Rendered Fat Content


Edward Sheriff Curtis:
The Primitive Artist - Paviotso (1924)

"I might scratch a story in a sandstone wall …"

Backward steps can produce forward progress. I tend to get so focused on improvements that I can lose the more primal assurance I can do without all my usual accoutrements. I only really need some of the utensils my kitchen holds, for instance, or a few of the array of pens I keep on my desktop at home. I am not only capable of making do without these tools, but I might also sometimes leave myself feeling better off without them.

It's long been understood that sudden reversals of fortune can produce personal improvement, a sense of freedom curiously lacking when surrounded by the trappings of success.
A sense of personal adaptability can feel enormously rewarding, even when engaging in some small activity. When The Muse and I arrived at our lodgings in New Orleans, we set about grilling fresh fish without our usual array of tools. No tongs, no platter, we felt downright medieval and preternaturally clever for figuring out how to make dinner without our usual arsenal. We were essentially reduced to using sticks and loving this.

I attempted to create my weekly writing summary while away from my desk overlooking The Center of the Universe. It was a struggle. My multiple copies and pastes seemed especially primitive without my usual supporting resources. I felt forced to transfer much of the effort into my head, where I felt like I was playing a game of N-dimensional chess with myself, attempting to imagine several moves ahead of my position. I quickly gave myself a headache, but I persisted. I experienced, in microcosm, what it might have been like to create some social media posting in the eighteen-sixties, under sail or steam power, before the general adoption of effort-saving electronics. Life did, after all, exist before all these so-called improvements hit. Life went on every bit as successfully without the trappings we moderns naively consider necessary for success. It was never any different.

I find it refreshing to be experiencing some time away from my old familiars. We have no vehicles here, so we hike or use public transportation. Fetching sustenance from the supermarket involves a trudge there and then back again, returning overburdened like sherpas. I appreciate a little better after having trudged the breakfast home on my back, waddling beneath the awkward angles of my packs. Small things become dedication tests, and my whims carry consequences. I set out knowing that I'll be going both ways, there and back again, and there will be no knowing when or how I'll arrive. The trolleys run on their own schedules, indifferent to any rider's preferences. Those tourists who boarded without coins were not entertainment as they scoured the aisle seeking change for a twenty. Not everyone's cut out to use public facilities.

I finished my weekly writing summary feeling like I'd chiseled the result in stone, and I might have worked at least that hard. Rather than completing just another iteration in an endless series of other iterations, though, this one required more creativity on my part and more cleverness. I was more involved without my usual labor-saving devices. The result might have been more mine than any iteration I can remember, for the patterns I follow had become second or first nature. Breaking out of them gave me a new appreciation of my original intentions. The shortcuts and workarounds I'd, over time, adopted had further insulated me from my aspirations to the point where I might have reduced myself to just going through the motions instead of expressing my heartfelt devotion or my purpose., The result had become similar to the sum total of my labor-saving interventions behind which my originating intentions cowered. I might scratch a story in a sandstone wall and come to understand better what progress entails.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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