Rendered Fat Content


Attributed to Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio: Allegory (circa 1498)
"What's left seems immediately lightened, but only because it is."

Back when I was still trying to teach people how to manage projects, interested clients often asked if my work scaled. They'd seen it work with a small team, but they hoped that it might be distributed more broadly. One prospective client proudly proclaimed that he had 33,000 people who desperately needed whatever it was I was offering. "Does it scale?" he asked, without even the barest hint of irony. I clearly recall how much I wanted to reply with a sanguine, "Of course," but, of course, I could not. I'd never attempted to mass distribute whatever I dealt in. It had not occurred to me even though I'd been exposed in business school to the cherished notion of mass production. I was not dealing with widgets, but more personal stuff. Some clients wanted me to train their trainers to broaden exposure to my ideas, but the trainers they presented for training carried medieval notions of their role, most firmly believing that they would be passing knowledge rather than encouraging individuals who probably already knew much better than any trainer ever could just what they needed to succeed. Mass distribution works best when filling empty boxes. I ultimately came to accept that my only ethical response to the scale question was some variant of, "Of course not."

Science, too, struggles with questions of scale.
Newton and most of his forebears focused upon a scale suitable for human senses. Later geniuses noticed that there was most likely much their senses were not noticing. Humanity entered a time where progress depended more upon clever allegory than physical measurement, though over time, physical measurement came to confirm what only imagination had first proposed. Einstein, while praised for his genius, was also widely suspected of wild speculation, at least until his theories were finally proven, decades after his death. Each of his apparent crackpot notions eventually came to resolution as provable fact, though many focused upon scales so tiny that nobody would ever visually confirm their truths, which were instead proven by inference. Our world has become much richer as we've come to understand scales beyond our experience. In some ways, modern life works rather like an extended thought experiment where resolutions often lie at scales we can only ever imagine but which work just as reliably as other more physical ones. I figure that resolution of anything depends upon my choosing an appropriate scale within which to consider the difficulty. I can often talk myself into answers far beyond my physical reach, often through simple acceptance rather than by physically changing anything or anyone.

SettlingInto this smaller city seems an extended exercise in scaling. The rhythm of this place seems completely different from the cadence of larger, less-connected places. Here, I might encounter someone from my past at almost any moment. There, past and even future held little meaning for they seemed the exclusive property of natives, someone else. Yesterday, when taking Molly to the vet, I found the kid sister of a childhood friend working the counter and an intimate conversation began. She updated me on my friend and I consoled her recent loss of her 103 year old mother. We choked each other up swimming in our mutual experience which had been stretched like a taut string across more than sixty years of distantly shared experience. At that scale, time and space seemed meaningless. We were in that moment Momenting, transcending everything around us. I finally broke the trance by asking if I should fill out that form she'd offered, and we resumed the current time and space, and our Momenting ended. Later, when I returned to fetch Molly, we again slipped into that alternate reality for a moment. I left a little disoriented.

At the scale of life here, time seems to move more slowly, ponderously sometimes, yet it also at times moves too swiftly for me to keep up. No regulating flow has emerged yet. I'm still searching for an underlying rhythm. I early on established a moment each afternoon when I'd gather the cats around me and feed them treats. They shortly began showing up at precisely that time each afternoon, even when I'd forgotten. They'd gather close and start licking their lips until I remembered that we owed each other a moment. We'd gather beneath the spreading apricot tree and share a snack, them even submitting to a little petting after feral wandering through their day. I imagine accomplishing big things each morning before my day digresses back into mere moments which seem to more satisfyingly fill the time. Within each moment, of course, time does not exist, just as if I'd entered quantum gravity at some unimaginably small scale, truly tiny and awesomely significant. Had I kept my eyes on the horizon, I surely would have missed it.

I can only assess progress retrospectively, for in any moment, I might just feel stuck. Moments exhibit no velocity. They do not move relatively. They seem more resolutely absolute, just what they are and never anything different. My world seems studded with significant chance encounters, with fuzzy memories suddenly coming into sharper focus, with benevolent bushwhackings, endlessly surprising. I easily overwhelm myself, apparently just daydreaming. Each level carries a unique significance. If one scale sucks, a more pleasing one lurks just over or under. My allegories matter. I can see the same old streets or feel transported into a time they elicit. I can fuss over the size of my burden or just begin by extracting a first small handful or even less. What's left seems immediately lightened, but only because it is.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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