A Piece of My Mind

August 17, 2010

During the first week of August, I had the immense pleasure of visiting my dear friend, Gabriel Frachon, and his family in their newly-acquired chateau in Clefmont, France.

Let me pause for a moment to interrupt the visions of hand-carved weaponry and chandelier-clad sitting rooms that the word ‘chateau’ so fantastically provokes. In the place of any such whimsical imagery, I would like to insert the post-script that Gabe would undoubtedly wish to scribble at the bottom of this entry:

French passport aside, Gabe is far from the heir of a French dynasty. Contrary to popular belief, his mustard spotted mustache and wine stained lips are only partially genetic. On a seasonal basis, Gabe and his parents occupy one portion of a small chateau shared by five families and best described as an informal co-op in stone-clad disguise. This past spring, the Frachon family signed on for the endless challenge of renovating stairwells, installing plumbing, and restoring life to the ancient walls of a stunningly historical home that dates back to the 1100’s.

As a guest amongst their laboring love, I was instructed to fulfill the arduous task of playing as hard as humanly possible. Much like the knights and soldiers who came before us, Gabe and I retired each evening with muscles aching from the strenuous activities of frisbee throwing, soccer juggling, and football catching. Sweaty browed and smiling, we occasionally broke stride to unearth the plethora of forgotten treasures covered by dust or drowned in cisterns. In the honorable name of history and inebriation, Gabe spent his last night in Clefmont digging through several of the chateau’s many underground rooms. I woke up smiling to the sound of his dirt-covered slippers shuffling up the stairs at 5:30am. In a rare moment of early morning clarity, I remember feeling warmed by the thought that, as I slept, Gabe was busy collecting dirt beneath his fingernails just two stories below.

While our pre-dawn hours could not have been more different, Gabe’s relentless tunneling made me suddenly aware of the mental excavations that have been taking place in the neglected corridors of my own world. Over the past six weeks, I have noticed flickering lights in the once-thriving metropolis of my imagination. My dreams have become increasingly clear and inventive. My thoughts incorporate ideas and hypothetical scenarios that have nothing to do with my day-to-day reality. My end of the conversational see-saw has felt pleasantly unpredictable. My mind is becoming mine again.

The first chapter of my dirt-bag diary seems to involve an extensive retraining of my creative mind. These days, my eyes fall on different horizons; my ass sits in different chairs; and my mouth tastes different foods. Thankfully, my mind rewards this return of variation by producing new ideas and expanding upon old thoughts. I am both relieved and amazed to witness my mind’s reclamation of the eight mid-day hours previously colonized by workplace monotony. Two weeks buried knee deep in an aromatherapy garden could have something to do with this phenomenon.

While kneeling in the garden, I think about all of the possible inventions that lived and died in the minds of people who didn’t think their ideas were grand enough to pursue.

When rinsing vegetables, my mind wanders to the beautiful and occasionally disturbing truth that all human beings are a product of varying degrees of arousal and sexual intimacy.

After bottling oils, I imagine what it would be like to watch my five-year-old self navigate a crowded playground or share a tire swing with the first-grade version of my grandmother.

During the fourth consecutive hour of pulling weeds, I approximate how many square feet it would take to contain all of the used toothbrushes in the entire world.

As blisters turn to calluses, I think about how strange it would be if every person suddenly found themselves in a room filled with strangers who look almost exactly like they do.

While moving dirty mattresses, I wonder how much weight I could lift if my life depended on something buried beneath an impossibly heavy object.

When harvesting herbs on the side of mountain roads, I can’t help but imagine who will turn to the smells of savory in an extraordinary attempt to heal.

While watching steam rise from a homemade distillery, I envision looking down at the world and seeing the brightly colored trail of every footstep that I have ever taken. And as the oil lays itself down on the shoulders of scented water, it’s easy to imagine how our bodies would look [or how our partners would feel] if every kiss that ever touched our skin became suddenly visible.

We all have repeating thoughts, strange curiosities, and active imaginations. During certain periods of our lives we are granted the freedom, clarity, and peace of mind to nurture the creative imagination that separates our cog from the rest of the machine.* Blame it on the ubiquitous scent of patchouli in the essential oil den, but I have been investing an incredible amount of time connecting the dots of my daydreams. After choosing to pull my mental threads, I have found that some of my more abstract thoughts have a history longer than some of my most prized friendships. In elementary school, for example, I remember looking out over the Grand Canyon for the very first time and wanting so desperately to be a part of that moment forever. I remember fishing some loose strands of hair out of my mangy locks and watching them slip off my fingers into the air. I remember feeling satisfied knowing that a small, unhygienic tumbleweed of red hair would be rolling around the rocks as a testament to a moment that was mine. Up until last week, I failed to recognize that this thought reemerges every single time I visit a place that I want to remain. Depending on the company I keep, I occasionally send a tangle or two flying when the mood strikes.

There is absolutely no saying what may happen to what is ours after we release our grip. Over fifteen years of my free-flying DNA is roaming the earth, perhaps better recognized as insulation for birds’ nests or the nausea-inducing debris of unlucky landscapers. Similarly, I have a sneaking suspicion that the original occupants of the Clefmont Chateau did not design their courtyard for the benefit of American leisure sports. Thankfully, our imagination will always be close at hand. When lost, our creative mind cannot be plucked from the rack of a second-hand store; instead, our thoughts and ideas can be recalled with the sharp whistle of change and inspiration. While we may pop buttons on our trousers, the pants of our mind always fit. So as I pack my bags this week and leave the utopia of Le Pompidou, I plan to make room for all my little brainchildren, new and old. You will find us fat and happy in Switzerland, snacking on chocolate and yodeling with mountain goats in the land of Switzerland.

*Those of you reading this post in your cubicle may realize that this may not necessarily be your time. Feel free to shout your cries of freedom in my ear when our situations reverse.

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