Midway in life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood. Well, my mind was the dark wood. I was actually standing in a well-lit dance studio. Here in my middle age, I decided to take an intro ballet class. Unlike many little girls, I had never taken any kind of dance class, although somehow I managed to learn somewhere along the way the ballet foot positions, but that’s about all I’ve got, except for some basic balance and coordination. All gone now, as I’m standing still as everyone else is moving — my limbs and brain simply unable to work together to pursue this series of steps. A point, step, point, step, hoppity hop, kickish thing, tippy-toe hop. Octopus-like, my limbs have minds of their own. My arms have given up and are heading home. My legs keep refusing to hoppity hop, substituting instead some kind of froggish leap, and then my brain forgets what’s supposed to happen next, so the whole lot of us — limbs, arms, torso, head, peter out of movement and just stand there as the wave of classmates roughly pursue the proper motions around us.
Fortunately, I have no interest in preserving my pride here. I’m just interested in having a different mind-body experience than my normal walking about. And I’m glad I had the idea to disrupt my brain and brain-body connection with this class. It makes me experience the world a little differently, to pay attention differently, and to ask different things of my mind and its connection to my body. And it forces my know-it-all-ish mind to be not-knowing.
And I think about this as I peruse Lynda Barry’s book Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, which is a crazy quilt notebook of the kinds of assignments she gives to her various classes on thinking and paying attention. She uses many kinds of timed assignments for drawing, writing, making notes, listening to passing conversations, telling stories — all in pursuit of maintaining an attentive yet dreaming mind, of being conscious and being conscious of being conscious, without being self-conscious. Many would-be students say to her anxiously, “But I don’t know how to draw.”
But it’s in between the not-knowing and doing-anyway that magic happens. One note from a page of her notebook says this: “How the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination, and intentional thinking–.”
It’s when my mind is alert but a bit flighty, like I’m humming and skating at the same time — I can’t be too distracted from the skating, or I’ll hit a bump in the ice and fall down; and I can’t be too focused on humming, because, well, that would be kind of crazy (Have you seen that weird humming lady at the skating rink? Yeah, obviously wacked) that I come up with some good ideas, and can start to bring them to fruition.
I’m between projects at the moment, so am rattling around the house distractedly, pausing in the kitchen or living room to practice the hoppity hop kickish thing tippy-toe hop (What on earth are you DOING, my husband asks) and trying to notice things and notice what I notice — in the hopes I will at some point force myself to sit DOWN (my ass apparently also has a mind of its own) and start to work on something. hoppity hop tippy-toe no wait crap