Vagneur: Plenty of time for introspection
Those idyllic high school days were really the ones; those memorable stretches when we vociferously proclaimed our freedom from conformity, grasped at every opportunity to be different and swore that no cage of morality, manners or established routine could ever inhibit us from being our true, creative selves.
Naturally, we gyrated through this dance of emancipation while we all pretty much looked alike, from the shoes we wore, the way we turned up the sleeves on our shirts to the way we combed our hair. Think back to the early snowboarders, all screaming about nonconformity and independence while at the same time all looking alike. The predictability of youth is sometimes staggering.
We find comfort in a guaranteed amount of orthodoxy, in a practice that is predictable, for it gives a certain amount of direction to our day, from the first cup of coffee in the morning to the last preparation for bed at night. There are those who routinely write of the dangers of routine, proselytizing on how such dull habits kill the spirit and stifle our true selves. What these negative philosophers seem to overlook (other than their own banality) is the possibility that while engaged in mindless repetition our minds are free to wander, to wonder and to think thoughts far above and beyond the constrictions of worrying about our freedom to create.
My dad started me young, driving a tractor around numerous hayfields, pulling a drag or harrow behind, leveling out gopher mounds and cattle manure. Round and round I’d go, all day long, monotonous wondering of how I’d ever get through the assignment, and then, like a gift, my imagination would take over. Oh, how many trails I’d travel, girls I’d entice, wild horses I’d ride, wars I’d win, podiums I’d mount. That was damned near 60 years ago, and I still love dragging the fields in the spring.
When asked how he managed to write such a relatively long book in such a short period of time, a recently published author confided that he would write for a minimum of four hours a day, no matter what. Although it would be impossible for me to follow his example, I understand fully what he’s saying when I realize it sometimes takes almost that long to create an opening sentence for this column.
“How do you come up with a column every week?” someone invariably asks. I’m afraid to address the question, supposing that such intellectual honesty may lead to writer’s block or some other denizen of self-destruction. The answer, of course, is simple. As Mary Eshbaugh Hayes famously said, “Just write. If you wait for inspiration, it might not get written.”
More than a few years ago, Su Lum sent me an email saying she liked my column and invited me to come by her office at the Times to discuss “the process.” My God, there’s a process? Knowing I didn’t have one, I avoided Su and her invitation, although in retrospect, I might have learned a valuable lesson.
As the years rolled by, it has become more of a challenge to find something to write about each week, but as a true confession, let me say that my ideas come mostly from the routine of daily life. In the winter, my dog, a border collie, requires at least four miles of walking every day. Two in the morning and two in the evening — a mile up a steep incline and one more back down. Plenty of time for introspection.
There’s a familiarity of feeding the horses every day that goes back to days on a cattle-feed sled with my dad and grandfather, freezing our asses off while talking about everything under the sun.
My pickup truck bounces over the frozen piles of animal dung just as the feed sled did years ago — bales of hay are carefully rationed out over the same ground we worked back then and the smell of animals in close proximity on the feed trail gives off a heavy aroma that brings a deep awareness of appreciation for the day. Watching the horses nuzzle fresh hay as I walk to the house gives me a sense of well-being and accomplishment that can’t be duplicated by anything else I do.
And then it’s over. I change clothes and head for Aspen, the Big Mountain and the thrills of skiing. There’s a different, deeply rooted comfort there, a routine that many envy but it’s still routine, and it lets my mind run free.
On the feed ground or on the mountain, my relationship with the Earth feels real and ideas slip in and out of my consciousness. Pinning them down before they float away like so much smoke is not easy. And on Saturdays, you see how far it all got me.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.