My Mind Wanders

Confusion crept into my day rather early this morning when, at 5:25 a.m., I entered the guest room where a tiny corner desk usually doubles as my study. Today, though, the desktop was nearly naked, absent the computer, keyboard, and mouse. My confusion lasted only moments; I remembered that, yesterday, I had moved the technology to my wife’s much larger desk in her much larger study in preparation for a Zoom meeting. The double glass doors in the guest room bathe the computer screen in too much light, making my image transmitted from the camera unpleasantly bright to other meeting participants. So, I had moved my computer to my wife’s study, where the reflected light from the walnut desk and over-desk credenza bathes me in reflected yellow-orange light, giving me a deeply jaundiced appearance. At least the jaundice is not so bright as to be uncomfortable to other meeting participants.

I have yet to move the computer back to its accustomed spot. My writing may in some way respond to the unusual experience of being in a foreign location. But I doubt it.

Is it not odd, though, that something as inconsequential as the location of a computer’s screen and keyboard can disrupt one’s normal routines? The location is in the same house, yet it feels utterly different. There is no window immediately to my right, so I cannot view predawn darkness. I cannot watch the sky slowly soak up light like a celestial sponge as dawn breaks. The walnut over-desk credenza and the desk upon which my computer screen and keyboard sit are like a dark cocoon that envelopes my experience. They hide the world beyond me from view. They isolate me from the sky; though I know the sky is just beyond these walls and the shades covering the windows, my eyes see no evidence of what my mind tells me.

Before I entered this place cloaked in walnut darkness, I played a few rounds of Words with Friends. That simple game provides enough distraction to transport me away from a troubled world, giving me a brief respite from gnawing, ever-present worry. The idea of gnawing worry triggers an unpleasant recall of an awfully troubling scene from a recent episode of Bordertown: The perpetrator cut a victim’s abdominal skin, then placed a rat on top of the cut and trapped the rat on the abdomen with a metal pot. The metal pot was then subjected to heat from a blow torch, causing the rat to claw into the victim’s midsection in an attempt to escape the searing heat. That’s the image the word “gnawing” brought to mind just now. I wonder whether, henceforth, I will associate Words with Friends with the horrors of a rat clawing through a man’s body cavity. I hope not.

I’ve been thinking about exploring a new hobby: making stained glass art. So far, it’s only a thought. I haven’t obtained any knowledge, nor any materials or skills. But I’m intrigued with the idea. Listening to a man yesterday morning talk about his decision to purchase wood-carving tools so he could explore wood-carving as a hobby rekindled my thoughts about a hobby of my own. I don’t have any hobbies. Blowing leaves does not qualify as a hobby. I feel the need to have a means of releasing my creative energy, aside from writing. Writing, of late, has not satisfied me. I’ve written almost no fiction for months and months. The fiction I’ve written since last year has been splintered and fractured and impossible to weave together into a coherent story arc. I want something else. Something that does not require work for others to appreciate. Reading what I’ve written requires work on the part of the reader. And when that effort leaves the reader with unquenched curiosity or worse, writing becomes more a cudgel than an offering. So, perhaps I’ll explore stained glass. Or, probably more likely, I will think about exploring stained glass and do nothing about it. I have explored many potential hobbies in that way; thought about them at some length, only to eventually abandon them. Not intentionally; the thoughts just seemed to evaporate with the passing of time.

I’ve written before about the fact that I tend to prefer the company of women to the company of men. That’s on my mind this morning, I think, because I spent an hour so so yesterday morning with about ten other men, just talking about what was on our minds. Golf and pickleball and wood-carving were among the subjects covered. In my experience, men rarely talk about things that weigh heavily on their minds or topics that require at least moderately deep analytical thought. Women, on the other hand, seem generally unafraid to expose mental philosophical wanderings. Whether men simply are uncomfortable engaging in conversations that seem overly “feminine” or whether they simply do not have an interest in such matters remains unclear to me, 67 years into this life. I think misogyny—not hatred or distrust but embedded prejudice—plays a significant role in avoiding conversations that veer too sharply into either subjects that are judged feminine or feminine treatment of subject that otherwise might fit into masculine conversations. I just feel more comfortable in the presence of women. I feel that I can safely let my guard down, whereas I am almost always cautious among men, careful to avoid conversations that might lead them to judge me. Maybe that’s a form of misogyny; judging women as less threatening than men. Ultimately, though, I think it’s simply a matter of commonality of interests; I’m more interested in subjects often deemed the province of females than in subjects deemed the province of men. Football, baseball, golf, hunting, etc. appeal to both men and women, but more so to men; except this man. Art, architecture, philosophy, psychology, etc. appeal to both men and women, but more so to women; and to this man.  But it must be more than common interests; it’s the way interests are discussed. I think. Maybe.

I sometimes wonder what I would choose to occupy my time if I lived in total isolation, with no opportunities for any human contact, for a period of years. Would I make art? Would I take up hunting? Would I plant gardens or write? Absent the pressures of socialization and human influence, how would I evolve? There’s that perpetual question again: who am I, under these hundreds of layers of veneers formed in response to all the people whose lives intersect with mine? That’s my hobby. Wondering who I am. And I wonder who lives beneath the façades of all the people with whom my life intersects? Is the world really a stage? And are we all really just players? Shakespeare’s assertions, through his characters, reveal that he was as much a psychologist and anthropologist as a writer.

My mind wanders when I let it. And I almost always let it. Thinking in broad, shallow swaths is appealing. Sometimes, when the shallows grow deep, the waves of thinking can inundate entire days or weeks.

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I saw my wife yesterday. She was weak and I could barely hear her words. The therapist was about ready to work with her, so I spent only twenty minutes or so with her. Then, last night, she called me. It was rather early, around six-thirty or thereabouts. Again, her voice was extremely weak. I will try to see her again today and tomorrow. Having no direct contact with her is awfully hard. I cannot measure how much she is eating or drinking. I have to rely on strangers to do that. And I have an automatic wariness of strangers, wondering whether their compassion extends as deeply as I think it should. Hobbies can’t catch hold when one’s mind is on survival.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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