Thursday, December 18, 2008

Very satisfactory vices

[video: a Rhoomba and a more cooperative cat than Sherlock]
I have to accept it - I can't write while the robot is vacuuming, anymore than I ever could while a more sentient creature was cleaning my house. It isn't guilt that bothers me now, it's just that the darn thing distracts me; that is, I am so distractible. So the Roomba is shut off for the moment.

It is a tool I bought myself to make housework easier, or at least possible. I could tell you how it is that Tom and I, considering our disabilities, really should not be vacuuming. And that's true. But like so many tools, it is at least half toy. And in my world, playing tends to qualify as a vice.

For some time I have been studying with fascination a talk by an unusual Zen Master named John Tarrant. I feel connected to John because I studied for a while with one of his students, Daniel Terragno. Also, he is a poet. Here is the paragraph that interests me:
Athletes are trained to not get interrupted by their scenarios. Otherwise if someone insults you on the field, you lose your game, and what’s the use of that? Another example would be for a disabled person to say, "I am disabled so I can’t do anything, my life is over." Even though you may have plenty of data points to back it up, that is a scenario that won’t help you. Without that thought-world you might find that you can be disabled and develop plenty of very satisfactory vices and live a rich, complicated and difficult life.
from The Moon Sets at Midnight
Well, this is me he's talking to. Disabled by advanced kidney disease (not my fault!) when friends my age are still working and traveling and doing their own vacuuming. But this being a blog, I'm not going to explore the entire paragraph right now, not even the vital last words; just the surprising part I italicized. What is this? a spiritual teacher recommending vices? I looked up the word.

"Vice" is not necessarily downright evil, or social transgression of the sort vice squads and some churches deal with. The word is also used to describe an imperfection, a frailty, a practice considered immoral by your society. But it isn't society whose judgment I have to fear these days, since I am free of the workplace and its demands for respectability; it's my own. I learned as a child to consider all sorts of things weaknesses. So it was with pleasure that I read in another one of John's talks that his students often tell him he's fat, and he admits it, no problem. His photos show a man who likes to eat, and enjoys wearing a great hat.

Zen attracts a fair number of skinny, serious people who like to dress in immaculate black, and are convinced Zen will make them more perfect. I have noticed that the better teachers try in various ways to knock this form of self-imprisonment out of their students, often by just being who they are and fielding the criticism. Sylvia Boorstein drinks coffee, not tea; Bernie Glassman loves pizza; Daido Loori smokes.

Well, I got to thinking about this idea of "satisfactory vices." I am pretty old now, 66, and there's hardly a vice that could do me any harm at this stage, though I have to be careful about elements of my diet or suffer serious consequences. I used to love smoking, but I don't want to take it up again, and I've learned that I can't just smoke one. I'm not attracted to alcohol on a regular basis, or to the way people act when they're seriously drinking. The only effect of pot is to make me really hungry. Drugs to space me out would be simply redundant.

But my imagination was too limited. I already have vices, I just didn't know it. I realized that as I sat here happily in my study, surrounded by a herd of Devil Ducks, a passion I share with my grandson, watching my Rhoomba wander around the room. Yes, I have a vice, maybe the worst possible thing my parents thought could happen to me: I don't like to work. I like to play. My father called that being lazy.

When I have work to do, I work, always did, and there a certain inherited perfectionism comes in handy, if I don't let it take over. But when I don't have to work, I don't go find something useful to do. I blog . . . play on YouTube . . . watch DVDs of A Touch of Frost . . . sit around and read the Times . . . visit with friends . . . write poetry I don't bother to send out. And that somehow tempts me to end with one of my favorite poems, which makes a very good case for being lazy. Maybe it's really called "living."

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
by James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

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