Focus/Listen

Today I spent several hours at the dentist getting two large, old fillings replaced with crowns. Not exactly the most superfuntime ever, but I've found that I tend to leave the dentist feeling quite relaxed. There's not much else to do aside from focus on breathing and monitoring my body for tenseness and making myself relax when I do feel tense. 

My previous crowns were traditional procedures where I received a temporary crown that then was replaced with a permanent one a week or so later. This time my dentist used CAD/CAM technology to create the permanent crowns right there, which I thought was so cool! Sometimes I feel like technology is behind where it should be (like how we should all really have electric cars already!), or has been used for things that are basically bullshit and not that useful (digital assistants like Alexa, which I have only seen people use to check the weather). But this CAD/CAM dentistry thing made me feel like I'm living in the future in a good way. It was a nice feeling since I spend a lot of time (as below) thinking in more negative ways about how rapidly changing technology might be affecting us and our society. 

 Random photos from the train station, fulfilling my new self-imposed mission of finding beauty or at least visual interest everywhere! 

Random photos from the train station, fulfilling my new self-imposed mission of finding beauty or at least visual interest everywhere! 

I had a while to wait while the crowns were created. I initially pulled out my phone out of habit, and checked email, Instagram, and Facebook. I could have kept scrolling mindlessly, but instead decided to put my phone away and just sit. One of my favorite podcasts is WNYC's Note to Selfwhich is about considering the impact of technology (particularly smartphones and social media) on humanity. They had a podcast series a couple of years ago called Bored and Brilliant, which is also now a book. I haven't read the book (yet) but I think the podcast series was really interesting. The subtitle of the book is "How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Creative & Productive Self," and the point of the podcast series was to challenge listeners to think carefully about how we use technology everyday in ways that are ultimately just distracting and not useful. 

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I consider myself a fairly light user of my phone and social media, but even so, I definitely find myself reaching for my phone in moments of boredom. I find myself mindlessly scrolling for twenty minutes when I meant to go on Instagram or Facebook to do a specific task like contact someone, sign up for a circus class, or make a post about an art project. I'm especially susceptible to the lure of the phone if I've posted something recently and want to see what kind of reaction it has gotten.  But this morning at the dentist the appeal was less for some reason so I put the phone back in my bag, and just sat. I looked out the window, looked at the colors of things (interesting combo of my current turquoise nail polish and orange vinyl chair that I wanted to photograph but didn't want to get my phone out again!), looked at the covers of magazines that I could have gotten up to grab and read if I wanted to. I played a game with the words on the covers of the magazines where you see how many words you can make out of other words, e.g., "INVISALIGN TEEN" = tea, in, is, sign, intense...and so on. 

I let thoughts float in and out of my mind, and thought about how the quality of thoughts is so completely different when mediated by whatever is on a screen. I've also been experimenting with this in relation to the idea of just sitting and listening to a piece of music. When is the last time you just sat and listened to something? I adore music, but very often I use it as background noise while doing work or making art. Which is, of course, just fine, but I also like the idea of really listening. I stole the idea from this review of Bell Witch's album Mirror Reaper. The reviewer points out that the album is one 83-minute long song, so "you're not listening to it on the way to work, you're not listening to this at the gym, you're going home, putting it on, you're sitting down, you're maybe taking one of those percocets from the last time you hurt your back, and you're listening." 

 Nice scotch & fire & music!

Nice scotch & fire & music!

I thought that sounded like a really great idea. I substituted some nice scotch for the percocet, made a nice fire, and just listened. (Here's a link to the album- Mirror Reaper by Bell Witch). It's doom metal, so probably not the kind of thing a lot of people will like [hi mom], but I love it. It's a very emotionally intense album. It was an interesting experience to just sit and listen to something for 83 minutes and stare at the fire and drink my nice scotch (just enough for a little buzz). There were definitely times when my mind wandered and a couple of times when I thought "gee I wonder what's happening on Instagram/Facebook/etc." or "I wonder if I've gotten any emails?"  But the cardinal rule of this experiment is NO PHONE! I would actually banish the damn thing to another room, but my best option right now for listening is to use my phone and headphones. I used to scoff at the idea of spending a lot of money on good audio equipment, and particularly at the idea of collecting albums on vinyl, but I'm starting to want some really nice speakers and a turntable....

 Fire with added pinecones coated in stuff that makes colors. 

Fire with added pinecones coated in stuff that makes colors. 

It's interesting to really focus on one sensory input at a time. I feel like my sense of hearing is one of my weaker senses. If I am really concentrating on something, I find it almost impossible to really listen. I like listening to podcasts and audiobooks, but I often find that if I have been really focusing on writing or making art or doing design work that I have actually not been listening at all and have to rewind to re-listen to entire sections. Of course I have the fire to look at, and of course my mind wanders and doesn't truly focus on listening 100% of the time. But it was still cool to radically limit what I was doing for a period of time. Similar to meditating but different.

In any case, I decided that this little experiment was worth repeating and did it again, this time choosing Mozart's Requiem as my music. (I picked a video at random from YouTube as I know I could go down an endless rabbit hole as to which is the "best" performance/recording of it). My choice of music was inspired by having recently watched the fourth season of Amazon's excellent show Mozart in the Jungle, in which the Requiem features prominently (in conjunction with an exploration of human vs technology that was very interesting). 

I've definitely never listened to the entire Requiem before, but parts were certainly familiar. I assume that some segments have been frequently used in movies, etc. And of course I've seen the movie Amadeus, which I remember liking but I should probably watch it again as it's been a long time. 

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I'm all out of nice Scotch so I settled on making a "Chapel Hill" cocktail, chosen entirely based on the fact that I actually had all the ingredients. I actually really enjoyed this drink a lot and would make it again. I bought the bourbon for making Old Fashioneds and didn't love it, and I bought the Cointreau for something else that I can't remember and didn't love that either, but somehow together with some lemon juice they're pretty nice! 

The Requiem...wow. I know a lot of people think classical music is just old and fuddy-duddy and irrelevant, but I beg to differ. It's amazing that a piece of music crafted in 1791 (227 years ago!) can still resonate with listeners today. So much has changed, and it's amusing to consider Mozart's reaction to our world today. But have people really changed that much? Probably not...

If anyone happens to be reading this and has suggestions for what I should listen to for my next fire/booze/music session, I'm all ears (hehehe). 

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