Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Frying Pan?

What is with the title of the blog?

To answer a question with a question: what does Frying Pan evoke for you? For me, the following each participate in relational frames with Frying Pan:
  • The greatest trout stream in Colorado, nay, in the US (The Frying Pan river in the Roaring Fork valley)
  • Cooking over a campfire
  • Smoky bacon grease (apologies to my vegetarian readers
  • Sunsets
  • Family
  • Fatherhood
  • Childhood
  • Masculinity

Of course, I could go on. I'm not sure what Frying Pan evokes for you, but the power of words to evoke conditioned associations is something I find fascinating and important. For me, Frying Pan is a positively joyful verbal stimulus, which is why I named the blog The Frying Pan.

To make a larger point, though: it isn't guaranteed that it will remain that way. Of course, every time I cook a meal over an open flame in my cast-iron Lodge I will reinforce this association. Even now, thinking about the smells, sights and relationships coordinated with this word warms me a bit. On the other hand, I could imagine a scenario in which this association were to become painful. Perhaps I, or someone I love were to be attacked by a madman with a frying pan. Suddenly, a previously cherished symbol would become toxic and painful. Perhaps I'd want to rename the blog. After doing so, it's possible that the very act of blogging would bring to mind this post, and I'd experience sadness as a result. Perhaps I stop blogging so as to avoid the unpleasantness of my memories.

Our experience is composed of an unfolding process of associating arbitrary thoughts with one another. By arbitrary, I mean things that are not inherently related (frying pan and fatherhood).

What am I talking about? And why? Hopefully this is a small demonstration about how painful memories, thoughts, or sensations can integrate themselves so insidiously into our current experience of life. This process of relating takes place completely independently of our actual experience in the world. For instance; let's say I take an important test to qualify for professional liscensure. Perhaps I haven't been a particularly strong test taker, and I associate test taking with failure. Somehow, though, I manage to do well. One would think that I would feel excited, proud or confident. And maybe I do...but in the background comes an associated though..."well, you did well on a test once in graduate school too, but the next semester you failed miserably." Suddenly, instead of being sensitive to what has happened in the world (passed! yay!) I doubt my own ability to succeed in the future.

All of this is point towards the inherent unreliability of our own mind, in certain contexts. Certainly, if you are reading this, your mind works well at at least some things, like reading and navigating a computer; probably countless others as well.

But now consider an area in your life in which you have a considerable amount of difficulty. Perhaps with food, or with disciplining a child effectively, or getting off the internet (wink) and getting your work done (don't leave yet). How reliable has your mind tended to be in this circumstance?

There's a line from an old Steve Earle song, Devil's Right Hand:

It'll get you into trouble, but it cain't get ya out

Now, Steve's referring to a cap and ball Colt pistol, but he could just as easily be referring to his own mind. And if you know anything about this incredible singer/songwriter, you'll know that his mind has gotten him in a fair amount of trouble.

I'm sure he's not alone. I'm certainly there more often than I'd like. So now what?

This blog is largely going to be about the conundrum of living with a blessed, cursed mind and trying to find a bit of wisdom in the space between.

Stay tuned.

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