a while now.

Today I reached the decision that I was not going to let “Rod’s Floating World” slip away from me. It’s a beautiful little place and it has a certain history to it. I sometimes like looking back at previous years, especially on sort of a month to month to month comparison. It’s cool to see the rhythms of life played out there. Even though the rhythm of this life has changed, I want to keep playing out that rhythm here, in this wonderful little bowl that is “Rod’s Floating World”.

Additionally, I am spinning up two other online journals. After some careful self-examination over the last couple of months and a bit of a trial run, I’ve decided that one of the things that will help me write my way forward is to focus my writing around themes. “Rod’s Floating World” is going to be my place to write about, well, the Floating World (1). “A Blue Bowl” is my place to write about my ongoing journey toward minimalism and a life of simplicity. “Chain of Words” is a place for my original poetry and short fiction, some of which is of an explicit and adult nature.

Somewhere along this journey I lost the core of the “Floating World” and it became a catch-all, a sort of back water where all kinds of flotsam and jetsam was washing ashore. I’d kind of like to write my way back over to the heart of it. Part of this journey that I am on right now is the journey toward simplicity and minimalism that I mentioned above. One of the internal drivers of that journey is the desire to once again move in the core of this life, to once again find the core of this floating world.

A few months ago, in a conversation T.R. and I were discussing the journey toward simplicity and she made the comment that one of the things she would like to see me try is to also try and make that journey in my writing. I’ve also thought about that intermittently ever since she commented on it. I think that part of the reason I lost the ability to write is that what I was writing became cluttered and once cluttered it lost its core. Inside that core is what I love about writing.

Creative writing, whether you write poetry or fiction or creative non-fiction, is one of the most intimate things that one human being can do. It is a level of intimacy that some people just cannot attain. It requires a certain fearlessness and courage. I look back on some of the things I’ve written over the years and the level of intimacy captured inside the writing astounds me. It is that intimacy in writing that reaches our emotional core. It is that intimacy that makes the great poets like Pablo Neruda, Frank O’Hara, and Ted Hughes so emotionally powerful. They write with an intimacy that reaches off the page and pulls you into a tight embrace, pulls you right through space and time into that perfect moment they captured. When I can touch the palest shadow of that intimacy with my own writing I feel transformed. Not only am I transformed, my world is transformed. My soul is on fire and I am fully within the floating world.

(1)Ukiyo or “The Floating World

“Usually the word “Ukiyo” is literally translated as “floating world” in English, referring to a conception of a evanescent world, impermanence, fleeting beauty and a realm of entertainments (kabuki, courtesans, geishas) divorced from the responsibilities of the mundane, everyday world.

The contemporary novelist Asai Ryoi, in his Ukiyo Monogatari (Tales of the Floating World, 1661) provides some insight into the concept of the floating world:

…Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves just floating, floating….refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current; this is what we call the floating world…””

“Ukiyo-e”,, Last Updated March 31, 2010,

Tall Dreams

Last night I dreamed that I was very tall, over six foot four, so tall that I had to significantly duck every time I enter a room. I followed that dream up with some very ordinary processing dreams.
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Work Dreams

Last night I dreamed I was trying to confirm the content and location of a work meeting. It wasn't so much an anxiety dream as it was a processing dream. I woke this morning with a simple prayer for the patience to make it through a work day. With my healing foot the pace of the day must, of necessity, be slow-slow-slow.
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Lecture Hall

I dreamed that I was teaching a class on behalf of another professor. In order to get to the assigned lecture hall I had to lead the students through a warren of classrooms, offices, stairwells and ladders. It was a complete maze but I knew exactly where I was going because of experience. The dream was not about the lecture, but rather about the journey to the lecture hall.
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

I Dream of Baseball

I dreamed I was playing baseball, in left field. There were two runners on (second and third) and the batter hit a hot fast ground ball. It squirted past the third baseman and I moved to intercept it when it hit a rock of some sort and shot straight up into the air (definitely a bad bounce). I had to charge up on it, catch it as it fell and then try and throw the runner out, which I could not do (due to those few precious seconds lost to the bad bounce). The runner on second advanced to third and the runner on third scored, ending the game.
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Friday, August 13, 2010

Road Trips and Crime

Two dreams last night. In the first I dreamed that I was on a long road trip driving across some arid and empty terrain. In the second I dreamed that I was reading the paper only to come across a story that someone I knew was a victim of a brutal beating.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Dream I Work In An Electronics Store

Last night I had a very involved and detailed dream about working in an electronics store (similar to Best Buy).  I am not entirely sure what I did in the store, but I seemed to be in some sort of supervisory position. I was wandering around and talking to people. (Wandering around and talking to people is one of the key components of good management in “The Book of Rod”.)  I was having an enjoyable day at work in the dream.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I Dream of a Nail

A very active dream life last night. The main dream I remember on waking is that I was making my way off the back patio of a cajun bar and I stepped on a nail that penetrated my right foot. Friday I had surgery on my right foot to correct a hammer toe, so I am sure the two are related, though I am not exactly sure how cajuns got involved. I then dreamed I was returning to a strangely familiar motel.
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Two Dream Fragments

I woke with the memory of two dream fragments. First, I dreamed of the actor "William Powell" (as Nick Charles in "The Thin Man" - Then, I dreamed of a young girl with a basket of fallen flowers, which she was giving to people and in one case put three autumn flowers into a hatband. There was no unifying narrative, just dream fragments.
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Monday, August 2, 2010

Chris Achilleos Dreams

A restless night of tossing and turning. I dreamed that I was in some sort of great hall, more of a civic rather than religious building, and the entire ceiling, which was a series of domes, was done in the style of Chris Achilleos.
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Last Sunday of Vacation

It is a foggy dawn on the last Sunday of vacation. I was woken this morning by a passionate and emotional discussion by a pair of young adults on the sidewalk outside of the apartment complex - one of the drawbacks of condensed urban living and summer nights spent with the windows open.

I recalled a pair of dreams. The first was nostalgic and involved memories of playing on a tractor as a child and pretending it was a spaceship. In the second dream I was some sort of criminal and was captured twice due to carelessness on my part (trusting the wrong person) and was able escape both time by taking bold advantage of the carelessness of other people.

All in all it has been a good vacation - I can't say I am excited about going back to work, but I can say that I am ready. At some point today I may log in and take a look at what I am sure is going to be a massive email queue. (But even as I type that I realize the odds of it happening are pretty small!)

I think the day will be spent mostly in lazy pursuits and in preparing for the return to the cycles of the working world with its peculiar sense of rhythm. A morning shower, breakfast, and then a load or two of laundry seem like an appropriate start.
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