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Attributed to Ignace-Joseph de Claussin, after Jean Jacques de Boissieu: Oude man in denkende houding (1805 - 1844)

"I make progress, then, depending upon how utterly stupid and uninquisitive I can remain …"

I have been accused of over-thinking on many occasions, perhaps because I tend to think as a first defense. It's my default response. Like all default reactions, this one does get over-used if only because it's almost always the one already saddled up and ready to go whenever anything happens. This results in a fair number of false positive reactions, where I apply precisely the wrong leverage in response to some otherwise ordinary perturbation. This amounts to perfectly normal behavior, though it often appears absolutely crazy. I imagine myself producing similar results whatever response I favored. If I tended to burst into tears in response to anything, I would seem well-adapted some percentage of the time, but I'd mostly build a reputation for being weepy. I suspect that most of us favor some pre-loaded reaction and thereby tend to react strangely some of the time. My thinking responses do not really qualify as wholly unreasonable, though thinking can sometimes violate the First, Do No Harm Clause under the standard rules of engagement.

Much work is by nature properly considered mindless.
It's much better when painting, for instance, not to be also actively conjugating verbs in English or any of the romance languages, for that sort of thinking will very likely impair satisfying the purpose of the engagement. Later, the painter might feel moved to ask himself how he happened to paint over that window, with the only reasonable answer being that he couldn't quite remember but that he thought it might have had something to do with the construction of a particularly challenging pluperfect, but he couldn't be quite certain. Short version: He distracted himself from the work at hand by over-thinking. For those like me, who have already loaded up their thinking as the most likely response to anything happening, such innocent over-thinking can be a real problem. I know of no field of study, though, that focuses upon acquiring the sometimes useful skill of ThinkingUnder.

When I take to my scaffolding, I first fight distraction. I understand that a split second of inattention might result in serious ramifications. When I'm balanced up there, straddling the primary electric service line into The Villa, I must stay focused and hyperaware of my surroundings. I must kneel to dip my paintbrush then stand and perhaps even pivot without accidentally brushing up against that high voltage wire. I must also avoid inadvertently stepping off the side of the plank balanced fifteen feet off the pavement below, even when I'm stretching up to paint the overhanging eves. I'm every bit as contorted as any ballet dancer and I dare not distract myself conjugating arcane verbs while in the middle of it. Of course, that's just precisely where my mind tends to take me then, so I must very strictly discipline myself to be absolutely present in the moment and to avoid thinking, let along over-thinking the task. Painting on a scaffold is just what it is and requires no embellishment.

Most of my work away from my desk seems better engaged in by hamburger, not fancy crown rib roast sort of mental activity. Engaging as an intellectual opportunity sucks the vitality right out of such work, and so seems best avoided. I wrestle with that muscle between my ears, who always seems to want to domineer every thing I do. Left to my native devises, I'd be conjugating grasses rather than just mowing lawn. I might fritter away a morning trying to get to the bottom of why those plants are called irises rather than simply weeding them. I make progress, then, depending upon how utterly stupid and uninquisitive I can remain through the chore, and also, of course, how hyper aware I can remain of my surroundings. I spoke with a furniture repairer friend who regaled me with what he referred to as his obligatory heavy machinery surgery wherewith he trimmed off a few of his own fingertips. He's a really smart guy who for just a split second out-smarted himself. He later outfitted all his saws with speed brakes to compensate for his occasional over-thinking inattention, automating his ThinkingUnder. I might consider something similar.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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