I used to live next door to a guy who owned a snowblower the size of a French automobile. His name was Russ and he thought I was an idiot.
“Woo! Look at all the snow,” he announced to the world at large as he stepped out onto his side porch. The neighborhood was empty, save for me wielding my blue plastic shovel. Russ figured I was a better audience than nobody.
“Mike. Mike. Mike. What do you think? Ten inches? Twelve?”
“Seven, maybe,” I replied as I paced back and forth pushing my shovel. Talking about the weather was no reason to pause in my work — especially if the person I was talking to was Russ.
“Seven? No! Ten. Probably 12 or 13,” he corrected me. “Hey. Once I’m done with my snowblower, you can use it.”
I kept shoveling. “No, thanks.”
“Really?! You’re gonna break your back doing…that…when my snowblower could do your whole driveway in five minutes?”
“I like to shovel.”
Russ snorted. “Suit yourself,” he said. The tone of his “suit yourself” could only be interpreted one way: “Suit yourself, you idiot.”
Then Russ went back inside his house. He still had to throw on a light jacket to prepare for his snowblowing adventure. Sure it was 20 degrees, but there’s no need to bundle up for a job that takes only five minutes.
Although I would never have accepted anything from Russ, I was being honest with him. I enjoy shoveling. It’s quiet. Nothing is better at deadening noise than a fresh blanket of snow and, when I am out there, I hear little more than my shovel scraping along the asphalt. I’ve grown to find the sound lovely — not because it is an intrinsically appealing sound, but because I associate it with an appealing state of mind.
I also refuse the offers of well-meaning neighbors wielding leafblowers. Raking works for me in very much the same way shoveling does. Both tasks require a certain degree of focus but are freeing enough to let your mind wander or, in my case, go pleasantly, refreshingly blank.
That quiet mind, I’ve discovered, is often the lull before a creative storm; when I finish shoveling and get back to work, I am rarely more productive. My brain is rested and ready to go, my ideas flow with little effort, and my happiness is total.
On this particular snow shoveling day, however, my mind couldn’t get as blank as I would’ve liked. I was still delighted, however. For there, woefully underdressed and cursing under his breath, was Russ failing to get his snowblower started.
I couldn’t help myself.
“Want to borrow my shovel?”
“No!” Russ spat as he gave the cord its 20th white knuckled pull.
I wanted to say “suit yourself,” but I couldn’t do it. It is such a smug and jerky phrase, isn’t it? Regardless, I entered my house with a happy heart. I had just shoveled seven or maybe 13 inches of snow. I felt useful, rested, and vaguely fit. Better yet, I could see a pot of coffee and an afternoon of inspired writing in my immediate future.