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02/05/2004 Archived Entry: "Mental quicksand"

A FEW YEARS AGO, I STEPPED IN QUICKSAND. Weird experience. Until that moment, I had half doubted the stuff existed. Was it just a gimmick from old Tarzan movies, or what? Or what. I stepped in a place I had stepped a dozen times before, on ordinary wet sand (so I thought), and -- SUUUUUUUUUCK! I was in trouble!

That real experience makes a nicely unreal metaphor for a day when my allegedly broadband Internet connection has unaccountably reverted to 300 baud. Okay, maybe 2400 baud, tops. I click on a link and suuuuuuuck. So I'm not sure how successful I'll be in getting this entry uploaded.

But for reasons my unconscious mind hasn't decided to tell the rest of me, that quicksand experience has been on my mind the last couple of days, long before my Net connection got sucky.

If you believe benevolent Gaia rules (or is) the world, I'm sure you're wrong. Only Loki or Coyote could think of quicksand. Quicksand is an illusion. If you want to get personal, quicksand is a betrayal. What is, isn't. What was, was -- but is no more. And there's no sign to signal the change until you're on your ass in sucking glop.

I was walking on a public beach. A safe beach. One whose dunes and inlets I knew well, whose erosion zones and acccretion zones were familiar as a backyard. Because they were my backyard. I was living in a little trailer then, a few blocks behind the dunes.

That night we'd had a wild beast of a storm, roaring and raging and pouring down rain. The rage had abated around dawn. Not long after dawn, I was returning home from a walk along the shore, which was still very, very wet and tossed with storm-wrack. Step on the solid, but soft sand. Step. Step. I got within about five feet of the dunes, and -- suuuuuuck! My foot just kept going and going and going and the rest of me got sucked in after it. I toppled sideways ... and when I got oriented again, I was sitting up to my shoulders in what still -- weirdly! -- appeared to be solid wet sand.

Fortunately, the quicksand was no more than two feet deep. Fortunately, I hadn't toppled forward (because it's possible, though very unlikely, that I'd have died in that goo, had I gone in face-first). Getting some purchase on the more solid sand underneath, I was quickly able to ease myself backwards out of the mess, once my brain coped with what was going on. I went home, changed clothes, came back to see about putting some sort of warning or barrier around the spot ... and there was no more quicksand.

I'm guessing what happened is that a hollow developed just at the foot of the dunes. Maybe the hollow was there before the storm, or maybe wind created it. Rain water got trapped in the hollow and saturated the sand, invisibly. Maybe the quicksand was there only a few hours, minutes even, until the water had a chance to drain away.

But it's a very strange thing to step on ground you know was solid yesterday, only to discover it's something like a tar-pit today.

Having related the story I'm now faced with having to reveal its moral, to give the reason why anyone should care, in the context of a blog that's usually about freedom and non-freedom. And honest to Loki, I don't have a moral for this story.

I suspect this quicksand metaphor has been on my mind because of the way the ever-changing sands of the newsworld, the networld, or the workworld can suck us, unexpectedly, out of the centered peacefulness of our lives. You think the day is going to be a smooth walk. Then -- suuuuuuck!

Yesterday was one of those days for me. I went blogless not because there was no bad news to warn of, no political absurdities to snark at, no insights popping up in my brain ... but because suddenly there were too many. The day was saturated with interesting (if generally awful) Big Brother news, and even some fascinating (if generally cautionary about Big Brother) good news. My brain was super-saturated with a hundred insights about news, about life, about freedom, about friendships. Throw in too many writing projects, both work-work and volunteer, and ... the day was just sucked away. I couldn't move forward. Couldn't quickly ease out of the morass. Couldn't move through that soup of news and insights in order to make progress on dealing with them.

John Stossel did a myth-busting special on January 23. A transcript/commentary is online. One of the "myths" Stossel busted was the one that says we have less time than we used to. He says we actually have more personal time than we did a few decades ago. But I don't think so. It's possible some of us have more hours. But our minds are so filled, from morning to night, with news and demands, with interruptions, with externalities that reach out and suck us in and become (though they shouldn't) internalities, that our lives may feel like quicksand.

Well, mine does, anyway. And if the life of a relatively simple-living hermit writer feels so overloaded, I hate to imagine what it must be like for some of my friends who rush from 48-hour-a-week jobs, to family demands, to the tugs and pulls of being involved in politics, freedom activities, Netchat, and general effing, every-maddening noise.

The latest thought from scientists is that sleep offers a sort of a "filing time." It lets us sort and organize whatever came to us in the preceeding day. I can see that. But we need some waking time that's simply processing time, too. Time to be with ourselves in stillness, instead of having our consciousness suuuuuuuucked away by the exterior world.

Still reaching, reaching for that moral now. Because it's not just "modern life is too busy and demanding" -- yada yada. It goes back to what Saul Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals -- that every great revoluntionary leader has spent time in prison or in some other form of enforced solitude and inactivity (for instance, Jesus' 40 days in the desert). And that this enforced stillness is critical. Because otherwise, the would-be leader spends so much time being active that he never has a chance to synthesize -- to put his actions in context, to form their purpose, to see where he's headed with all that random action.

We rarely get a chance to synthesize our lives and we are in danger of living them not only randomly, but driven by outside forces. And worse. In many cases those outside forces are ones that, if we thought about it, shouldn't and wouldn't even be so important to us.

Maybe in slower times, 40 days in the desert once in a lifetime would have done the trick. I'm coming to think that 40 days in the desert -- without Internet or cell phone! -- once a year would be a boon in this day of demands. Otherwise, daily reality becomes quicksand, sucking our very selves in simply because we continue to step where we stepped yesterday and don't realize what's underneath.

I hope this doesn't come across merely as a babbling collection of cliches. Whether it does or not, here it is.

Posted by Claire @ 09:34 AM CST

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