On down

When I think about tools, I think of portable instruments that extend the power of our hands. But we’ve developed a complex arsenal extending the function of all other body parts – clothes and skin, bicycles and legs, optical instruments and eyes. Indeed, we may think of our whole technological environment as a complex set of imbricated tools. There is a space, however, where functional artifacts seem essentially different: the bedroom and its many trappings, designed optimally for rest and pleasure. So much I associate the idea of a tool with that of action or production.

Today, I went on a trip to Ikea, and bought a luxury down pillow. I am a bad sleeper and as such, I have developed a particular bed fetish. I like to curl up in fluffy down, wrapped in my own micro-climate, isolating myself from the rest of the world. Only then would I feel ready to dream.

Quality bedding carries a sense of warmth and safety. But I experience mattresses, blankets and pillows as vaguely taboo. Today, I spent $99 on bedding, and feel somehow embarrassed. I hear Voltaire’s line in my head, ‘J’aime le luxe, et même la mollesse’, and feel not quite ascetic enough. I wouldn’t think too much of spending the same amount on books or a special dinner out.

Yet all afternoon, I’ve gone back and forth from the study to the bedroom, lay inside my quilt and gently rested my head on ‘Knavel’, feeling its soft, supporting embrace. I’m not sure whether this new pillow will forever cure my insomnia, give me reliable comfort at the end of each day, and let me wake up full of energy. But I’ll give it a try. Others would favour drugs – I choose feathers and down.

On Sabbath

Last year, a couple o friends invited me to join them for a Shabbat lunch in Paris. All details had been set in advance, as they would not pick up the phone that day. The food had been made the day before, and kept warm overnight on a special hot plate. When I came in, there was a shawl over the TV screen, and the table was set, beautifully. My friends were smiling and happy.

We shared a delicious meal together, followed by a song, prayer, and a reading. Then we discussed history, current affairs, literature. We went for a walk to the park, deep in conversation, contemplating ideas, observing people, remembering the past. I escorted them back home, then turned on my mobile phone, jumped into the metro, and returned to my Goy life.

One of the beauties of Judaism, as I’ve seen it practiced and described, is the concrete clarity of the rules guiding daily life. On Shabbat – from nightfall on Friday to nightfall on Saturday – you shall not work. Rules debated over centuries define activities allowed and forbidden. What remains is not a vacuum of boredom or mindless ritual. The day we spent together had books, friendships, reflection, and joy.

I often struggle to rest. The idea of a Sabbath is appealing. But I find the boundaries of my work so fuzzy that I can’t imagine what it would exactly look like. Without the strict rules of a religion, not only guiding me, but also creating collective meaning – I find it difficult. I stayed in bed this morning, leisurely read books for my thesis, exchanged a few messages on Facebook, watched ‘Empire Strikes Back’, and wrote this piece. Next, I’ll be heading to a birthday party. I feel reasonably rested, but not certain this was a proper Sabbath.

On blocks

Sometimes, when we work with our minds, whether it’s writing, research or design, we get stuck.

It’s a recognizable feeling, both mental and physical. The back starts to hurt, the jaw clamps, the shoulders and arms tense up. Ideas no longer flow, but sentences or words, to-dos and cliches, echo like earworms inside the brain. We look for distraction, social media, chats, games, or good old food and drink. Walking or stretching should fix it, but most often, it doesn’t. And the pain continues.

In teams, I’ve seen it happen. Tension grows, aggressivity threatens. The solution is always to name the problem, move bodies around, and seek another way of interacting. Drawing often works, or dancing, singing. Let the dynamic change, make space for new collective patterns to emerge.

But alone, I struggle more. The tension is different, it lacks the urgency of potential aggression – carries no more than a dull sense of annoyance towards the world and the self. And so, it lingers.

I wonder today, whether the work of the mind could be compared to that of polishing wood. As we pass the file on our ideas, sometimes we meet a knot, a solid block hiding in the grain, where things don’t flow. This is where we get stuck. If we keep on pushing, we might hurt ourselves, or ruin the whole work.

So what should we do? We could start by acknowledging that knots are a crucial element in the fabric of our minds. And when we meet one, rather than grudge and grumble, celebrate this encounter with a something solid in the fleeting fabric of our thoughts. Gently caress it with our inner hand, feeling its shape, letting it be. And over time, as we learn about our different knots, decide whether we should circle around it, or forcefully cut through.