Rendered Fat Content


William Blake: The Casting of the Rebel Angels into Hell -
illustration to Milton's 'Paradise Lost' (1808, pen and watercolour on paper)

"One day I might come to behave as I know I should."

Dreading serves as the primary moderating force in my life here. Were it not for Dreading, I might run rather roughshod into every opportunity, and only fools ever run into opportunities or burning buildings. I tell myself that I'm "considering" or "planning", though I'm really quite actively procrastinating, albeit in a decidedly passive-aggressive manner.

I did not really want to replant those tulip bulbs I'd removed when weeding out the front walk garden beds, the work just needed doing by someone.
There were hundreds! Replanting them would require me to shove well-rotted mulch from along two sides of the rose garden and dig a small trench the entire length, carefully separate the bulbs, which had grown together after twenty untended years in the ground, drench them in bone meal, then carefully place them lest the resulting flowers appear too staged, recover the trench, then rake that mulch back over before watering in the whole mess; a whole day's work if I was lucky and I did not feel lucky anticipating the job. I was Dreading, so I shuffled up to that starting line. Truth told, I was actively planning the work but perhaps more actively plotting how I might get out of it. I finally, eventually accepted my fate and set to work. Six hours later, I stood up again and surveyed the result. It looked little different from when I'd begun, save a few wilting tulip tops peeking up through the mulch. I'd spent the entire afternoon on my knees, penitent to a fault, but I also felt relieved that I'd dispatched the object of my most recent Dreading. (Another will doubtless soon replace it.) I was in that moment, a free man again, no longer living beneath a threatening cloud of my own making, the most effective kind.

One day I might come to behave as I know I should. I could embrace these challenges as paths to that liberated feeling rather than Dreading engaging with them, but I likely won't. I could be a hero to myself, shrugging off disquiet and strolling right into these maws, but I know I won't. It might be that my quaking hesitances set me up for success, that the nattering I mislabel as planning might actually be adding some important element, though this explanation feels false even to me. I'm a chicken, wary of opportunity. When it knocks, I'm most likely quaking at the prospect of it coming, convincing myself he's out to do me in rather than there to induce that liberated feeling. Opportunity rarely feels like my friend.

I only later learn how absurd my Dreading must have been. In the moment it first appears, it seems every bit my protector. I turn petulant in the face of the impending challenge, and a little belligerent, too. I dig in my heels and insist to myself that I'm simply not quite ready to submit, thinking myself a backhanded protector of the status quo rather than a coward. I actively engage in perhaps the most absurd human folly. I pretend that if I actively ignore the presence of something, it will simply disappear. It doesn't, of course, and a growing guilt starts consuming me. My self-esteem takes a hit, too. As my smugness surrenders into acceptance, I discover a divot needing replacement. I might have even damaged my reputation. Cornered, then, I might consent to engage as I know for certain I should have engaged back at the beginning. By then I'm late starting and at a disadvantage. It's a wonder I ever accomplish anything challenging.

The recognition comes later, once I'm lip-deep in engaging, that I feel most alive when I'm actively working on some impossible something. As I crafted that tulip bulb trench, I felt thoroughly myself and nobody else for a change. Even as I felt my lower back straining from my kneeling and scraping, I felt empowered and not enfeebled by the effort. I managed to slip in a small side Dreading as I neared the end, projecting to myself that there might still be hours remaining before I'd finish, and even projecting a little serious weariness, but I persisted. Beyond an uncertain point, it becomes impossible not to finish. The siphon started after such dedicated Dreading become inexorable and nothing could stop me from completing. Then the liberated feeling kicks in. It seems then as though I've been engaging in my true life's work, though I'd been recently trying every trick in my book to shirk it. One day I might come to behave as I know I should, to stand up tall and swallow my medicine without first over-dramatizing the situation. I wonder if that could work. I doubt it.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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