Thursday, June 19, 2008

Photothon 14: not quite the Bozeman Opera House

This is from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

She nodded dutifully and went out. But just before her next class she came back in real distress, tears this time, distress that had obviously been there for a long time. She still couldn’t think of anything to say, and couldn’t understand why, if she couldn’t think of anything about all of Bozeman, she should be able to think of something about just one street.

He was furious. "You’re not looking!" he said. A memory came back of his own dismissal from the University for having too much to say. For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see. She really wasn’t looking and yet somehow didn’t understand this.

He told her angrily, "Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick."

Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, opened wide. She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana. "I sat in the hamburger stand across the street," she said, "and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn’t stop. They thought I was crazy, and they kept kidding me, but here it all is. I don’t understand it."

Neither did he, but on long walks through the streets of town he thought about it and concluded she was evidently stopped with the same kind of blockage that had paralyzed him on his first day of teaching. She was blocked because she was trying to repeat, in her writing, things she had already heard, just as on the first day he had tried to repeat things he had already decided to say. She couldn’t think of anything to write about Bozeman because she couldn’t recall anything she had heard worth repeating. She was strangely unaware that she could look and see freshly for herself, as she wrote, without primary regard for what had been said before. The narrowing down to one brick destroyed the blockage because it was so obvious she had to do some original and direct seeing.

The quote relates to the post on Michael Pollan’s essay, about how relying on the expertise of others can hinder acting on our own judgements. As I suggested running could be an antidote, I thought I would tie things together with a picture of some brickwork.

There is nothing remarkable about bridge 158a but you can see the weathering, patching and changes. There is the implication of a story – time passing and its effect, but no specifics. You can see the steel girders and concrete plinths showing that it had to be strengthened. Renovated rather than replaced; continuity with the past. You can start to let your mind associate and I look at it with renewed attention

No matter how many times you have run a route, you can still see things afresh and unfiltered. There is something about running that puts you in that frame of mind

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