Tuesday, December 19, 2006


It's lunchtime, now. I traipsed through a rare Abilene drizzle to grab Subway's Two for Tuesday, and now I'm sitting at my desk, munching on one of the Two and drawing little boxes and arrows on a sheet of printer paper, three-holed to fit in one of my Very Important three-ring binders.

The boxes and arrows represent different areas of my life - the layout of my home is in one box, the schedule of my week in another - because I'm trying to get things straight. I have this emotionally pressing need to simplify my life. I'm not quite sure what this means, or what the benefits would be, but the feeling is there all the same. My life feels ... cluttered.

Maybe this drive to reduce clutter is one that has arisen from programming, and I'm trying to nest and encapsulate things neatly so that I can hold the entire idea of My Life in my head all at the same time.

Maybe it's about mastery, and I think that if I can reduce the number of entities I encounter on a daily basis - clothes, books, toothbrushes, vehicles, people - I can have more control over my environment.

Or maybe it's that I think that if I could clean up my life, it would be more efficient. I would get more benefit, or be more productive, or something more positive per unit time. Maybe I'm approaching 30 and developing an unsettling, subconscious feeling that I'm wasting my life.

Logic presumes a separation of subject from object; therefore logic is not final wisdom. The illusion of separation of subject from object is best removed by the elimination of physical activity, mental activity and emotional activity. There are many disciplines for this. One of the most important is the Sanskrit dhyana, mispronounced in Chinese as "Chan" and again mispronounced in Japanese as "Zen." Phaedrus never got involved in meditiation because it made no sense to him. In his entire time in India "sense" was always logical consistency and he couldn't find any honest way to abandon this belief. That, I think, was creditable on his part.

But one day in the classroom the professor of philosophy was blithely expounding on the illusory nature of the world for what seemed the fiftieth time and Phaedrus raised his hand and asked coldly if it was believed that the atomic bombs that had dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were illusory. The professor smiled and said yes. That was the end of the exchange.

Within the traditions of Indian philosophy that answer may have been correct, but for Phaedrus and for anyone else who reads newspapers regularly and is concerned with such things as mass destruction of human beings that answer was hopelessly inadequate. He left the classroom, left India and gave up.

He returned to his Midwest, picked up a practical degree of journalism, married, lived in Nevada and Mexico, did odd jobs, worked as a journalist, a science writer and an industrial-advertising writer. He fathered two children, bought a farm and a riding horse and two cars and was starting to put on middle-aged weight. His pursuit of what had been called the ghost of reason had been given up. That's extremely important to understand. He had given up.

Because he'd given up, the surface of life was comfortable for him. He worked reasonably hard, was easy to get along with and, except for an occasional glimpse of inner emptiness shown in some short stories he wrote at the time, his days passed quite usually.

What started him up here into these mountains isn't certain. His wife seems not to know, but I'd guess it was perhaps some of those inner feelings of failure and the hope that somehow this might take him back on the track again. He had become much more mature, as if the abandonment of his inner goals had caused him somehow to age more quickly.


I hadn't intended for this post to be about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but there you go. This bit makes me a bit nervous, if you want to know the truth. Phaedrus goes into the mountains and pretty soon he ends up insane. And if it's all the same, I'd prefer to avoid insane.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.


Connor said...

When did you get a nose ring? You know those are mainly for girls, right?

Matthew said...

It's my attempt at "metro". How'm I doing?

grumblefish said...

So, has it become any simpler? It's not an idle question- from what I can see, the transition will
take a God-like sense of awe. The
shadows are scary enough.

Matthew said...

Simpler? That would be a resounding "no". But I still hold out hope.