James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

11: Let the Rails Do the Work

My heart is exceedingly warmed. Thank you for the incredible well wishes, either through kindhearted emails, phone calls, or those surprise visits to the hospital. It’s been a steady recovery from the blood clot removal procedure, but doing miles upon better now. It feels weird to be out in the world, walking, breathing, and performing activities normally. Kindness is the best healing.

Leaning towards last week’s thought on the “clots that block us”, I received a reply from Rhonda Mitchell that resonated deeply. Moving is regularly tough, so she shared her struggles with her “clots” from a recent move to Chicago from Tampa, Florida.

“It brings me back to a couple of years ago when I came to Chicago and instead of beginning my journey then, I ran back to my comfort zone Tampa, Florida. Although the decision to go back to Florida was big, in the larger picture it was small. Over the couple of years developed into this massive cloud in my life. Unhappiness at its finest, being in a place that I was bigger than, I felt trapped and alone. Now I look back and the initial decision was the clot forming within my life, moment after moment, day by day, the clot grew and began to affect everything in my life. It took me to have a severe breakdown (the clot at it's peak) to realize that I had to make changes in my life if I wanted to live.”

Curiously enough, as I’m sharing this story about the clots in travel, I’m writing this week’s letter while traveling on an Amtrak. It’s one of my favorite transportation options, mostly for its slow pace. From the fellow passengers, to the wise-cracking conductors, Amtrak travel is charming with an old world feel that contrasts our lighting-fast present day.

As we were departing Chicago Union Station, the conductor gave his usual rounds of information, spouting upcoming destinations laced with humor. I’ve heard it enough during the Lincoln Service line where it was a commonality by this time, rattling off exactly what he was going to say, but this time was different. Just as I was to block out the world and plug into my earphones, he said a phrase that stuck with me.

“Sit back, relax, and let the rails do the work.”

While I’m sure this was an off-handed remark, or this particular conductor’s witty catch-phrase, it still attached to my brain. How many times do we let life simmer and work?

When travelers take trains, you are not choosing rail travel to get to a destination quickly, you are choosing it for the luxury of a slower pace and to enjoy the journey towards your destination (or perhaps the cheaper price). Creating a system of rails in the United States took a lot of work, approximately 188 years worth, to place the rails in our current railroad system. There’s still work to maintain the rails and adding fresh railways, but standardly we use these already completed rails toward our destinations and let them do the work. We don’t strip the rails after every trip and then lay down pristine rails before a new trip.

Especially in the world of knowledge work, we want to develop quickly (and easily). Can you blame us, we’re used to convenience! I know I think about how life was before being able to send text messages. We want to learn things quickly, attracted to written pieces with the titles “5 Quick Ways to (Insert Whatever Life Development Skill We Desire Here)”. The majority wants things fast and straightforward, and that’s not a bad thing, but what would if we desired to slow down and enjoy the journey of learning? What would we see? What would we retain? Would we entertain the journey of development, or would we just seek the end destination, grasping every shortcut to get there quickly? Perhaps we need to sit back, relax, and let our minds do the work.

What do you think? Just hit reply and let me know. I’d love to hear what is churning in your brains about this.

Thanks for reading and see you next week,

-James

What did I find interesting this week?

1) What Is Love?: I unapologetically love "love," so I thought this short piece on Farnam Street that attempts to critically define love was intelligently adorable.

2) A Duo That Met on The Dance Floor: Keeping up with the love theme, I was excited to find a friend of mine, Aay Preston-Myint and his boyfriend Colin Dickson, featured in the Chicago Reader as a "power couple". Such a wonderful read, and their story is amazing.

3) American Promise, A POV Documentary on PBS: I stumbled across this fantastic documentary on PBS which follows two young black boys for 13 years upon acceptance into one of New York's prestigious private schools. You can watch it for free online until March 6th, 2014.

4) How I Landed a $38,000 Apartment in Brooklyn Heights: An interesting short read on WNYC that digs deeper into the Mitchell-Lama program, an affordable housing program for middle-class residents.

James T. Green