I woke up a couple mornings ago and thought to myself, “I’ve lost control of my house!” I’d been going through a rough patch of several months — tangled financial decisions, some hair-raisingly out of my control, or requiring information I didn’t have — and suddenly I looked around me to discover that every room of my home was in total shambles. The kitchen counter had disappeared under stacks of dirty dishes; unfolded clothes were in a pile on my grandfather’s chair; beside my bed was a stack of magazines, newspapers, mail, and detritus from a week or two running; even the recycling had long ago overflowed its container into adjunct boxes and bags.
Amidst the wreckage, I discovered that my computer, after complaining about “running out of memory” for the last several weeks (a message I had duly ignored) — suddenly (ha) — stopped functioning. I couldn’t even open any apps to delete anything. I’d been hoist by my own petard.
That was the last straw. (I’d even begun mixing metaphors — petard being a small bomb and the last straw being the one that broke the camel’s back — then explaining them. Deadly.) I felt like running out of the house screaming, naked, with my hair on fire: something that would have been useless, painful, and put me squarely into the police dispatch reports.
The only logical thing to do was to drive somewhere. In this case I pointed my Volvo toward Portland and the City Mac guys; while I was out I figured I might as well get some digital first aid.
The day was lovely. I tried not to look too carefully at what was in the back of my wagon (more chaos). Jackson was perfectly content to ride shotgun, never needing a reason for a road trip. The scenery flew by in an avalanche of spring green; the river rolled along beside us for miles. I didn’t even turn on the radio.
While driving, my mind began to wander into the now open file of other tiny terrible troubles that had been bugging me. I include just a few here.
What (not) to eat
Like: this week suddenly some health professionals are saying maybe we’re eating too many eggs. No! Don’t do this to me! Eggs are such a perfect protein. Tucked inside those nice smooth little oblong containers. So easy to crack into a pan and fry up with a little butter. Serve with toast. Or boil, then swiftly open grandma-style, slicing just the top off, and scoop out all that tasty gooey softness with a spoon.
Or scramble up and fry Gable-family style and slather butter and mayonnaise on a couple pieces of bread for a quick fried-egg sandwich. Or hard-boil and mash with mayo, put on crackers. Or fry up and toss on top of a cheese quesadilla. Or drop into hot ramen and stir. Or… well you get the point. So don’t talk to me about eggs.
And then right on top of the egg information we’re hit with the Kale Controversy. “Kale joins the ranks of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ pesticide list” (CNN, http://tinyurl.com/yypwsc3c). OK, this I can live with. Take kale off the list (yay!). However, how are we supposed to figure out what is healthy to eat with a new study coming out every month that contradicts the last one?
Then there’s taxes, global warming, our political circus, weeds in the garden, prairie chickens losing their habitat, hungry orcas, the sixth extinction. OK, just keep breathing.
I’ve always found driving to be a soothing and efficient way to think things through. Of course, the overwhelmingness of these troubles in one’s life can’t be handled by mental exertion alone, though this has always seemed unfair to me. (The difference between thinking and doing — no, I’m not going to go all Heidegger on you — is one of the biggest lesson of embodiment. I think it’s why I took up writing poetry, rather than, say, rock carving. Even so, thinking can be a helpmate to doing.)
Anyway, driving and thinking got me calmed down a bit. On the house: one room at a time. This mess got created over time, so of course you’re not going to solve the problem in one fell swoop. Take one room and set the clock for a definite amount of time and just roll your sleeves up. You don’t even need to do the Marie Kondo waltz assessing for joy. Just fold the laundry.
Then recycle the stuff by the bed. Then recycle the recycling, etc. Orcas and prairie chickens? — can I exert any control over that? As I was driving and thinking, I saw one of my favorite road signs just in front of Fire Station #2 in Astoria: “Help wanted, no pay, odd hours, cool hat.” That’s all it takes, folks. That’s the magic formula for life: the “cool hat” is the kicker. Meet every challenge with a little sense of humor…or daring.
That evening I got home and ignored the mess around me. I don’t remember why but first I watched the incredible mountaineering movie “Meru” about three absolutely crazy-determined (or just plain crazy) guys climbing one of earth’s most insane mountains. Meru is 21,850 feet high, and the top 5,000 feet, called Shark’s Fin, is a perpendicular blade of solid granite. This climb is the “anti-Everest” because there are no Sherpas to carry your stuff; and you need a range of climbing skills: high Himalaya techniques, rock climbing, ice climbing, and “big wall” expertise (along with all the associated gear). Plus, you must dangle off the mountain on ropes in a tent thingamabob called a portaledge for many nights in 20 below weather. (Because of its orientation, Meru and the Shark’s Fin get only a couple hours of sun in the morning.)
From “Meru” I gravitated to watching Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos freefall challenge. Felix, an Austrian daredevil, rode for two hours to the edge of space in a small capsule lifted by an enormous helium balloon until he was 129,000 feet above the earth (24 miles). When the capsule stopped rising, the door opened and Felix sat looking out into space. He had to be reminded several times by mission control to unbuckle his seatbelt. (Was he thinking, “What was I thinking?!”) Then he stepped onto a tiny platform on the side of the capsule and said, “I’m going home now,” and he jumped! (The whole amazing event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNhmYaWiPEk. Highlights only: http://tinyurl.com/a2zaeg7.)
During his four-minute free fall, his body broke the sound barrier, reaching Mach 1.25 (that’s about 900 mph), and he spun out of control. Somehow, righting himself, he managed to pull the cord of his parachute at about 7,000 feet, and eventually landed on his feet in the middle of the New Mexico desert.
These images played in my head all night. In the morning I got up and started washing my dishes.