Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Like most people, I’m caught between the pull of wanting new experiences and the comfort of the familiar. Do I wan to try that new restaurant or stick with my traditional go-to spot? Should I take a chance on that new TV show or go back and binge Parks & Recreation again?

The idea of repetition as a means of understanding is something I’m thinking about today based on a bit from The Art of Noticing newsletter form last week. The concept of repetition as a means of understanding isn’t a foreign concept to me. As a musician, I’ve learned that it’s not just repetition in order to get things correct, but to understand the song itself and how best to serve the song beyond playing the right notes. As a writer, I’m fascinated by the idea of Hunter S. Thompson, as he was starting out, re-typing the works of Ernest Hemingway to feel the rhythm of the words and how they felt under the fingers.

There was a great restaurant in my hometown years ago that was run by an excellent chef who’d been trained in New Orleans. The menu was always changing and was full of things I couldn’t pronounce, let alone identify. However, knowing how good my first meal had been there, I made an active decision to always try something new and not repeat my meals there. Granted, it wasn’t hard because I couldn’t afford to eat there very often. However, it turned out to be a great exercise and helped me get over some picky eating habits from my childhood in the bargain.

Did I stop eating at my other favorite restaurants? Definitely not. So there’s balance – finding the joy and deeper layers that repetition offers while also making room to discover new things. After all, I could re-read the entire Tom Robbins catalog over and over for the rest of my life (and probably will), but I’d have missed out on some killer books the last year if I hadn’t given Neil Gaiman and Zadie Smith a try.

I’m realizing that it has as much to do with mindfulness as it does with the repetition. There’s a lot of things that I can do over and over without much thought, but I won’t get much out of it except marking it off my list of things to do. However, if I’ve made an active decision to look for new things in The Godfather or Charles Bukowski’s Love Is A Dog From Hell as I’m going back for another watching or reading, that’s where the joy of discovery comes in.

Sure, I could stumble on something, but it helps to have my eyes open.

Out of Order

I’ve been tearing through Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods over the last week or so and came across an old friend. (spoilers to follow)

About a quarter of the way through and along came a spider. Or, more specifically, a demigod who takes the form of a spider, Anansi. The scene had the feel of a surprise introduction in a movie or TV show. A character that wasn’t expected or, to flip it around, someone you’ve been long expecting and are excited to see. Anansi was introduced via his wardrobe and appearance, slowly clueing me in to who he was. After reading Anansi Boys last year, I was excited to get a chance to hang out with this character again.

Of course, I had the whole thing backwards. American Gods was published in 2001 and Anansi Boys in 2005. My “he’s back!” moment was really his introduction.

It’s had me thinking the last day or so about how we all live our lives on slightly different timelines and that things that are new to us might be old hat to someone else. How someone else’s old friend is our new acquaintance. After all, how many times have you bee talking to someone about a favorite book or movie – something really well known like The Godfather or Weird Al’s UHF – and they’ve never seen it / heard it / read it. The automatic response is “how can you not have?!”

Creatively, it opens up new possibilities because as old as an idea might seem to me, it’s someone else’s first time around. In a more general sense, it has me thinking about grace and how one of the greatest gifts we can give another human being is patience. Sure, we know the thing and how to do or act with the thing, but someone else might not know or be as familiar. That’s when I have the choice of anger or grace. I really wish it was easier for me to choose grace, but like Jules once said, I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.

That’s not to say grace doesn’t have limits. Last time I checked, there’s only one person with eternal grace and I’m not wearing that nametag. However, I know there’s ways and times I can do better.

Thank you, Anansi.