Monday, January 04, 2010

Control, or, Thoughts on a Monday After Vacation

Monday morning. The fierce winds have stopped. Stepping outside in the early morning, I don’t feel quite so cold, in spite of the temperature being way below freezing. Opening the car door, I turn the ignition, and coax my old, tired car into starting up once again. I have been on a long vacation, and now I have to get back to work.

It’s funny how your mind and body respond when you know you have something to do, somewhere to be. I have slept in all week, yet today I was wide awake at my work-day wake-up time, 4:30 am. The cat even looked surprised—his arsenal of techniques designed to annoy me into waking up in the morning were not needed.

As I’m driving to work just before sunrise, I find myself thinking about the notion of control. I have the habit of trying to over-plan my days--listing, organizing, deciding. I get very frustrated when something throws my plans out of whack when I’m in such a mood. Of course, life is like that, and gives you those little smacks to remind you that anything can happen at any time—it’s not in your control. And yet, feeling like I have my own “stuff” under control tends to satisfy me that I’m being productive on some level.

I imagine that like anything, some control is good in moderation, but it’s one of those things that gets quickly out of hand. People tell me, and I tell my friends, when we’re all frazzled, to let go and stop trying to take on so much. The urge to control is tied to the urge to perfect. Part of this perfection involves juggling a lot of stuff and keeping it all in order. Rarely do we perfectly succeed, but we keep trying.

I berate myself frequently for getting into that control habit, but it begs a question for me—where is the line between control and discipline? It can’t be good to have no control at all, at least of oneself and one’s reactions. Discipline keeps us from excesses. But when does discipline become outright rigidity?

The question tires me. I suppose the answer , like the answer to many things, is “it depends”. Can you discipline yourself not to have so much control? Is that a contradiction? When you’re a single woman with no help in domestic affairs or finances, it seems like a higher amount of control is necessary—after all, there’s no one else to fall back on.

I recall a class on Victorian poetry that I took as an undergraduate, with the incredible Dr. William Dell. Dr. Dell has since retired from my alma mater, and I am sad for current students that they did not get to experience his view of literature—and of life. He used to talk about the Victorian dilemma, the balance between (in simplistic terms) reason and emotion, which also looks strikingly like the dilemma between control and the lack of it. We run back and forth across the spectrum between the two, but the real answer, he said, is in the infinity sign—a figure eight. We perpetually flow across that continuum, not in a straight line, but in curves. There is no point at which one should stop.

Control has to do with familiarity and comfort. The most well-adjusted people are those who can feel at home just about anywhere. I like to pretend that I can feel at home anywhere, and sometimes I can—but if I’m tired, moody, and physically not feeling well, I get impatient with unfamiliar surroundings, much like a cranky child. There is a reason my home looks like a cozy old library. I like my old house, with the warped wood floors, open wood beams on the ceiling, and it’s earthy atmosphere. I like being able to make some tea or pour a glass of wine and curl up in my corner on the old refurbished mahogany church pew, reading a book or playing with the cat. When I put my feet down, I like to feel the ground, not to look down and realize I am walking in the air with no support underneath. On the other hand, I get my best writing ideas when I am not so settled, more scattered. You might see me walking in circles talking to myself. The problem is that I can’t focus—it’s the old “sucking an elephant through a straw” conundrum. A thousand ideas like one hundred dollar bills flying around in the wind, and I can’t catch them all.

Detachment is an art. Having a plan without being too committed to it often makes for the best results. Some days I will accomplish a lot, other days I won’t get a single thing done. I can’t help it, even though I want to. I need to stop worrying about it.

I park my car, get my bags out of the back seat, and trudge on up the stone steps to the front door of the library. A new work day, a new chance to fight distraction.

No comments: