Friday, May 13, 2011

Magnificent Muddle

I can feel something pulling me toward simplicity and I don’t like it. There was a time I had penchant for chaos, or at least, a manageable chaos. For most of my years in the pharmacy, where one would assume an orderly dispensing area, I was bored enough to allow a muddle of papers, vials, pens, bottles etc… It was my way of creating a small challenge to find a passage through to order. It wasn’t done intentionally; the seeming disarray evolved as a daily act against repetitive brain disorder. Now I notice my small pleasure when bills get paid, checkbooks are balanced, even when I’m chauffeured around, relieved of navigating. It must be a sign of aging, this intolerance for restaurants which serve NOISE as their specialty. The world is a noisy place, I know, but why seek out ambient decibels to accompany conversation? 

Soldiers are sent off to war as an act of simplifying complex dynamics into poles of good and evil. It provides a semblance of purpose reinforced by danger, as Shirley Hazzard put it. Every nation seizes the moral high ground with noble words and enough bombast to dispel doubt. Doubt is my default position. One of my most enduring lines, which Peggy commissioned to be written in a calligraphic hand and then framed, comes from a poem I wrote about friends who joined the Jim Jones sect. The phrase is, Dying begins when doubt is forbidden. I intend to keep alive by doubting and allowing loose ends to dangle. When I reach a point of irresolution I know I’m getting close to the truth, noisy as it is… the book or poem which throws me out of the car in an unknown place yet also feels familiar because this is where I live. The painting which claims my attention for its deliberate blur or distortion of what is safe or easy. The piece of music that has me stretching to a spot off the map. 

When I set out to write a blog like this, the blank page is another country. The vehicle runs on fumes of language. It sputters and lunges as if I have a drunken co-pilot. It has me walking like Groucho or Chaplin. I heard an entomologist say that the reason we are afraid of bugs is that we can’t predict the pattern of their movement. We have trouble making room for zigs and zags. Yet there is also the impulse to push button and walk across the street just like the chicken. Maybe aging happens on two tracks; one wants to seize the day, grab it by the collar and slap it around until it’s under our control and yields some meaning. The other takes us through a dreamscape with Mr. Rios, that mysterious companion, whispering in our ears to release our grip and let it all happen. At some point the simple and ambiguous converge. Maybe it was both, all along, simply unknown in terms of how things work and unknowable in so far as why. I shall open the window and let in the clamor as the garbage truck backs up; after all, it’s my garbage they are collecting. 
What starts off as a simple pastoral scene, confluence of bat and ball, has me running, in these later innings, uphill around the bases. I am rounding third trying to stretch a triple into an inside the park home run. Now I'm sprawled out in a cloud of dirt, a grainy tangle that could be a Rauschenburg collage of bodies, opposing uniforms contorted with blazing numbers, 32,609 umpires in the stands and the dark shadow of the final arbiter bent over, ready to pronounce me safe or out.


  1. Great post! I love your quote, "Dying begins when doubt is forbidden." I will remember that.

  2. A home run! May I use your quote in my blog?

  3. Ah yes, I recognize the syndrome, Norm. An empty calendar is a pleasure lately. I guess I can take some comfort, though, that my office is in a perpetual state of chaos.

    Harley? Fancy meeting you here.

  4. Harley- Any wisdom that spills from my lips is inadvertant but you're welcome to it.

    Ruth - The empty calendar is both a relief and pretty scary if it says that way too long. At least chaos feels like a work-in-progress.

  5. As long as the third Thursday of the month is empty - I am a happy man.