The Weather

Baby Steps

I awoke this morning with grand aspirations. Those lofty goals were set last night, while wallowing in a fit of pre-sleep anxiety: “Cut your fucking hair, hippie.” “Shave your gawd-damned face, freak.” “Clean up your cramped and cluttered living space, cockroach.” “Write a masterpiece worthy of a Master’s in writing, you degenerate rat bastard.”

Fortunately, while taking an eight-hour nap a less brutal mental monologue took stage. This one seemed modeled after Bill Murray’s character Bob from the fine film of 1991 (the last year the lowly Minneapolis Twins won the World Series), What About Bob?

Specifically speaking, I’d adopted the mantra of “baby steps.” There’s a scene in the movie where Bob, a severely agora- (and everything-else-) phobic sack of shit visits a new psychiatrist, played by the talented Richard Dreyfuss. The psychiatrist is about to embark on a prolonged and much anticipated family vacation. He craves seclusion and quiet. But Bob is needy. He craves attention. As a temporary salve for Bob’s symptoms, until a more focused treatment can be prescribed and can cure the underlying disorder(s), the shrink suggests that Bob focus on what lies immediately before him, and how he wants to navigate through that environment: taking “baby steps.” This advice, followed to a T, leads Bob to seduce the quack’s sister and to drive the descendant of Freud insane, catatonic.

“Baby steps, out of bed.” “Baby steps, brush my teeth.” “Baby steps, stretch.” “Baby steps, make some coffee.” “Baby steps, sit down and read.” It was at that point I discovered the historic precedents of the magnificent maxim “one foot in front of the other.” I thought it was perhaps from some Johny Steinbeck tome where a character stunned by forces so much greater than himself decides that rather than committing hara-kiri, they will become a steppenwolf, a Hermann Hesse fictional creation of a character who goes on living with the knowledge that if ever life becomes unbearable they will pull the metaphorical, metaphysical, plug. I thought wrong. The mountain-climbing smut I was intellectually ingesting had instructed me: It was the Zen concept of Shoshin.

Shoshin, translated ineffectually into the English, means Beginner’s Mind. It is famously invoked by the existential practitioner Shunryu Suzuki in the phrase, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Pleased, I closed the periodical.

“Baby steps to seduce Suzuki’s sister.”

It is currently sixty-nine degrees Fahrenheit in most of Fremont County, with a predicted high of ninety-one and a twenty percent likelihood of isolated thunderstorms.

Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.