Race issues, 2

Previous: Race issues

My wife thinks I take too long to wash the dishes. I don't know about that. (Privately, at least—publicly, of course, she's right.)

I'm not really in a hurry to get done and do whatever is next, which is typically nothing of substance anyway. What's the rush? If I had something else to do, I'm perfectly capable of leaving the dishes alone and giving them the freedom to wash themselves.

Washing dishes takes as long as it takes. I do good work. More importantly, it's when I listen to podcasts—or not, sometimes it's better to listen to nothing and think nothing, or think about the day and dissect decisions made at work and really commit to coming to no conclusions about it and doing nothing. The time in my head can be productive, or useless, or neither, or both. It doesn't matter. The time goes plate by glass by fork.

If I start to rush, it becomes work. It becomes effort. If I go slow, or at whatever speed comes naturally without thinking about it, I can sneak up on it and start washing before I can think about it, before I can classify it as work or not work.

I don't want to optimize everything—or anything, sometimes. Sometimes I want to turn off the race and float in a pool of bubbles. And if a plate happens to get cleaned, well, OK.

Race issues

This is something that happens to me nearly every time I drive my car, and I don't get it: I just want to win.

What the hell?

Oh, that Audi passed me, but he's going to run into some slow traffic there and I'm going to catch up and what a goof we're going to end up at the same red light together anyway etc etc etc.

It's so weird to have any competitive feelings about driving to the grocery store—especially when it's coupled with a desire to stay within 5 or 10 mph of the speed limit. But I feel it—from my core to my clenched fists. What causes that pressure to feel like there's a race? Why do I need to pass any cars? Why do I want to keep my eyes on the Audi to see how our positions relate to each other, as if there's a green flag and a checkered flag somewhere on Manchester Avenue?

Every time I feel it. And every time I feel the reaction—the self-awareness that the first feeling is idiotic. How does it affect me? What difference does it make where the Audi is? What does it mean to win when there is no race? Where is that Audi? What's the use of getting to the grocery store 15 seconds earlier—if that even happens, because traffic is a discrete problem and I might get to the red light 15 seconds earlier and then get to the grocery store at the same time anyway? Where the hell is that Audi?

The purpose of driving down the street is to get somewhere. Everyone out there is just trying to get somewhere. What would happen if the collective mindset changed from "I'm going to win" to "I'm going to help everyone get where they're going"? I still feel that first urge in my head—the default urge, the primal urge—but the second one, that's better.

Smile through the aid stations

In a long enough running race, there are aid stations—places to pick up water and food and, in the long long races, a place to pick up drop bags with your own supplies. Endurance running aid stations are operated by volunteers—people who are just sitting at tables out in the woods for free handing out gummy bears all day and all night.

It's an insane arrangement by insane people for insane people. You might see one every five or six miles, and you're really looking forward to seeing those crazy people. The water and the pretzels and the candy are nice, sure, but you can pack those things in your bag and run with them if you want. Those are replaceable.

The people are a gift, and I would try to entertain them during my minute or two through the station—make it worth their time. There's not much I could give them because I left my wallet in the car, so why not give them a chuckle by asking for a ride to the next aid station, or some other lame joke that could be concocted out of the four brain cells that were still firing at mile 80.

There was always something extra received in return, and it wasn't from the volunteers who were already giving you what you wanted. There was a big mood lift in my own head from expressing a good mood outwardly—a mood that wasn't there 15 minutes ago while slogging towards the station. It didn't matter if the jokes didn't land and every time I answered "how are you doing?" with "great" was a crazy lie—every outward bound bit of positivity had its own positive effect where it started. I would get a few minutes of psychological glow that followed me down the trail, which is a killer advantage in races that test the endurance of your mind as much as, or even more than, the endurance of your body.

I don't think about it often, but it came to mind over the weekend while slogging 80-pound bags of mortar from the garage around to the basement door. After a few bags, I'd get near that door and the ugly face contortions would kick in, as if that's what was needed to go the last few feet.

And it hit me: smile through the aid stations. Avoid the exertion face, and just laugh at it all. Why not? Some of it will come back to where it started.

I think it's good advice, even if it's not advice I would take all the time. I'm not looking for positivity. Some humor, sure. But positivity and happiness, no. A little, however—that's fine by me.

Order and chaos

Order out of chaos? Order from chaos? I don't know about that—sounds alchemical.

Order in chaos? Maybe.

Order and chaos? There we go.

I think there is a tendency—I feel in myself a tendency—to equate forms that I don't understand with chaos. Strange music. Weeds at the edge of the garden. Sensor data that defy immediate explanation. Unusual flavors. (Strange or unusual for me, at least.)

Gardens are fantastic examples of order and chaos. Why do we plant things in nice, straight rows? It looks good to us. Orderly, planned, organized—all positive-seeming words that give us humans the central role in creation, or stewards of a greater plan.

Disorder—as seen from our perspective as creators of order—never really goes away. It shows up in weeds, in rain, in no-rain, in fungi... and on and on and on. Push that rock uphill all day in the garden, go to sleep, then wake up to find the rock back at the bottom of the hill again.

And on and on and on.

I like order—but not too much. Too much order, and you start to see the world as a place full of things that need to be ordered. Some of it does, I think, but it's a matter of taste. I like a little disorder left in the system because the disorder will be there anyway whether you like it or not and it can be greeted and welcomed as a part of the ordered design.

What we sense as chaos is not necessarily chaos. There is a logic in the weeds below. They are native residents, and they house native residents, and they keep the dirt from eroding away, and internally they are biologically mechanisms that have their own mechanisms for staying alive. They look ugly when you don't want them there, but after you welcome them they look fine. I don't get the final say in anything, really, they look fine to me, but they look better with a few domesticated flower sprinkled in.

And all it takes, really, is a slight shifting of the head to bring in the straight lines hiding in the midst of the wild curving stalks.

I'm not an advocate for total disorder. I'm not an advocate for total order, either. The person who believes that chaos can be tamed into order is the same person who doesn't see the chaos hiding in order—a blind spot with consequences.

May I never be content. May I never be perfect. Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.

The helicopters are back

A few months ago the helicopter noise was more frequent. Then it went away. But now it's back.

That's my informal metric for the coronavirus.

The helicopters come from the west and southwest—from rural Missouri—to the larger, better equipped hospitals in St. Louis.

The noise doesn't bother me—a few seconds and it's gone—but the frustration of a largely avoidable problem lingers.

The Pianist

I'm watching The Pianist (2002) now. Going to have to break it into two parts—which may be bridged by the dreams in between.

I complain a lot during the day—a lot a lot. Some is for comedy, but most is just petty whining—amateur stuff, really. Wladyslaw Szpilman survived the German invasion of Warsaw. It turns down the volume of certain transmitters in your head, watching the screen enacted scenes of casual and not so casual violence—humans as animals, and so on. It's not the only feeling, the feeling of "well I guess I don't have it that bad", but it's the one that makes it to the fingers, and out. The rest are a sort of clot.

Render therefore unto Caesar

I let the book fall open where it would. As it happened, it fell open to the chapter about the island's outlawed holy man, Bokonon.

There was a quotation from The Books of Bokonon on the page before me. Those words leapt from the page and into my mind, and they were welcomed there.

The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion by Jesus: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's."

Bokonon's paraphrase was this:

"Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on."

—Kurt Vonnegut. Cat's Cradle (1963).