Updated: 16 Sep 2022
Because of the routines we follow, we often forget that life is an ongoing adventure…and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art...to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen. We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed. Maya Angelou on Desert Island Discs (1988)
A few Sundays ago, around 1pm today, I started to daydream.
I was seated at the dining room table, glancing at the couch in the front room while finishing a snack.
I was imagining myself a few minutes from that moment, seated on the couch, with my feet up, and a laptop on top of a pillow resting on my thighs.
I was finishing some writing I’d been thinking about doing all week, and there was coffee in my favorite rusty red mug to my right.
Then, this story I was building in my mind then took a turn.
I started to think about what it would actually feel like to pick the coffee up from the milking stool I know it'd be resting on and put the mug back down onto it.
I could feel the slight worry in my body that I knew would accompany the precision that the "putting down" action would require so as not to knock the whole situation over (the milking stool itself is sturdy, but it's seated atop a knobby rug that challenges its balance).
From there, I went to, "What a great time to make a prototype of the side table I'd been building in my mind!"
I changed the plan and got to prototyping. I got the drill, screws, framing square, and hairpin legs out.
Recognizing the diversion, I gave myself 15 minutes to get the legs onto the slab of sycamore I had leftover from the coffee cart I'd made a couple of years ago.
I told myself, "15 minutes should be enough to make the table usable and resolve the picking up/putting down predicament that prompted all of this. After that, I’ll make some coffee and get to writing."
The legs went on quicker than I imagined and the proportions looked better than I expected. Energized, I thought, “Why don't I cut off the jagged edges while I'm here. It's not going to feel good to snag a thread or some skin on one of the table's sides."
Next, the circular saw came out and the rough edge came off.
“Ok! This will work!!” I joyfully thought. “Now, let me sand down those rough edges.”
Witth edges smoothed, I then thought I'd experiment with the little hand plane to chamfer the edges.
The little hand plane worked really well and felt great to use...fluid strokes pulling long curls of wood off the slab.
I really leaned into that little plane and ended up with a pretty pronounced chamfer. “Cool! I like it! Let me do a bit more sanding and take some photos of this thing.”
2.5 hours later, I’m on the couch, writing this and picking up and placing down the rusty red coffee cup onto the new table without worry.
Did the table turn into a convenient way to avoid what I’d originally intended to do? Did I find a pocket to improvise within and follow the ease that presetend itself to me? Will the lightness I feel now be later replaced by the stuckness I’d felt in the week leading up to this? Will making the table and writing this create the space I didn’t know I needed to get into the "actual" writing I’d originally planned to do?
I do not think I currently have the information I need to answers these questions. I also wonder whether pointing my attention at these questions is worthwhile.
I do know that I had a choice to make in the moments before finishing my snack: "Disregard the unease I could see myself feeling and get to writing? Follow the momentum that was building in my mind to make the prototype? Do something else entirely?" And I made a choice.
Ultimately, I think this choice was about certainty and expectations: stay committed to the plan I came into the day with or follow what felt easy?
In open-ended situations like this, where there is no real need/objective/value at stake, I've historically defaulted to the certainty a plan can provide.
I can see this instinct in the questions I posed above.
In these questions, I see a desire to know whether I made the "right" call so that I could minimize the fear of experiencing some kind of negative outcome in the future.
This is the crucial bit for me and what this day demonstrated: resisting ease takes effort and absent a reason for doing so (e.g. a need, objective, value, etc.) , maybe it's more sustainable to surrender to it so that when a situation arises where ease pulls me away from a need, I'll have the energy to overcome it.