When You Know

Shannon Wardell
When You Know
For years I have noticed that every few months a conflux of deadlines storms through with multiple projects large and small due within weeks of each other. The weeks prior are challengingly stressful, like trying to juggle a bowling ball, a running chainsaw, a live rabbit and a cone of chocolate ice cream while riding a skateboard down a sidewalk littered with piles of dog poop.
A week was left for me to polish the presentation. It was nearly finished, along with the visuals; it had to be compelling since the potential audience included renowned professionals in our field. Ostensibly promoted as international, the actual conference would be prominently European-orientated, with German as the dominant spoken language followed by English.
The topic I found utterly relevant and worthy of attention. It had already consumed years of my energy in terms of research and development; how to best distill my material into a succinct presentation seemed a worthwhile challenge.
While brushing my teeth before collapsing in bed, I realized that I had yet again forgotten the haircut that I had been planning for weeks. Some things are not high on my to-do list, but my reflection assured me that I could wait no longer.
The next afternoon after arranging a later appointment at Zelka’s salon, I was riding my bike on my way to the workshop mentally reviewing the presentation:
… For example: the cyanotype, while originally an utterly non-intuitive invention in convenience by Sir John Herschel as a cheap way to copy his notes, this camera-less photograph references botanical illustration, photographic portraiture, architectural representation, image reproduction, and the original blueprint, which will also make your English enthusiasts completely geek out. Moreover, the science behind the cyanotype is even more mysteriously fascinating …

Crossing the train tracks, the words turned into the first verse of a different project:
When you’re feeling all alone, no one’s thinking of you at home
When you’re questioning why you’re here and why no one seems to be near
When you’re waiting for someone to call but only silence sings and that is all
When you’re staring at the wall but the paint dried long ago back last fall
When you’re staring up in the sky but no one answers your question why
When you look into the mirror and all you see is your fear
That’s when you know, that’s when you know that you know what you know
That’s when you know that you’re still alive
So name that shadow, step into the light and you’ll be alright

Later at Zelka’s, it was clear that she would be busy for a while, so Monica agreed to give me a low-maintenance trim. Taking off my glasses, the world shifted into an impressionistic painting. Soon I zoned back to the presentation:

The cyanotype is utterly enriching – Why? Because its history demonstrates how Science and Art can overlap in such a way that their complementary strengths are recognized, promoted and encouraged in order to realize innate potential.

When Monica was done, I put my glasses back on and saw immediately that my left sideburn was roughly 7 millimeters higher than the right. Part of me wanted to ask her if she could fix it. Another part was curious to see if she would say anything. My curiosity won. She said nothing, simply smiled, let me pay and walk out the door.

Back on my bike, I realized that it was unfair of me to be aware of her mistake, but not let her know. That was my mistake. At least I could fix hers. Passing an older man ambling stiffly down the street provoked verse two:

When you’re walking down the street but all you see is your shuffling feet
When you’re drifting through a crowd and catch yourself wanting to scream out loud
When you’re sitting at your desk, no place to work ‘cuz it’s one big mess
When you’re eating at the table, dinner for one, watching cable
When you’re brushing your remaining teeth and see that month-old Christmas wreath
You never threw away, maybe you will someday
That’s when you know, that’s when you know that you know what you know
That’s when you know that you’re still alive
So name that shadow, step into the light and you’ll be alright

Turning by the hospital, I shifted back to the talk:

Human creativity is the most precious natural resource that still exists in the western world on all political, economic and academic levels. It is inexhaustible and constrained only by the limitations of our own imagination – as well as the immediate environment that surrounds us.
Our Western society needs to nourish the creativity of individuals in each and every field in order to allow our civilization to keep competing against authoritarian ideologies and ensure a global sustainability that values democratic human rights.

Too pompous? I started to doubt my words and nearly missed the next turn.

Here we have reached the true core of what is at stake here. Creativity is found in all vocations and professions; it is the spark that inspires innovation.

Should I go back to tell Monica? Had I simply wanted to avoid an embarrassing confrontation?

This natural resource we can actively cultivate within environments in which you can feel that lambent force of creative tension tingling in the air. We need creative environments in which the convergent and divergent modes of thinking found within both Art and Science not only reference one another, but collaborate with one another with their full potential complementing one another.

Who was I to talk so? Why do this anyway? Life would be so easy without all this juggling. I could be enjoying a cocktail right now. All these works and words that I throw out into the world will likely affect little if any change in the larger scheme of life. That realization was almost as brutal as the one that followed: an external justification of activity smacks of deus ex machina made of tinfoil and bubblegum. To sense the tingle of that lambent force and be thankful that I can feel it at all: should this not be reason enough to work?
Yet why would an answer still be encouraging to hear?
Up the final steep hill home, the third verse kicked in.

When you’re singing in the shower and love that sound of echo power
When you’re walking through the woods, see leaves fall and it’s all good
When you’re reading late in bed and it feels good that you’re not dead
When you’re waking up alone and it feels ok to be on your own
When you’re brushing your remaining hair and realize that you still do care
About this gift running through your veins, about sunny days and autumn rains
That’s when you know, that’s when you know that you know what you know
That’s when you know that you’re still alive
So name that shadow, step into the light and you’ll be alright

Later, brushing my teeth, my reflection reminded me that I still had to trim my hair.

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