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OrdinaryTimes 1.05-MindNumbing

Today I sing the praises of repetitive, mind-numbing work. Not the exacting, mind-filling work occupying so much OrdinaryTime, but the truly trivial but none-the-less necessary labor I’m sometimes fortunate enough to find myself engaged in. Picky weeding. Tedious cleaning. Vegetable prep.

The Good Lord provided vegetables especially for this occupation. The price of preserving 120 pounds of fine plum tomatoes includes the necessity of peeling every blessed one of those babies, and since The Muse and I will feed ourselves with the result, we must be careful to remove only that celluloid skin and the annoying stem bud. Oh, and we’d like to finish this job in a day.

We spend the first couple of hours establishing a rhythm, achieving a workable configuration of pots, bowls, knives, and colanders. The Muse measures the work in twenty-two pound increments, further divided into blanch-able batches. Each batch receives its three minute boiling bath before getting dunked in cold water. Then we pick up the carborundum-honed steel and commence to peeling. We have a few hundred to do.

Peeling tomatoes isn’t an everyday job. Once each year we dust off what skill we’ve retained from our murky memories of every prior time to make a fine and frustrating hash of the first batch. The second goes a bit better, after we adjust the blanching time to better match this year’s fruit. The Muse calculates and schemes while I perfect my peeling technique.

I learn (probably re-learn) early on that tomatoes peel best from bottom to top, which is a counter-intuitive discovery. Since I’m digging out the stem end anyway, it seems logical to start peeling there, too, but this mindful analysis yields a false conclusion. Only after the first few frustrating sink-fulls do I stumble upon this better way. Soon, each tomato surrenders in turn as I become the master in my own mind of this truly trivial task.

I spent most of the rest of the day completely engrossed in this endless koan-quality effort. Beginnings and endings became meaningless, except as lightly punctuated by refilling the sink with newly blanched fruit. The purpose eventually became not to finish the job, for that would demand only that I abandon my newly re-found mastery, but to continue play, ... er, work. Yea, that’s what we set out to do, work.

Except what I anticipated as work, what the neighbors will later stand back in pitying awe of, became play once it had sufficiently numbed my calculating mind. Once becoming play, aside from my aching back, I wanted to continue all day. Nearing the end of the final sink-full, I found my properly numbed mind thinking about how I might get another four boxes of fruit so it could continue the trance tomorrow.

By the end of the ‘chore,’ I felt surprisingly tired. Physically tired. Not as if I’d worked all day, but as if I’d spent those hours in play, one tired little teddy bear dragging home after the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. My mind felt refreshed, cleansed, as if awakening from an extended, enormously satisfying dream.

I didn’t want to wake up. This hyper-active brain of mine rarely stops racing. Perhaps it needs a decent numbing more than it needs another conundrum to consider. The Muse insists that I’m often too much in my head. She encourages me to connect more with my body, but my mind struggles to comply. Give me some trivial and tedious assignment instead, something capable of taking all the considerable horsepower hovering above my shoulder blades out of the game, and my body seems to be fully capable of just taking over. My mind must, I conclude, be properly numbed first.

OrdinaryTimes seem tailor-made for mind numbing. I can safely preserve my clever wit and insightful intuition for all the exacting effort I’m invited to engage in. I’ll savor and sing the praises of mind-numbing even while I’m insisting upon more mindful pursuits for myself.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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