Thursday, May 27, 2010
The steel beach zen garden
The question you might ask is 'why would you paint your deck with a 3-inch (7.5cm) paint roller?"
It's not about the speed at which I paint. Last summer I spent every spare moment painting the cargo deck and working gear. This year, I've just got the bow area and stern to paint.
When I first came to my barge, I went on a painting spree right away- we weren't that busy, and, coming from a ship, anything that wasn't tied down or actively running away while cursing was painted. With acreage to paint, speed was a factor. In the case of my barge, I've got little painting to do, and about 4 months to do it, now.
My belief is that when I came here, being a 'ship AB,' I was probably being eyeballed to see if I could take initiative as a tankerman. I'll admit that there's a certain comfort to being told what to do at work, and having minimal responsibilities, but even a loose collar chafes after a time, so I thrived on being thrown into situations where I had to make decisions on my own.
Painting my barge gave me an opportunity to do simple work that showed results. The fact that I stuck at it and did a nice job, I think, has given me a decent reputation as someone who isn't afraid of work... but, truth is, the familiarity of it is a comfort, too. The mindless nature of the work gives me time to sort out my thoughts and let my mind go adrift. I don't exactly go all Walter Mitty, but it does give me license to turn inward.
I noticed today that I could feel my heart slowing down as I painted the bow. I let my body do the work, and cast my brain loose, and went on autopilot. A few minutes later I started counting heartbeats, and noted that it was far below where I started... I felt good, relaxed in a way that other people get from sitting in front of the TV or in a beach chair, I think. As I worked, moving slowly, I got to stop and enjoy the warm breeze. I had a moment of Zen.
If you've ever read "Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (and if you haven't, you should), the author spends a lot of time extolling the need and desire for Quality (his capital Q), in the things we do, and how rare it is to find today. I read a great discussion on this not too long ago, using cell phones as an example. You can't find a cell phone that makes calls with the reliability of the old analog networks. You also can't find phones that last ten years. You can find a phone that reminds you to powder your balls if it senses you sweating, but you're more likely to break the phone than you would with the old style cell phones of 10 years ago.
Anyhow, I had my moment of peace, and it was perfect. I was able to shut out my concerns for my helper, a guy filling in, unfamiliar with our ways, who was killing trees wholesale while filling out the paperwork that goes with a triple cargo load with six cargo parcels to be dealt with. I was trying not to hover over his shoulder as he sweated and scratched out numbers... persistence paid off- he got his numbers to add up, and I quelled the ever-present anxiety that is my constant companion, just for a little while.