A beautiful chicken hawk patrols the area behind our house. A vigorous flyer –you know the species – it surveys the territory from a perch high up on a GT&T telephone wire, swooping down occasionally to snatch a kreketeh or some other delicacy. The bird is robust; there’s a wide trench nearby and the pickings must be good. I’ve spent some time watching Mr Hawk (okay, it could be Mrs) and the truly remarkable thing is that there is an old piece of former kite tail hanging down from the wire, and the bird always comes to rest on precisely that spot. Maybe it’s like the ‘X’ on the runway that identifies your landing, but on a wire running hundreds of feet, Mr Hawk always goes to the kite tail spot. I’m talking scores of times here; always on that one spot. It’s probably the country boy in me, but I find that amazing.
Secondly, while the bird is supposedly up there with lunch or dinner in mind, he is often, frankly, just hanging out. He’s preening, flapping his wings, looking about, sometimes apparently dozing (it can get hot out there, you know), and basically passing time. It struck me the other day that many of us, me included, should take a page out of the chicken hawk’s book and spend some time just sitting down somewhere on some late afternoon, or lolling in a hammock, and letting your mind wander wherever it wants to go. A good measure of understanding or realization comes from that kind of private pondering; our forefathers used to indulge that practice; today, we’re too busy texting or tweeting to bother.
Today, it’s the quick fix. In music, the quick hook, never mind that long build up; in sport, we want nuff scoring and preferably now – hence gritty 20/20 instead of the patient techniques of Test cricket; in food, we want it fast – never mind the grease – and out the door; we’ve come from a time where a letter to Canada took two weeks, to where we now complain about the email if the computer isn’t hooking up in seconds. I hear it all the time: somebody wants me to write a jingle, or make some PR suggestions, and they want it in 24 hours. Good ideas, catchy phrases, clever slogans, are almost always the product of considerable thought, of change, sometimes of complete revision. The stuff that comes to you, bingo, is generally just ‘passable’; ‘good’ requires time, lots of it, and ‘great’ is usually the result of long, repetitious honing and polishing. It explains the often insipid advertising slogans, or confusing graphic layouts, or writing without a fundamental point, that one sees in Guyana. Clearly, people are not spending enough time thinking about what they want to say, or how to say it, or, God forbid, even why to say it, before they say it. The process of perusal , of weighing and balancing, is at the heart of any good conclusion, or good creation, and you don’t get that by rushing.
These days, living a faster life, and with all the distractions that come to us, most of them uninvited but often alluring, we don’t have enough time for the lengthy contemplation where the tendrils of wisdom or acuity are usually born. As a youngster growing up at Vreed-en-Hoop, out of Saints and with no job for a year, I spent many long, boring, hot days alone (everybody else at work) basically contemplating. I read voraciously, but after four hours of that your brain starts to feel like a forced-ripe mango, so you end up letting it swirl and dip aimlessly. I passed many hours like that on the old Vreed-en-Hoop groyne (it’s still there) in a kind of free-fall thinking, and I have a hunch that has something to do with the meandering brain I developed.
One reality today is that our economy may not allow us the luxury of the time required for lengthy examination – you have to get the thing done and get it sold; things tight – but I would argue that since we are not in a breakneck society, like North America’s, we actually have more empty time on our hands; the hours we spend in the rum shops is evidence of this.
I wrote a column recently about those sudden awareness moments that come to us, and that does happen, but more often, on some particular Gordian knot you’re looking to untie, it is in those long stretches of solitary contemplation that the answer emerges. Conclusions born in that kind of careful consideration often prove to be substantial because of the measured thinking that produced them; you’ve taken time to look at all the possibilities, to consider dissenting opinions, so you end up on solid ground. And on the purely artistic side, it is from the extended engagement with ideas and choices that the singular direction emerges. The unique work is usually a consequence of intense and extensive attention.
Also, in times of personal anguish, with conflicting ideas swirling about, those quiet hours, or even minutes, can serve to let the emotional dust settle, and bring you to a point where you can now see a solution emerging where there was only confusion before. Just following your mind wherever it goes can often lead you to an understanding, or even to a sweet slant on something, that surprises you with how simple and perfectly shaped a solution it is.
You can say I’m glorifying the bird. Mister Hawk is a predator; he’s up there just scratching an itch, or trying to lull some kreketeh into carelessness. Fair enough; I’m theorizing about the hawk, but I’m being very practical when I say we can benefit from following his time-out behaviour on that wire with the kite tail.
Take a break now and then, you one and God, with your cell phone off, get yourself comfortable and just let your mind loose. You don’t have to go as far as the Vreed-en-Hoop groyne; your backyard will do, or your hammock, or your favourite chair, and let your mind ramble. You’ll be amazed at what you will find.