Shifting Down

Coming down from intense projects can be quite disorienting. I experienced that yet again this morning, when I suddenly found myself without anything immediate to do after several days of very long hours.

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First, the project:

It’s one I’ve been working on for several  months, as my family can attest from the not-quite-swearing that’s been coming from my direction. Already ambitious task, the scope of the project has been amplified in several ways while deadlines remained more or less immovable. And so it was that I found myself, earlier this week, putting in something like 26 work hours over a 2-day period. That may not sound like much, but in my work conditions, it amounts to more or less constant presence at my computer, with short breaks for napping and brain-soaking, eating in my chair, and that’s pretty much it.

Come this morning (and a decent night’s sleep for the first time in awhile), and one last piece to work on. A short discussion with my chief collaborator, an hour draftingt time (less than I had expected) — and the piece is off to him for his review, to be followed shortly by shipping off to the client.

And I found myself at 10:45 this morning, with nothing immediate to do until my colleague’s review was finished, energy more or less bursting from my skin. What to do? Answer: I went for a walk.

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I’m a fairly lazy sort. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but simply one of those things that I’ve pretty much learned to accept is true, regardless of how I might feel about it.

The flipside of this is what once I actually get my energy up and going on a project, it seems a shame to waste it. I’ve just pulled off one miracle (okay, more an unlikelihood than a miracle); why not try for two? Or three? Why not dive into the other work projects that have been waiting while I worked on this one? Clean the kitchen? Take up spelunking? Tackle my novel? Or maybe read fanfiction for a while?

The answer, grasshopper, is that I have done all of these in my time. (Well, not the spelunking.) And I have learned from my experiences. Specially, I have learned that no matter how much energy I think I have at the end of a work project, my thoughts are in fact delusions. Acting on them will only hasten the inevitable crash.

The effect is not unlike what happens when a hard-working car engine slips out of gear. There’s a roar, a racing of the motor — and a swift deceleration, dwindling down to nothing. The car sounds ready for anything, but very rapidly stops going anywhere.

(And here is where those of you who know more about cars than I do will roll your eyes and explain that I have completely gotten it wrong . To which I respond: it’s, um, a metaphor. Or something like that. Yeah. Oh, wouldn’t you know? I seem to be late for a spot of embarrassment somewhere else right about now. Really, so sorry I have to take off…)

The more rational choice might perhaps be to crash right away. And yet that doesn’t answer well, either. For one thing, there’s all that (albeit temporary) energy that needs doing with. And then there’s the desire to at least land gracefully, suggesting a tapering-off motion as opposed to simply dropping into free fall. (My, I seem to be flirting with quite the variety of metaphors here.) Not to mention that my decisions at such times are sometimes not the smartest, meaning that it could be a good idea to stay away from, you know, anything that could catalyze my mental and emotional focus in pretty much any direction. Hence the walk.

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It’s a beautiful day in western Wisconsin.

We’ve had a wet late summer and fall. Apples and other fruit are scarce due to a late frost earlier this year, and I haven’t had a chance to get outside much. But today the sky is blue, the sun is out (with a few clouds), the air is cool but not cold; leaves are still green but beginning to turn, beginning to fall. Squirrels are busy, and birds.

I put on a light sweater, shoes (including brand-new orthotics to help my feet), and walked up into the neighborhood just north and west of where we live, up above the cemetery. I tried to imagine the lives of the people in the houses that I passed. A couple of houses had been apparently vacated; one held an empty lot with “no trespassing” tape. I wondered what had happened to the house that once had been there.

I walked briskly, for something like a half hour. Slowly my mind cooled, my imagination calmed, and I lost the impulse to fling myself into something new.

I headed back. And then I wrote this.

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One Response to “Shifting Down”

  1. Laura Nielsen says:

    Walking is good for you. Thoreau says that man should be like the camel, the only animal that ruminates as it walks. I’m going to take a walk shortly. And I can assure you that it’s safer than spelunking.

    I hope you are back to two-handed juggling by now.

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