13 March, 2001

Welcome to my world.
. . . In my world, I could spend fifteen minutes talking to you about creativity as a spiritual discipline or I could describe, moment by moment, the process of cleaning the stainless steel ring that goes around one of the burners on our electric kitchen range.
. . . Talk of wispy, airy-fairy concepts like creativity puts people to sleep. It puts writers to sleep! So let me talk instead about something down-to-earth, something concrete or, more specifically, something stainless steel.
. . . I wouldn't have been cleaning that stainless-steel ring if I hadn't forgotten a sauce pan full of split-pea soup simmering on the stove. It boiled over. Ooze the color of putrid monkey guts ran down the side of the sauce pan onto the electric burner. The scorching smell of it reached me in a far corner of the house and reminded me of the folly of doing two things at once. I threw away the soup, washed the pan, and gave the burner a cursory cleaning.
. . . That night, smoke filled the house when my wife used that same burner. Let me tell you, a real blessing is a wife who blames herself when things go wrong or who, in this case, blames the stove for being electric instead of gas.
. . . Of course, the blame was mine. I had cleaned the obvious mess, but didn't realize soup had flowed down into the burner well. All of us like to think our mistakes are minor and easily corrected. None of us want to give our mistakes a thorough examination. There's no telling what we might find!
. . . For all the smoke, I'm pleased to say the soup residue didn't catch fire. Distilled pea soup forms a syrupy goo that even a blow torch won't ignite.
. . . Next morning I gave that burner and the catch basin underneath it a thorough cleaning, the final touch being to take the stainless steel ring around the burner and make it shine.

OF COURSE, burnishing a burner ring takes time. Charred hydrocarbons offer excellent resistance to water, detergent, scrubbing, scouring, and sand-blasting. If you ever want a durable coating, I highly recommend split-pea soup heated beyond a golden brown to something approaching black.
. . . Eventually, with persistent elbow grease, the burner ring came clean, even if it did take half an hour. That gave me time to think, especially about the talk I was to give the following Sunday at church about creativity as a spiritual discipline. "I've got fifteen minutes," I thought. "If I'm going to say something, it should be the best."
. . . As I scrubbed, the tight inspiring outline of a concise fifteen-minute talk formed in my mind. It was brilliant! But now, trying to recapture that thought, nothing comes to mind.
. . . This is typical. Happens to me all the time. Perhaps it is typical of our species. I hope not. What happens is this. I'll think about something in a meditative state -- usually while luxuriating in bed before rising, in the shower with the hot water flowing over me, or sitting with my eyes closed in front of some late-night television show with the commercials muted -- and one thought leads to another to another until something brilliant suddenly occurs to me.
. . . Unfortunately, these brilliant thoughts have the permanence of smoke rings. A mature philosopher (or so I imagine) can remember such thoughts as their minds make the transition from a relaxed meditative state to one focused on communicating those thoughts.
. . . I've learned to do this with dreams. A fellow named Daniel is supposed to dream. But, since my given name is Danny, not Daniel, I don't expect my dreams to be prophetic. All the same, for decades, dreams have found their way into my journal every week or so.
. . . This takes discipline. As I wake, I repeat the dream, tell it to myself as I make the transition from sleep to wakefulness. Then I can write it down. Having gone through this process with a dream, I can remember it indefinitely. Perhaps something like this is possible with thoughts that blossom while scrubbing stainless-steel burner rings.
. . . My wife, by the way, was delighted with the clean, polished ring once I had finished my work on it. "It's beautiful," she said. "Now you can do the other three!"
. . . Cleaning those other three rings should give me ample opportunity to experiment on getting my meditative thoughts on paper before they disappear. Perhaps if I coat the thoughts with pea soup and scorch them to a deep black, I can preserve them.

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Text and images copyright 2001 Danny Nelson Schweers