Rendered Fat Content


Unknown Artist(s): Busts of Bodhisattvas
[from Mogao Cave 321,
Dunhuang, Gansu province, East Asia, China]
(Tang dynasty, 618-907)

"It's always something."

I first negotiate with myself. The scaffolding always seems impossibly high, higher than it actually stands. It looks modest enough when standing beneath it, but climb up onto the second tier and a primal fear leaks into me. I gaze at that top tier from there and cannot quite imagine myself transported up there. It seems flimsy, however securely assembled. It seems too narrow. There are no railings up there, just a wall face and soffit, not quite six feet above it. I stand transfixed as if any option other than upward existed. I favor my good knee then, pretending that the other hadn't been wounded from too much penitent kneeling on rough concrete and scaffolding. I finally nudge myself upward, having lost or won the negotiating, depending upon how I judge the outcome. In that moment, I feel as though I've lost, but I was burning precious daylight and needed to just get on with the proceedings, wherever they might be leading me. I feel as though I've entered the famed Valley of the Shadow of Death then, and I'm proceeding. Another painting day's begun.

If I could live with myself, I would run in some other direction, but I made myself a promise and I intend to deliver on it, Hell or High Water, maybe both.
It was a modest promise as promises go, and I know I'm being overly dramatic as I engage. Still, I know for sure if not for certain that I must remain focused. A single split second of inattention could rewrite the ending of this passionate performance. I must be careful up there and keep track of my feet, check two or three times before stepping and above all stay focused. No daydreaming. No listening to any audio books. Up top, I'm betting the bundle that I will not tumble off.

Still, there's such a state as over focused, a place where slightly too much of the world becomes extraneous and therefore dangerous. It seems necessary if sometimes impossible to maintain both sublime focus as well as a fuzzy one, to somehow manage to be both extremely into something as well as meta to it. This might prove impossible in practice and only be somewhat possible as an intention. When extremely tightly focused, it seems I must then also retain the resolve to remember the context within which I've so narrowly imagined myself. To lose that thread, a seemingly unimportant philosophical one, might well forfeit the purpose, for nothing in this world or any other exists as separate as tight focus seems to produce. There's always, always, always context surrounding.

Few cues exist to insist upon anyone's maintaining this parallel orthogonal focus. Wake-up calls intrude in lieu of any other regulating force. A friend, working as a chef, once dropped a slotted spoon into a deep fat fryer during a hectic lunch rush, and reached in after it as a purely instinctive response, the sort common to extreme focus. He was not burned! Not ever singed, but he had woken up as a result. He never repeated that performance which carried not an ounce of intention. He was merely too tightly focused, and while the resulting flow state might well be praised for its contribution to production, it carries some non-zero price. I, priming the soffit shortly after negotiating myself up to the top plank and even courageously standing up tall with no railing at all, was so focused upon what I was doing that I didn't notice in that moment a pleasing coolness on the top of my head. Later, after I'd finished and went to brush my hair out of my eyes, I noticed the hair on the top of my head had stiffened and felt like one of those beehive hairdos common to women in my youth. I had not shoved my hand into a deep fat frier, but I apparently hadn't noticed myself PaintingMyHead.

I'm freshly chastised. I finished my painting without incident and after finishing found yet another reason to maintain caution when mounting that scaffolding. It's never enough to just stay focused. I must also find ways to stay unfocused upon the particulars, too. It's a seduction to believe that everything's just about tightly focusing, that discipline defines success. Other players inhabit that stage as well, bit players, atmosphere actors which aren't so much noticed as sensed. Some part of my awareness should rightly stand beside whatever I'm focused upon and remain vigilant. It's funny when I catch myself PaintingMyHead, but also, perhaps a little dangerous. I might be making more of this life lesson than The Gods intended me to learn, but this fresh awareness seems an especially important Reconning this morning. It's always something.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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