Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Daily Dose #37 (07/04/11)


Although exploring the creative process may be one of the driving conceptual forces of The Daily Dose, manual labor can play a huge role in opening up pathways and clearing obstacles that may be obstructing a clear view to achieving a state of creative flow.


Carlo was a little old elf of a man. He stood barely at five feet and had an incredibly thick shock of curly black Roman hair streaked with gray. He would wink at me with twinkling blue eyes that would put Paul Newman's to shame.

His total mangling of the English language went way beyond the definition of "broken".

Carlo was one of the many Italian immigrant workers that my Grandfather had recruited to make the trip across the Atlantic to work in our family's pasta factory, and pursue the American Dream.

He brought his son Caesare over with him, and both he and his son worked side by side in the factory to make a better life for their family, in Auburn, NY USA, and for the family they left behind in Italy as well.

When I became of age at fourteen to work summers full time in the factory, being the "Scion" of the whole shooting match meant that I had to be made an example of: Nobody was above anybody else, so I started with the crappiest jobs that could be found in the factory.

Workers in the factory like Carlo had to experience the Rossi generations beating down on the future generations first hand. That was the family and thus corporate philosophy as laid out by my grandfather to my father, and my father to me.

Pasta Princes start at the bottom, cleaning the factory communal toilets.

Your value to the organization was based on what you could do, not who you were.

Dad always stayed late after every day shift, and since he was my ride, I always pulled overtime until he could finally close up shop and go home for the night.

In those quiet hours, after a long day of toilet cleaning and linoleum scrubbing, I still had to be productive. I graduated to dust wrestling with the skeleton night crew as they started the second shift. The hours between 4:00pm and 7:00pm were spent with Carlo, the Leonardo DaVinci of sweeping floors.

Making pasta on an industrial scale is dusty, dirty work. Flour has a tendency to get all over everything. Particulate matter control was a bottomless pit of a task.

The pasta was manufactured on the second floor of the factory, and packaged on the first. Carlo and I swept that second floor at the close of everyday as the sun started to droop for the night, blasting its last shot of radiant light upon the panes of the factory's Washington Street western windows.

Being a fourteen year old knuckle head and relieved to have a task that didn't require me to breathe in the day's collective piss and shit smell of an army of workers, sweeping was a big promotion.

Armed with a push broom, I attacked those floors with gusto, working out my teen-aged rage banging bristles on the floor. I could have been swimming in the lake, water skiing with my friends, having a normal kid summer, instead of what I was currently doing. I was making money, but at the sacrifice of a summer vacation.

Black foreboding mushroom clouds of dust erupted to the ceiling, silhouetted against the western window wall; My violent re-creation of Nagasaki in miniature and outward expression of frustration, and I was Godzilla with a broom.

You couldn't breathe, but anything was better than what you had to breathe in those bathrooms.

Carlo snuck up behind me and gently put his hand on my shoulder. I turned to his crooked little smile.

"No, no, no Meeestah Roasz... a like-a dis"

The thought of a grown man calling me "Mr. Rossi" was initially disconcerting.

"Call me George, Carlo, not Mr. Rossi."

Again that funny smile. He didn't understand. With his hands now trying to translate his inner thoughts, he again said, "No, no, no Meeestah, Roasz... Lemmee show"

My inner smart ass now piqued, I thought: Show? Show what? Its fucking sweeping, fer Chrissakes.

And as the dust bowl cloud I created started to settle, I saw the light.

Here was a man that had swept that floor everyday for thirty years. He proceeded to show me how he had elevated the most mundane of chores, sweeping, into high art.

All of his critical thinking, all of his creativity, all of his muscular control, and all his focus was directed and narrow beamed. It was like watching a combination of an Italian Elf and the Nureyev of sweeping. He epitomized flow, calm, and ultimate efficiency. His rhythm and balance, the length of his stroke, the conservation of energy and his state of grace were all clearly on display. Sweeping was a prayer, a meditation, a science and a choreographed ballet all rolled up into one.

Not one speck of dust flew up from the floor. Every single particle ended up in the pan instead of the air. When he was done, that floor was really clean.

As he taught, I learned Zen and the Art of Pasta Factory Floor Maintenance.

I started to go home every night in a state of peace. My mind was now freed to think of other things, because the stones of frustration had been removed from the pathways. Instead of being exhausted, I was energized.

Carlo and I swept that second floor every night that summer, and yes, by summer's end I learned how to elevate the utterly mundane into the absolute sublime.

But he taught me so much more than that.

Everything you do, every muscle you move, every breathe you take and every task you undertake can be broken down into a system, analyzed, and done better.

From brushing your teeth to tying your shoe. The simpler the task, the easier it is to reach a sense clarity of mind. Have you ever really given any concentrated thought about how you walk through a room? Could it be done better? Can you streamline your actions and can you improve efficiency? Can you manage effort by finding ways of conserving it and minimizing it? Can you reach a higher state of consciousness in the mundane, by constantly seeking flow, and thus a state of calm?

Carlo had spent thirty years seeking the Zen core of sweeping, and he found it.

And then he shared it lovingly, with an open heart, to me.

Carlo knew that by perfecting the art of sweeping that factory floor, that he was part of a larger system. He was just as important as the foremen, the plant manager, the warehouseman, the ladies in accounting, the truck drivers, the salesmen and even my Dad.

If he reached a state of ultimate flow, he would contribute flow to the system as a whole. That system made stuff, and the stuff that system produced fed people.

This is where he recognized his value. This is where he found his sense of self-esteem in the art of sweeping floors. This is how he connected with the Universe.

He was the microcosm of the macrocosm incarnate. As he contributed and participated in the art of the flow, the flow came back and ran right through him. He was a circuit on the board, and one that wouldn't function as well without his contribution.

Nobody is above anybody else.

And no task, no matter how mundane it may be, is either. Screwing up on the simple stuff is going to block your access to a higher state of consciousness, and a higher state of creative flow.

Getting on the grid and participating in focus allows the grid to feedback into you.

The key to the door of your place on that grid might be something as simple as folding your underwear differently, or finally getting around to organizing that bottomless pit of a catch-all drawer in the kitchen. Engage your brain fully to analyze, re-calibrate, and improve.

Everything you do, seek the higher elevation level everytime you do it. Make the most ridiculously insignificant thing an art. That type of focused discipline will reveal the path to secure your future place of efficiency on the grid of creation and reciprocal energy flow.

Some may call that being "In The Moment" or "In The Zone". The trick is in getting there, getting there quickly, and being able to get there consistently.

You don't have to fight it, or seek it in desperation. The Daily Dose is in the discipline. It will come to you if you can truly sweep your floor like Carlo.

Clear the dust, and then you can dance.

"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.

I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.

The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"





Anonymous said...

Thanks George,
When my epileptic husband died in the streets ( Yes,in America) due to lack of health care, I wandered "the desert" of my life for two years. I recently convinced someone to let me sell fruit for them in the hot sun. ( it was an uphill battle, I had to throw out the real resume, and pretend I worked someone else for the last 20 years) and I must say : I no longer suffer from anxiety OR insomnia. I sell strawberries and smile and sleep like a baby.
Doubt I'll do this forever, but it was a fitting reentry into the "real world", with no doctors or Paxil required. Who knew ?

It's great to work with your mind, but when your confusion is total and focus is merely a concept, go out and sell strawberries or sweep floors, and it'll all make sense again, somehow. For awhile anyway....

Thanks buddy, keep up the good work !Come see my version of the princess and the pea sometime this summer, Hope and Dick run it for me, and I wrote in a crazy Italian chef who steals the show. ( you would actually be great in that part !_)
Love ya,

Rick Short said...

George, we're all, "helping to put a man on the moon", if we so choose:


Thank you for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

Good George! Work can free your mind to wander, and it truly centers the body. And as you say, reaching the zone can repatriate an energy to the organization.

Anonymous said...

love this. thank u. sw