Ladies and Gentlemen, I have found my groove.
This morning I got up and drove to the house of an old man who attends my church. I cut his juniper bushes from the garden path, pulled a dead bush from the ground and uprooted some white flowers that had been causing him allergies. For this he paid me twenty dollars and sent me home. On the way back I ate a burrito and made plans to jam with friend Hayden later in the evening.
When I got home I folded some clothes and put away dishes with my mom and then I walked upstairs, lay down on the futon and proceeded to read Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw as my newly acquired Big Fun CD played on the stereo. Seventy-three minutes passed and when I got up I realized that I had not felt this good in weeks.
Here I am, overpaid lawn beautifier extraordinaire, with my under-scheduled hours and unhealthily large music collection (which has expanded in proportion to my graduation checks), having only changed one aspect of my daily activities, and I feel brilliant for once in this godforsaken summer, this penal colony of a season during which I cannot quite yet act like an adult yet still will be charged as one if I fuck around too much. My lethargic friends haven’t proposed to do a damn thing all summer, with the notable exception of Chris P.’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor, and even that’s an obligatory ceremony. I have wallowed in the dumps for some time, and it shows in my joyless and increasingly unimaginative music reviews. The other week I caught myself repeating the closing phrase from my review of The Shape of Jazz to Come at the end of Agharta, something about hoping that my work would turn out as awesome as Miles Davis’s, and I realized exactly how deeply my creative powers slumbered. Already this kind of article, which now approximates 330 words, would have taken me a half-hour to bang out if I were still in the doldrums, if I hadn’t taken that crucial break this afternoon and had such an excellently paced day already.
First things first: honest work. What I did this morning is the kind of stuff that is often (especially by its practitioners and their intimates/friends) labeled “honest work”, labor for which the laborer sees payment in proportion to effort or hours spent, and in which no one gets fucked over. No ethical lawyerisms entangle the handiworker’s mind as he makes his dough — he builds or he tears down, and gets paid for it by a grateful boss. That quality of work, combined with the physical exertion and subsequent endorphin release, put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.*
However, this was not the only thing that contributed to my general demeanor. I have done people’s gardening on other days at the same hour and the only time I approached this kind of geniality was when I worked in the open air of the countryside drive-thru village of Aromas, a beautiful pastoral place, and even that didn’t last when I went to Salinas and back home afterwards. I became a slug. The second ingredient was my reward — for having gotten up and done such work, I went back to my house and gave myself that present of reading time. FBI Agent Dale Cooper always said “every day, give yourself a present.”
The third contributing factor, of course, was the music itself — ambient stuff, what Christgau called “not necessarily music to fill the mind — just the room”. If you’re looking to have a similar experience, try Earth (Hibernaculum, the Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, Earth 2), Brian Eno (Another Green World, Discreet Music) or Miles Davis’ 1967-1975 product, primarily the albums In a Silent Way, Get Up With It and Big Fun. (I like other recordings from this period [Jack Johnson, Agharta] more, but these ones are much more ambient and thought-provoking — they don’t rock nearly as much, and can also be enjoyed when your primary activities are finished.) You may not be as inclined towards musical adventures as I am, so I recommend you find your happy spot. I know I have.
So there — if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, try finding a job or something that somebody will pay you to do, do it when you feel most productive (if you can — I realize that most people are on a shoestring budget anyhow and can’t really pick and choose work that makes them “happy” in our godforsaken he-who-does-not-work-does-not-eat capitalist’s playground of a country, where ever more people are realizing exactly how fragile is the hubris resulting from pay and position, especially when they take the place of character), but if you can, try to schedule what you have to do for your preferred working time and enjoy yourself afterwards. If we human critters were all judged by one standard the world would be full of losers; thus the diversity of interests and aptitudes that characterize our species. Go kickboxing, maybe, or ride your bike, or jam with friends, or watch baseball with your kids, or listen to your record collection, or make a quilt, or pray, or make fun of a movie with your friends. Preferences vary. Anyway, I may be wrong about all this, so I give my advice in the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut’s cheeky tips for finding true love. Don’t take my word for it — try different grooves. You might hit upon one you enjoy eventually. What do I know about you, you damned individual?
*Of course, I am also what sleepologists call a “lark” or “morning person”, and I enjoy doing things before the sun’s zenith rather than afterwards. Jamming, yardwork, reading, listening, homework — it all just comes more easily to me in the morning. People who boot up later in the day have historically been called lazy and gotten the shaft from Calvinist ninnies like me, but I have science to thank for my understanding of how people sleep and can more fairly judge the activities of late sleepers, who are probably insidiously excluded from a lot of daytime work on account of their biology and get their “sloth” reinforced by the nine-to-five that us virtuous wakeners follow. Maybe, if you’re a later riser (or “owl” in the parlance) you can get more done in a later period. Do what gets results. My managerial clientele will love that phrase.