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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Non-Proudly, Non-Presenting…

(Snap it up, science fans. This week’s Secondhand SCIENCE super-informational snippet is about micelles, which are very important biochemical doohickeys.

So obviously, the words are mostly about Tom Cruise, Waterworld and Frosted Mini-Wheats. Because science, duh.)

I have one goal in life.

That may not sound like much. But for a lot of years, I didn’t have any particular goal in mind. So it’s basically a one hundred percent increase. Maybe if I live until eighty, I’ll have two goals.

Or one and a half. There’s no need to rush things.

Anyway, my goal. It’s simply to be present.

Okay, so now it really doesn’t sound like much. Shaddup, I’m new at this.

Of course, I don’t mean “present” in the sense of physically present, like showing up at roll call for first-period math class. Trust me, that is not a goal. A thing I wake up in a cold sweat from, maybe. But not a goal.

Rather, I mean “present” in the same way as the people who sit pretzel-style in pajamas and listen to sitar jams and eat hemp burgers and massage their chakras with shaman-blessed healing crystals. Only I’m not into any of that other stuff.

(Except the sitar jams, if there’s a nice breakbeat to back them up.

Though frankly, I prefer the oud.)

Let’s put it this way: all those things surrounding the simple idea of being present (or mindful, if you’re a buzzword bingo fan) — all the aura lotions and energy sweatpants and tantric needlepoint retreats — require some semblance of belief. And I don’t have any. Fresh out. Gave it up — for something other than Lent, obviously, since that would also require belief, and like I just said, I’ve got none.

Who knows. Maybe I’ll grow some one day, to go with that second goal.

In the meantime, all I want is to be more aware. To pay attention to whatever it is I’m doing, notice the thoughts and sensations I’m having and to fully experience the unique and bewildering umwelt that only I have access to.

Not for any grander reason. Not to commune with daffodils or to moon the astral plane or to have sex like Sting for four and a half months at a time. Just because it seems better than the alternative. That’s my goal, and it’s utterly and entirely simple.

“I’ll spare you the philosophy and the struggle and the practice techniques you could get out of any dime-store fourth-grade self-help book or neo-hippie patchouli dealer.”

Also, I’m freaking terrible at it.

I’ll spare you the philosophy and the struggle and the practice techniques you could get out of any dime-store fourth-grade self-help book or neo-hippie patchouli dealer. Instead, I’ll just give you an example of how terrible I am at paying attention, and then I’ll go back to walking into closed doors and forgetting where I left my pants.

Yesterday, I was at work — the hardest place to be “present”, outside a Middle Eastern prison cell or possibly Cleveland — and I got some bit of fluff underneath my contact lens. It stung like hell, so I popped it out and stumbled to the office bathroom to rinse it off and jam it back onto my eyeball.

Somehow, it doesn’t sound so bad when you’ve been doing it for thirty years. You good-eye people have no idea.

Anyway, I reached the sink — and I should explain here that our company has a semi-automatic mens’ room. Which is to say, the urinal flushes itself, though the toilet doesn’t. The lights come on automatically, but the paper towel dispenser is manual. And the water in the sink is motion-activated, while the hand soap requires a quick push-push on a plunger to squirt it out.

Those last bits are important. Because one gets in the habit, in this half-facilitated facility, of doing things a certain way. Like using the sink. Every time I use the bathroom, I wash up — and it’s push-push-squirt the soap into one palm, wave the other hand under the faucet, water on, rub-rub-rub and grab a towel. It’s a routine. I’ve got the muscle memory burned in. You might even say I do it… mindlessly.

And that’s what I did yesterday. Single goal be damned, I charged into the bathroom without thinking, contact lens in hand, and push-push-squirt-ed soap all over it. I didn’t even realize it until I was rub-rub-rub-ing under the water, and realized there was something between my fingers. Something small and plastic, and kind of important.

That’s how a ten-second trip to the bathroom for an eye adjustment became a twenty-minute ordeal of wiggling a hand under the faucet to keep the water on, furiously bathing the lens in water, sticking it in my eye — and realizing, nope, not quite all the soap is gone yet. And then clawing it out in considerable pain, resisting the instinct to push-push-lather, rinsing some more, and repeat.

It could have been avoided, with just a sliver of presence. But the brain took a nap, habit took over and Softsoap poured in, ruining my day. And my goal. And possibly my cornea.

I’m starting to wonder whether my “simple” goal isn’t maybe too difficult to handle. If I can’t be fully present, maybe I can at least have the goal to avoid a permanent eye patch.

Either that, or I need to start burning aloe incense and find a nice healing-crystal monocle. And I’m afraid I don’t have the dreads for that.

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Me on Film 'n' Stage:
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