I began thinking of Sisyphus in the myth as someone to be pitied, stuck in an endless cycle of an insurmountable task to be repeated forever. As a kid I knew of the Sisyphus myth through some Evergreen book that had a cartoon of him, which my beatnik parents had lying about. It said he wore a Hair Shirt and I was confused because I didn’t know what a “hair shirt” was, a hairy shirt? A shirt made of long hair like mohair? That saw soft and nice… How was that punishment?
I later read Greek mythology and the Sartre essay. A friend and I use Sisyphus as a metaphor for an artist’s existence. As my walk progressed I did find the suggested consideration of him being a keen observer quite satisfying. My task allowed me the freedom to observe the details of my trek, like Zen sweeping.
I walked with my rock from my condo in a warehouse district thru an urban area of town to the top of a hill that had a park. I walked through the park and felt strange that at mid-day I was the only one here. I continued through a residential are to the pinnacle of elevation in my journey and descended back through residential area back into an urban area, then continued along a river to home.
Most of what follows is stream of consciousness interrupted by storytelling, which kind of describes how I work and live.
It took me a bit to find a suitable rock, but when I did I became quite attached to it. Perhaps so did Sisyphus. My rock was smooth and soon became part of me and I of it. At first it was cold but then it warmed to me or I to it.
My rock became my companion not my burden
Hills are great vantage points.
Awareness of tasks makes them melt away and then you can observe.
Tasks free you to think.
Our society is still slash and burn, we may think we’ve evolved but we haven’t we have only made larger more indestructible villages, that will in time crumble. We build only to destroy and move on.
We as a society should walk more. I live in an intentionally chosen area that encourages walking. Yet I tend to use a bike or a motor scooter out of laziness.
People wont look each other in the eye when passing on the street.
Do we have contemporary mythologies and fables? Are they useful anymore?
I used to think of my life experiences as burdens if they made me feel uncomfortable.
I used to make theatre to deliberately make the audience uncomfortable.
Yet I felt burdened when felt that way. I was trying to shift my burden to the audience. Here you take it. I will share it with you.
I am my discomfort it defines me.
It’s OK to struggle it infuses meaning into life.
My rock is my partner. Together we will experience life with a new awareness that is internal not external.
The weight of my rock reminded me it was a fellow traveler on our journey. Its presence did heighten my observations as if it were a companion, it pointed thing out to me as a companion would.
I imagined if I were tasked with a larger object (as Sisyphus was) it would take longer to become one with my rock. Yet I’m certain it would happen.
I am privileged to have control over my circumstance I could be less fortunate and be required to be given a task that is unpleasant and uncomfortable.
To truly comprehend this myth or fable on must repeat this task ad infinitum else it become a prurient academic exercise. To make this worthwhile this must be done every day for a week, a month, a year, 10 years, etc.
I thought of Samuel Beckett when I saw a homeless guy and he reminded me of Vladimir and Estragon in “Waiting For Godot”.
Beckett has the world’s best absurdist joke… from the novel “Watt”. It’s a description of a woman, who takes a bite of peppermint, “Then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion, then a bite of onion, then a bite of peppermint, then a bite of onion… and so on.”
I noticed a guy leaving his house walking to his massive PG&E truck parked out side his tiny 1200 sq. ft. bungalow. The truck, bigger than the house is how he affords the house smaller than the truck.
Self-inspection as I carry my rock. Why did I do this? Am I the same person who agreed to do these months ago as I am now when I finally do it? No. Change is as constant as the surface of Sisyphus’s boulder, as he pushes and once at the top see his work brushed aside by cruel irony and the boulder rolls back down, and he must start his task again. Cycles. We are systems of cycles on the micro and the macro. We push and are pushed.
I’ve been inspired to take a daily walk by this activation assignment.
I was educated in theatre and in acting we are trained to be observant, to see beyond the surface, to invent back-stories.
A lady who was in front of me for a while became confused and turned direction, I thought because she may have thought I was stalking her. But she changed direction twice and look confused so I walked beside her and then in front but we both stopped at a crosswalk. And he then did the same behavior and walked up the street and back down to the cross walk, then past it and back, never moving more than 6 or 7 feet at a time. I was almost a dance.
Her back story was that she actually was just having a neurotic melt down and changed her mind 6 times in the span of 30 seconds…
I’m going here, no, I need to go back, no, I should continue this way, no, better go back, no continue. I’m going here, no, I need to go back, no, I should continue this way, no, better go back, no continue. I’m going here, no, I need to go back, no, I should continue this way, no, better go back, no continue. I’m going here, no, I need to go back, no, I should continue this way, no, better go back, no continue.
She became the woman in the Beckett novel.
As I walked back through town, a man and a woman, my age (Baby Boomers), waited with me at a stop light cross walk. I think they noticed the rock in my hand and started to whisper to one another, the conversation became louder, but I could only get snippets. Nothing understandable or relatable, things like; “They”, “Walking”, Hand”, “Black” (I had a black shirt on). I thought they might be speaking of me and snuck a look over my shoulder as the man used his head to gesture towards me to the woman; I turned and looked directly at him they both looked at me and quickly looked away. Ah, that moment of awkwardness was perfect. It gave me enough energy in the air to push a 4-ton boulder up Mt. Everest.
Do I say something, No, just keep to task, and allow them to make up my back-story.
Their back-story is they are visiting hippie tourists, he was stoned and she not.
I walked along the river on the home stretch, A man disturbance up ahead distracted me a meter maid was giving a ticket. A man got on his motorcycle a Triumph, quite new looking. He waited for me to pass him and then started his bike. British bikes are so much more quite than any others.
I walked by a footbridge across the river, my route kept me on this side and as tempting as it was I stayed on this side. Then I noticed a white headed pigeon with a black neck and iridescent green and blue spots in a ring around the neck, a mostly black body. It had white tail feathers with black on top of the wings and white and under the wings. I continued through restaurants and coffee shops then back to the warehouse area in which I live. The rest of the walk was uneventful, the river murky, barely flowing, more estuary than river. I took my only pause in my walk and noted the river, Siddhartha or Sisyphus… I could just not stop thinking about that pigeon.
What a beautiful bird the much-maligned pigeon can be quite beautiful. Like many thins on our journey “up the hill”, we so often fail to see what beautiful and matters due to our superficial contemporary nature. Only if we can get beneath the surface either physically or psychologically can we transcend the mundane nature of tasks and see them as something more than a means to an end. Once we slow to see, feel the texture of the rock, and feel the tension of our muscles as they strain to push can we understand that each task is a universe. The world in a grain of sand that we push up the hill of our lives, over and over again. Then a bite of peppermint… then a bite of onion.
This report comes as part of a larger personal project I devised for my oldest friend. I'm a theater-maker that has waded in deep with pieces designed for one person at a time for a bit now, and have loved reading your book, which I bought in this past year.
The larger piece is around a quick story you might enjoy. When we were children, M. and I had a ritual of calling each other on Christmas morning to compare notes on what we got, often with an eye to post-holiday playtimes. One year, M. got the yellow Voltron lion (it was the mid-80's). I excitedly replied that I had received all five of the lions and could form Voltron. M. was a little crushed after that conversation, and it became a running joke about our respective childhoods (his: austere, mine: a little garish) as we've grown older. He made me a Voltron t-shirt a few years ago for my birthday.
For this birthday, M. is going to receive all five lions (which I tracked down over eBay) from our childhood, through a wide array of experiences. Each lion has become a separate branch or component of the overall piece.
The third lion is about his relationship to his family - his present girlfriend, recently engaged; his ex-wife (and close friend of both of ours from high school) who lives literally down the street; the two children they had together who are now in their early teens; his struggles as a post-PhD academic stringing along adjunct positions, frustrated that he can't feel like more of a provider. These burdens have come to define some measure of him in these last years, and this piece is pushing him towards looking at it. He's coming over for dinner that the two of us will cook together (inspired from another Odysseyworks piece - thank you) as we discuss his experience, followed by a tarot reading around the questions that arose for him today.
The first thing he's required to do when he comes over, though, is write a report for you on the Sisyphus task. In this version, he picked up large stone I left for him, with a note to carry it with him up the hill to the apex of the fire tower at its top. In the tower, he parted from his stone and was allowed to discover a note hidden in the cracks of the tower that gave him instructions as to how to view the land below as a map that would lead him to the next lion. His words are below:
I understood that the rock was symbolic of a burden, my burden, but it took on different meanings on my hike up Mt Toby with it. Even as I suspected I was meant to be carrying this burden and then letting it go, it also felt like a friendship rock at times. The friend who set me upon this task, the rock was also about him and our history. At moments the rock was the “work” of maintaining a friendship over a long period of time. I was doing some special work. A few times I dropped it accidentally, losing track of it in my hand. Once it dropped amidst many other rocks, and for a moment I thought I might pick up the wrong rock to carry the rest of the way of the Mtn, and would the meaning then change or be nullified? Silly thoughts. But the point I think is that it was more than a symbol of my burdens, it became a symbol of a special task laden with meaning. I even considered keeping the rock after leaving it at the top of the tower, as a part of the larger collection of charms and notes in this game I’m playing. It was hard to feel unburdened by leaving the rock, but I was in a place with a view and a breeze and enough grandeur to at least feel temporarily unburdened. To feel that there are always places and moments I can get to that are less burdened. I also noticed on the hike that it was refreshing to have a different reason for hiking up a mountain. It wasn’t for fitness, it wasn’t to spend quality time with my kids or Emily, and it wasn’t for the view or to take a “nature bath.” There was a sense of mystery and curiosity propelling me. A kind of game, a little like the sort I used to play as a child with the friend who sent me on this quest. I tried to access that state of adventuring outside where the motivations were different, motivated by play and imagination, careless of time, fatigue, mosquitoes, or anything else but the mission of play, whatever that was. But it is challenging now to get there now. My mind returned to practical items of concern, planning, the work and challenges ahead. That made me a little sad...
I completed the Belief Gambit exercise this past Monday. Here are my brief reflections ...
Being alone and discussing out loud my counter arguments was helpful. The rest of that evening and throughout the week, I continually noticed when I was making an assumption. I noticed when people used the word "believe" or "belief". Like I had a sensitivity to it. I've been writing more and a number of my beliefs were about myself as a writer.
re: Belief Gambit
Ok, I tried to do this by myself. First, the biggest "problem" was that as I already knew what I should do at the end (thinking of alternative solutions/issues), that was affecting my thinking already at first stage, when I needed to make a list of 10-30 beliefs. Meaning that as I was choosing the beliefs - I already thought of how that could be wrong. It could work that way as well, but I suppose this experience could be more precise, if you don't know step 4 before you have done step 3.
As the experiment itself... Probably the biggest thing - that was involved in all beliefs - was that most of the definitions/facts are man made. Like in the example "world is round". World is as it is - but shape/term "round" is defined by humans. Same with countries, legislations, languages, colours - almost everything goes under this section. These "facts" could be different if history has gone other way. In general I am quite sceptical person and look for alternatives - so I don't take many issues as facts or beliefs. World is just too complicated place for that.
I will try this with some friend and tell how that went.