What impressed you as Shane found what he was up against and settled to it was the easy way the power in him poured smoothly into each stroke. The man and the axe seemed to be partners in the work. The blade would sink into the parallel grooves almost as if it knew itself what to do and the chips from between would come out in firm and thin little blocks.
[My father] picked a root on the opposite side from Shane. He was not angry the way he usually was when he confronted one of those roots. There was a kind of serene and contented look on his face. Shaefer, Jack. Shane. (pp. 25-26). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.When the boy's mother, Marian, comes to see what they are doing, she is surprised because initially her husband intended to take the day off and rest. Not sure what to make of the behemoth task her husband and Shane are attempting, Marian says:
'Humph... [t]his is a funny kind of resting you're doing today.'
The boy's father puts the axe on the ground, leans on the handle, and responds, 'Maybe it seems funny... [b]ut this is the best resting I've had for about as long as I can remember.'Of the entire passage, I find these sentences to be the most interesting. Shaefer is working with a paradox here- not only illustrating the physical strain required to accomplish their task, but suggesting one can simultaneously feel "rested" within and during the task.
Obviously, work is how many turn the hot light off and the cool light on. Yet, why does some work provide meaning while other work offers only boredom or dread? Similarly, how was the narrator's father in Shane able to feel "rest" while actually doing a grueling task? Is any of this related to what Jordan experienced as an athlete that he seemingly hasn't found as an executive? I think a possible answer to all these questions can be found within the work of Hungarian Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He has spent decades studying the phenomenon of FLOW which he describes as a sort of hypnosis where all sense of self, time, and place drift away and only a singular focus on the task at hand remains. For Flow to occur, some fundamental components have to be in place. For one, a person's skill has to be in proportion to the difficulty of the task being performed, and as one's skill increases, so must the challenge. According to Csikszentmihalyi, Flow can be achieved within a wide variety of activities- athletes, musicians, artists, even a mother piecing together a puzzle with her child can all experience it. Within each scenario though, there are always 3 common denominators:
- A clearly defined goal as well as agreed upon rules and boundaries that dictate the terms of how this goal can be accomplished.
- Freedom for decision making and creativity within these set rules and boundaries.
- Immediate feedback for the incremental steps made toward achieving the goal and recognition when the defined goal has been accomplished.
In my prior post, I referred to Csikszentmihalyi describing how many people feel “Sunday mornings are the lowest part of the week, because with no demands on attention, they are unable to decide what to do….For many, the lack of structure of those hours is devastating.”
The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility.” Orlean, Susan. The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (Ballantine Reader's Circle) (p. 133). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
|Saul Leiter's TAXI (American, 1923-2013)|
What about the photo’s action? Why do we seem to be moving? Is it that our perspective is slightly behind the car we’re looking at- like we’re trying to catch up? Everything changes if we’re ahead of the car, looking back. What about the man’s hand? Maybe he’s trying to find something to hold on to or he’s pointing while yelling directions. The entire photo is different, stagnant even, without this hand. We're simply next to a car stopped in traffic. What about the back window in brilliant silver? Hints of a rocket ship? An overstatement maybe, but we can't see through the glass, which does cause a blur of light and speed.
What about the man being dressed in a suit? This too influences our impression. An important person pointing or holding on to something or both? Not only does the photo change entirely if the cab is empty, it changes if the person is dressed casually. Then it’s the weekend or just a tourist perhaps. With our photo here, it’s a workday: the streets are bustling and we have an important person with an important place to be!
Also, you can’t ignore the the camera’s exposure which puts a quarter of the photo into darkness. The cab driver in silhouette adds mystery, forcing us to imagine this person. The exposure also creates the black space in the bottom left corner that extends across the entire bottom of the photo. This space not only provides an entry point into the photo but also a place where we can sit (hide?) and observe. The photo would be cluttered and claustrophobic without this black space.
Upon first glance, this photo seems like just an abstract blur of color. Upon second, you notice how the photo changes entirely if even the smallest of detail was different.
While Dick Johnson is Dead seems to start in this direction, it actually veers down a different path entirely. About 15 minutes or so in, a crew member talks about the death of his own father which prompts a tender moment where Dick talks about the death of his wife. At this point, we realize the slapstick irony of the film's premise is secondary to what the film's actually about: the portrait of a kind and sensitive soul. A point illustrated even clearer when Dick talks about the childhood shame he had towards his own body and in particular, his deformed feet. We see a closeup of his feet as he describes this shame. What's illuminating is the way he describes it which is similar to how an elderly person often describes such things- not with the shame once felt, but with a sort of curiosity or amusement, almost as if it happened to someone else. I say all of this to say, don't let the premise of Dick Johnson is Dead turn you away (or draw you in too much). The film is more about Mr. Johnson living than dying.