To awake in the morning is to step into the treadmill of motions that come so secondhand that they blur seamlessly into the previous day. Apparently part of the reason that life seems to speed up with age has to do with the fact that so many actions are non-memorable occurrences. The toothbrush. The shower. The coffee. The motions are rehearsed and consequently blend into a sea of other actions. This is what life is primarily composed of. Which is why any kind of fracture in the pattern can become an earthquake. We don’t remember the days that went as planned. We remember the days that something unexpected happened.

This is classic story structure. Everything was exactly the same. Until it wasn’t.

This is the function of the crescendo in music. It was all kind of the same until it wasn’t. The music rises to meet something else. The structure of the song that made sense splits to reveal something else. The beat is interrupted. A downtuned guitar thunders into the predictability and crushes some skulls, presuming this is metal that we are talking about. You love that half second in that one song right before it hits. You know the timing by heart. The passenger in the car next to you also knows and disapproves of your volume level.

A way of reading or hearing or being can be transformed by an interruption. Your pattern has been ruined and replaced by something new. A pattern of predicability becomes undone and is renewed because of it’s undoing.

A rift in the curtain of routine can be misunderstood and discarded as inconvenience. In some instances it is precisely that, an inconvenience. In all instances caring for another person is coupled with the inconvenience of caring. The only difference is whether or not the inconvenience is received with gratitude.

Then again, not all patterns are worth repeating.

An addiction is a pattern. It is a solution to the burden of everyday consciousness. It wouldn’t become repetition if is was ineffective. A deadening enough pattern can dull pain until death. It is a method of coping by not coping. One day I will wake up and things will be different. Not today of course. Maybe tomorrow. Eventually…

A hated job can be a pattern. It works. It solves a money problem. It makes living manageable. If the bills are paid I can do tomorrow over again. What if life is something more than paying bills?

On the flip side waiting for a dream to show up and resolve a fairly predictable life can also be a pattern. There is a humility in accepting the responsibility of repetitions for the sake of another. One of the ways of loving is contributing work to a relationship. A chore is indicative of responsibility inside of something larger than just the self. A chore can be a burden or an offering. It can also be a little bit of both.

Agnus Martin

The work of Agnus Martin is based on the slow repetition of simple forms across a large surface. It is one more rectangle drawn below one more rectangle again and again and again. The surface of the work takes on a look of unity and stillness due to the accumulation of similar shapes. The trick is seeing that similar is different than the same. The beauty of the work is that similar is not the same. When you get close you can feel the hours hum off of the surface of the work. A person made this. Time was invested in the simple task of repetition.

Roman Opalka

To repeat can be a way of counting. One number at a time. Like the work of Roman Opalka whose subtle fluctuations in color stem from the simple fact that a brush runs out of color until it is dipped back into paint again. The numbers fade then recede into the canvas, only to jump back when the paint is fresh. It is a dying followed by a rebirth. Over and over again. There is an implication of dryness or seasons in life. the interplay between a wealth and a poverty. Things die. Then they return. The work repeats the patterns of life.


On the flip side of the celebration of patterns and minor deaths are the rejections of consistency. How many people insist that a romantic relationship “feels” perfect before any kind of commitment? At what point does requiring perfection from another person become a pattern? How many times do I have to run through the ringer before I accept some culpability in failings? Is it repetitive if it is seven times around the track? Is it repetitive if it is 490 times?

“Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

If there is one thing that I am not interested in pursuing as a pattern it is forgiveness. There is a threshold and after seven times I’m with Peter on this one. After seven times someone is clearly being an asshole. You should’ve learned by now. In a job you don’t get 7 days to show up late. That’s the way that forgiveness should work. Like a job. Right?

Then again…How many times did my parents have to compensate or pay for conscious mistakes that I have made? How much compensating have other people had to participate in on my behalf? More than seven times? Do I need a calculator to figure out how many times I have been shown mercy in order for mercy to be a constant in my life? The short answer is yes. I’m sure Google has an app to run the calculations for me.

I want for forgiveness to be a constant for me, but my threshold for everyone else is pretty damn low. I’ve had it with these assholes. I’ve had enough of this asshole in the mirror.

Day in. Day out. Same bloody mirror. Same face. Same imperfections. Same toothbrush flecked with dried toothpaste.

Why are the imperfections the only thing that I remember?

Love my neighbor as myself? I don’t even like myself sometimes. Nobody can do this shit. The forgiveness that I was blasting a few paragraphs back has moved back onto the stage again. I thought that we had killed him off, but he resurrected.

What if the way that I choose to skew information is a kind of chosen way of seeing? What if the things that I chose to see are a pattern of chosen focus? It’s pretty easy to call myself an asshole. It’s also pretty easy to let myself off the hook for everything all of the time. It’s easier to sleep than it is to think. It’s nothing that cannot be resolved without a more effective method of distraction. More beer? Another binge watching of another TV show I half care about?

The distractions all work out great. Until one day they don’t.

How many times have I been forgiven? Many.

How many times have I needed forgiveness? Many.

How many times have I extended forgiveness? I’m honestly not sure, but I don’t want to put my forgiveness on a scale against what I have received if I am honest with myself.

The number has to be getting up there. It might not be 490 yet, but it must be getting there.

Freedom is being freed from the monotony of cumulative good/bad deed accounting religious or otherwise. It is an insufferable condition because it is an unmanageable condition. I have to be completely off the hook and fully culpable for fuck-ups simultaneously. To desire grace is to be divested of the need to quantify and measure my failings or triumphs against another. No better wins, no worse losses, we are level on a field.

Axel Willner (The Field) creates music out of nearly monotonous repetition. A wet red heart thumping behind the humming white noise of electronics. The funny thing about heavy repetition is that it becomes hypnotic. The subtle trick is that Axel tweaks a repeating pattern until the beat is right on the cusp of becoming too tedious. He shifts a dial slightly and pure magic occurs because you have become so used to the norm that the subtle shift transforms into a surprising crescendo. The strange thing is that the crescendo itself is so subtle that you might miss it until you are in the middle of it. It’s almost nothing. It’s just a pattern. Until it’s not. Then it is utterly transcendent.

2 thoughts on “Repetition”

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