Flow

Slow, steady progress on the dining table. Glued up some more thick stock (the last of it, I think, for now), and laid out the template for the feet. After work tomorrow I’ll have an excuse to go by my favorite place to spend money and pick up a longer, high quality template routing bit.

For tonight’s pen turning I used a scrap of Rosewood I picked up at the lumber shop. Rosewood comes in many varieties, and I don’t know which one this is. It’s rare and on most “endangered” lists of wood, but this was a scrap offcut they were selling out of a bin, so I didn’t feel like I was driving demand by re-using what was otherwise scrap. Gosh it’s beautiful, though! I usually finish my pens with “friction polish”, a combination of shellac and hard wax. For wood with interesting grain I’ll start with a swipe of boiled linseed oil, and rub it down to dry pretty quickly. The top pen used BLO as an undercoat, the bottom didn’t. You might not see the difference well in that photo, but the top pen’s darker lines are a lot deeper – BLO essentially turns up the contrast on the grain. I generally don’t use it on the bloodwood pens as I don’t see the same gain (bloodwood has a pretty smooth, uniform grain), but I may try the contrast experiment on bloodwood next time I do a pair.

OK, more ruminations on my unquiet little mind… I read the classic work “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi a few years back in graduate school. It fits with a lot of other texts – both in literature and psychology – that try to characterize that “zone” one gets in when activity is joyful and natural. When I practiced Aikido we trained to be in that “flow” space under stress.

Where am I going with this… I’ve been playing with the differences between dwelling on whatever’s bothering me, “distracting” myself with activities, and being in “flow.” After my last blog my little conditioned self-hating voice (a term Cheri Huber uses) was giving me a hard time for “distracting” myself by turning pens when I was feeling bad. Shouldn’t I really be digging deep down to understand what was bothering me? Well, I have a pretty good sense of what was bothering me, and I didn’t feel like introspection was going to do much about it (“or,” the little voice is telling me now, “were you just chickening out from dealing with it?”) Argh! Welcome to my brain.

But then I get into a “flow” state and darn it, it feels good! I relax and feel like a functional human being. More importantly, ego and self-hate take a back seat. OK, as I write this I can see Cheri or any other half-intelligent person looking at me and saying “and the problem is… ?” Hmmm.. I felt bad, I did something healthy, and felt better. Different than hitting the bottle or doing something destructive.

Yet that voice nags. Is the best way to “solve” a problem, particularly an old tape that’s creaking through its reels yet again, to sit and think hard about it? That seems to often just spiral me down. Yet “the unexamined life is not worth living” rings through my mind, too. I do note that when I’m in a good space, the “problems” just don’t look that imporant any more. So maybe it’s not that I’m “ignoring” the issues, it’s just that they aren’t as powerful or bad as they seem when I’m feeling like a fully functioning human being. And I do get to still work on these issues, but not on their schedule! I can reflect on them when I’ve got the wherewithall to have some perspective.

Of course, the meditation folks would say sit and come back to the breath. Not “focus” on the problem that’s bugging me, but just sit quietly and observe the drama unfolding within. That seems more “proper” somehow, but my impulse of late hasn’t been to sit quietly, it’s been to “putter” in the shop.

Enough rambling for now… I’m sure this will come up again, as my time in the wood shop is also time to get thinking (or non-thinking) done.

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