Monday, March 16, 2009

On Emptiness and Form: The New Blog Entry by Ryan Rasmussen

It is a time of moderation in every thing. Moderation of enthusiasm keeps you balanced. Moderation of despair deepens your understanding.

— From the I Ching, Hexagram Li/The Clinging, Fire; second changing line

I try to live a saintly life. Sure, some might call me stiff-necked, others insufferable, but in truth I aim to do good work, do right by others, and eat all my vegetables. Good, clean livin’. I have never believed in the myth of the suffering artist, but these days, with a plate filled to overflowing, I accept that adversity and limits are necessary if we are to truly realize ourselves.

And so. I allow that if there is a vice in the repertoire, it might be coffee. Lately, it seems that caffeine doesn’t agree with me. I think I have been clear on my fondness for the black gold. True, I am not one to guzzle a pot of truck-stop java; indeed, I scoff—scoff—at the day-old carafe lingering on the burner at Wawa, and at work I proudly avoid the company joe. But most days I enjoy a sizeable cup or two of my special extra-strength home brew.

I suspect that normally this intake would not pose a problem, as indeed it didn’t for many moons; but coupled with a number of other pressing matters, responsibilities, obligations, duties, challenges, projects, expeditions, and the odd bit of administrivia, the effects of 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine on my beloved adrenals have been unpleasantly pronounced.

And, so, being reasonable—and striving for saintliness—I give up the stuff. Just like that.

I know.

Now, I did have a cup of coffee last Sunday, and a little green tea on Tuesday, and then a bit more on Wednesday, but apart from that, I have been free of caffeine for going on three months. It just seemed best not to short out the ol’ nervous system.

In the subsequent study of non-caffeinated teas, I found one featuring kava, an herb native to Oceania and the South Pacific, suitable for relieving stress and claiming to “set your mind free.” I thought I might have found something, but my Anthroposophic doctor (this appellation being neither a critique nor a bid for acclaim, but rather added merely for color, as the sort of thing one might say at a cocktail party to the right company) insists that I desist from imbibing this particular beverage if I want to avoid damage to my liver. Heck, if I wanted that I’d take up alcohol in earnest. That would be the writerly thing to do.

In this way I was reduced one day last week to a morning ritual of Lipton decaf tea, the kind you get in a little packet trumpeting 105 mg of antioxidants. Doubts quickly surfaced, however: who knows what sorts of multinationalistic pesticides were also lurking within the teabag, or what poor broken-backed native had to schlep burlap sacks of this stuff up and down the jagged ridges of the Andes? Fair Trade, shade grown, and biodynamic this stuff was not. My mind was certainly not at ease.

It’s possible what I miss most about coffee is the elaborate ritual involved in preparing the ebon brew. How better to prepare for, or forestall, an evening writing session than to take the trouble (an interesting choice of words) to prepare 16 ounces of presspot coffee to the most exacting standards?

At last year’s Austin Film Festival, I consulted Lawrence Kasdan on the matter of burning the candle at both ends. After all, he had been a father, and in marketing, before he got the call from Spielberg. Lawrence recommended that I take a break from writing. A break! What could he possibly know of the writing life? I mean, really.

Later, however, I recalled the sabbatical Hesse took from writing Siddhartha (how does one write of enlightenment without having achieved it?), which doesn’t give much comfort if your goals are no less lofty and you aim to produce something greater and with a better title than The Anxious Viking. When at long last you discover, perhaps to your dismay, that your main character is you, then the heavy digging begins and you find your opening into a darker yet richer world, an unearthing of deep roots that have always been there but are not so easily won.

If all this comes off as complaint, I apologize. There are considerable bright spots to report, after all. My meditation practice is stronger than ever, the Kid I mentor in the gym has set new personal bests in both the bench press and leg press, and somehow I’m close to ripped these days.

Then there’s the glowing performance review at work, the documentary on which I’ve begun pre-production, and Jenifer’s blossoming yoga classes. Hawk, of course, continues to delight and amaze. In the past couple of weeks, he’s begun scooting; and just a few days ago he’s taken his already considerable trilling technique to the next level. (I have no doubt he will prove an apt pupil when the time comes for learning all the requisite sound effects for ray guns, dinosaurs, and alien cyborgs.) His bright, sunny nature is undeniable and wonderfully inescapable. When I am in his orbit I needn’t remember what it is to be so perfectly present, for he is blissfully unaware of time and cause and effect, and beautiful, and amazed at the gift of embodiment, and I remember to just breathe, just breathe, Ryan, and my heart is full once again.

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Blogger Eric D. Lehman said...

I have also cut coffee for the most part. It seems to aggravate my asthma.

And kava is bad juju - all the kids are mainlining that stuff these days. Try some Inuit tea from here:

What is this documentary of which you speak?

2:18 PM  
Blogger Ryan Rasmussen said...


The doc is about the Phoenixville Firebird Festival and its role in the artistic and financial revitalization of the town. I'll post more here as I reach news-worthy milestones.

9:09 AM  

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