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In This Moment

what if it matters?

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learning

Late

Am I late?  I know the feeling so well.  Today I board BART  at 8:03 AM.  My goal to be at my desk making calls at 8 AM.  That makes me late…Or do I make myself late?  Walked down to the station rather than taking an Uber, that pretty much made the difference.  Talked with my wife about plans for the coming week.  That made the difference.  Played mini-basketball with my son.  Of course you can add up each little thing or you can pick them out one by one.  Each one makes the difference.  What’s the net product?  I’d rather be late like this than on time missing any one of these things.

Maybe the real feeling of being late that rankles is the feeling of being out of control.  If I’m late by choice it’s OK.  If I pretend it’s not by choice, my whining causes damage to my self.  The train sits at the sunny BART terminal at MacArthur and I see an attractive woman with slumped shoulders.  I have to say she doesn’t appear attractive. Maybe just for an instant before the slumped shoulders registered.  It’s like being late: if you think you’re late and you slump sadly then you’re the essence of late, you’re the self-condemning late person rather than the cheerful late person, and that makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

Now I’m on time, at this moment, because I’m doing the one thing I’ve agreed to do right now.  Write.  Even though not everything went as planned today, I said I’d call the Uber at 4:45PM and start writing for 45 minutes at that time.  Even if I haven’t written for every second of the time, I have done it.  Even pulled a picture of a tree taken against the sky and placed it onto this post.  Why?  Because we all know the tree is not late.  And I’m supposed to switch to going for a run at 5:30 PM, and no, I’m not required to do that while in the Uber as long as it gets me home within another 15 minutes.  So I could be on time for that too.

Here’s the real challenge.  As I was stepped into the elevator to go down to the Uber I could feel it.  The resistance.  Inchoate.  Resistance to actually sitting in an Uber and doing my writing the whole way.  And that is the failure, not the reading of emails, the quick playing a round of a video game.  The failure would be in that tired moment at the elevator.  So I said to myself, at that moment, look at your reflection in the elevator doors, face the resistance because this is it, here.

So, am I late?  Only when not present.  One thing we do that trees probably don’t do:  pretend this isn’t really happening.  I’m thankful for all the things I can do that aren’t getting to work on time.  I’d still like to set a time and be there.  More important to me, to set a goal and reach it.  More important still, to have a clear intention and stand with that.  So my various intentions are to follow through with some core goals, and deliverables in service to these goals.  Such as spending time with my kids, making creative contributions to the world, as for example building applications and writing on subjects that others actually read.  Things I’m excited to be present for.

There comes the tricky part.  I know in principle, what I want to do.  Yet in practice it’s easier to oscillate between two states: reacting to what’s at hand and recuperating from that.  Do you notice those two things can describe a life?  Technically I’m outside the iron trap now to the extent I’m not either reacting to the command to write nor escaping from my life through writing complete crap.  But guess what lies outside the trap?  A wasteland.  Yes, you step out for a second and there you are in a beautiful, terrible and bare place where it’s cold (or unbearably hot), you have no apparent sustenance, and no one to help you.  That’s how I feel, anyway.  The iron trap:  answer emails, then, after an hour or two, go to the cafe and try to forget.  The wilderness: instead of playing a video game, checking email, jumping on the Web while I sip my coffee, I write.  And the most wildernessy thing about the Wilderness is stepping into it.  That’s when the resistance reaches such a peak that to submit to the desire to not move forward seems very pleasurable: “What, you dare to set aside email responsibilities (pleasure of checking, of addressing, of deleting) to create something new?”  Surely not now.  And the pleasure of just a momentary diversion–can’t I do that first?  Or, wait, what about just writing now.  Well, it’s either now or else I’ll be late for life.

In

It’s hard to have perspective when you’re in something.  I just came down to the underground train platform in downtown Berkeley and the moment I passed the point on the short stairway where my view was the platform instead of the upper terminal, bam  that was it, I was in.  And now, guess what, the train approaches.  I’m on the platform.  Walking towards the train door, and, I’m part of the seat grabbing rush!  That was different because the transition was accompanied by a stressful activity.  Instead of a visual instantaneous transition it was not only invisible, but somehow unappreciated.  I look up for a moment and see ranks of people looking at their phones.  Or more exactly ranks of seated people all wearing dark clothes, and I happen to see one person focused on her phone.  And I glance to the right and the person next to me is holding her phone.  Accompanied by a frenetic clicking noise that it turns out is the seat rattling. Turns out her phone screen is dark and she’s looking at the blank screen.

Weeks later, months later let’s be honest, I still think of her looking at her blank smartphone screen and I think how often I’ve turned to the phone knowing it will hold something for me but not necessarily knowing what.  Like turning on the TV and channel surfing.  One step back from surfing the internet, surfing my own unique but similar world of things.  And God help me how different is that, really, from a blank screen?

I’m sure more goes on around me, and different things than I realize, far more than I know.  My question is not only Does it Matter to me, but is it even likely there is anything I can do to make it matter?  Look inside.  The truth is in there, carried with me from transition to transition, whether cleanly accomplished from station lobby to platform or murkily, rushing into a train without full awareness of my surroundings.  In all cases I carry with me an image of what I imagine is around me.

What matters to me has to do with its proximity in space and time. I honestly don’t remember whether I read that in a Buddhist book on meditation and life perspective or the book on Machine Learning that I’m reading.  OK, pretty sure it was the machine learning book but it really could have been either one.  That is a meta thought that matters to me because it consolidates and points to the area I explore in my writing.  I like to call it the moment.  The moment is what is here now. I believe there is a word for this in machine learning, and there is a dimension to it that goes beyond proximity in time and space.  That dimension is accesibility.  I make up in my head most of what I believe I know about my surroundings, therefore most of what happens right now, right next to me, is inaccessible.  So it may as well not be proximate.  I also have a feeling there is more than one dimension of accessibility within the realm of awareness.

What do I turn to to find out what’s around me?  The smartphone.  If I do this while I’m on the BART train I bring a different set of things into my awareness. The email a client just sent from Paris.  And I lose touch with the people on the train with me.  So what?  The main problem I see is the question of What am I In?  If I am no longer in the train but have stepped onto another platform, into another room, an email room, then OK but what are the characteristics of that room?  Can people see me, understand where I’m coming from, catch my attention and communicate as fully as possible with me?  I don’t know.  I read the email from Paris and I gather the transaction we’re discussing is a lost cause.  She wants way more than the building can likely sell for at this time.  My job would be to make this Owner proximate with someone who can actually pay her price.  That may take time, yet there is the chance that this Buyer is out there even now, standing in front of her property looking at it.  Yet Buyer and Seller are not proximate to each other.

I sit outdoors at a cafe in Berkeley and to whom am I proximate?  I distance myself from my email, from home, from work, and here I am. It’s an early fall day not really Indian Summer but sunny and OK for sitting outside in a sweater.  People are coming and going and of course I’m not really close to them.  I am significantly alone…although sharing this space, being seen by these others.  The short order cook comes out and presses down the garbage.  I smile and wave to him and he says “hi” so happily.  How can I call this alone?  He remembers me from ten years ago when my son was a toddler.  He hasn’t changed much but he works so hard, and he seems a bit sad.  Florencio.  His name that of the city where I began writing about moments almost twenty years ago. The hard work he cheerfully endures so different from the situations that I have been in these past decades, yet…he helps me recall Florence, and that ties together my passion for writing and travel over my lifetime.  Even though (did he say he has four children?) it doesn’t seem like he can travel much, as he puts on his helmet and wheels his bicycle into the street I wonder where he has been, the man who is always at the cafe.  I’m often at a cafe, just not always his.

I’m proximate to Florence and Florencio and an endless string of cafes and emails and photographs of places.  And of course stories that begin to tie them together into a meta-place where old men press down garbage for students and old men and women who scribble in journals long after their coffee is cold and bitter as death.

 

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