Rendered Fat Content


Vincent van Gogh:
Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre (early 1887)

" … to feel as if my presence mattered for something …"

I find repainting The Villa refreshing because it involves me actually doing something. I'm scrambling up and down the scaffolding. I'm caulking cracks. I'm rolling and brushing in lengthy 'Wax On, Wax Off' exercises that leave my arms rubbery and my hair in disarray. I ache by the end of the day and I sleep deeply. This pattern seems very different to me because, I realize, that I've spend most of my life not as a doer, but as TheObserver. I did not plan not to do anything for a living, but I quickly became a supervisor then later a consultant, both occupations that observe in lieu of doing. They produce intangibles, exhaust insidiously, and leave little behind, certainly no physical product, not even anything as ordinary as a finished paint job. I could never at the end of a shift walk around something and marvel that I had made that. Like most holding jobs these day, I provided services, working without actually producing anything, a rather lonely and isolating sort of occupation.

Much of what's written these days appears without internal attribution.
In some quarters, it's considered gauche to even mention an author's presence. The words in newspapers mostly seem to pretend that TheObserver was not there, that the content is somehow objective, the product of observation without the tainting effects of TheObserver even having been present. This stance amounts to mere affectation, though. There's actually always, always, always an observer present who was there first and still standing after, though scant evidence ends up appearing in the reportage. Imagine how those journalists feel. Only the byline discloses their influence. Their prose pretends that they never existed. And that's pretty much how it was to be a supervisor and a consultant. My job was to support those who actually did something, but without doing much of anything myself, certainly nothing very tangible. I might influence. I'd spend most of my days in conversations, taking temperatures, passing informal messages, trying to discern patterns. If I performed perfectly, I left no footprints, no fingerprints, no evidence of my passage. If I succeeded, others received the credit, and rightly so. Others produced something.

Late in life, I get a taste for what my careers might have been had I ever managed to have a job where I produced something. Even now, my painting's more moonlighting. I'm up every morning observing, which seems to be most of what writing turns out to be. One might argue that I'm producing something when I'm writing, but I'd respond that whatever it is that I produce does not seem to last very long and mostly turns into vague memory, if that, shortly after posting. Certainly there's no monument remaining remembering my towering presence. I produce unpublishable books filled not with instructions for doing anything, but with my own observations. That and a quarter won't even buy me a piece of penny candy anymore.

I notice when I'm up on the scaffold that I'm still mostly observing myself. My tireless eyes are analyzing, second guessing, projecting. They're never quiet. I deliver more observation than output, even when I'm working to produce something tangible, for I realize that I am TheObserver. It's what I do in lieu of doing anything. I've mastered my profession. I'm mostly an unmentionable, our culture's version of India's untouchable class, I pass my time witnessing me passing my time, meta to even the tangible work I might be performing, mostly meta to myself. When I'm finished painting, unlike usual, I will leave behind an artifact, not merely theories, speculations, and interim conversations, but an observable and not merely some observations. I find this grounding, to feel tired at the end of an afternoon, to stumble through dinner hardly able to keep my observer's eyes open, to ache for an explainable reason, to feel as if my presence mattered for something in addition to being The (transitory) Observer of everything.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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