SOLUTION FOR CHAOS
I know I am not alone in this. I am disordered. Many of us have that problem. It's not that we don't have any sense of order, we do. After we clean the house, our mind reels at how amazingly gorgeous order IS. We appreciate order. It's just hard to sustain.
Are we too distracted to create and re-create order daily? Yes, our excuse being that after all, our offices are in our homes and we live in a messy melange of work and family and often as well, along with our kids and dogs with T.V. radio blaring and the kitchen's dirty sink filled with dishes we can't wash as we must email, type, phone, talk, work 12 hrs a day in our cottage industry. And as we do, more dishes pile up as we have available, tasty food a few steps from our desk distracting us with different messages: 'clean me,' 'eat me.' But not 'wash me.'
For the first years after I moved into this rented house, MOST of my desk/office things were in boxes. In hallways, in offices, filling garage and one bedroom.. The work to pay the rent was so quickly and continually required, I could never get to the boxes. Four years out I began emptying them. Seven years out, I was almost finished. But today the rooms are filled up with more stuff and the mess is distracting.
One of these days I'm going to clean this mess up
Perhaps I'd have this distracted problem anywhere. Few of us are l00% focused in the first place. The modern human has an inherent chaos within but what I have learned is that the inner chaos is aggravated and susceptible to one thing above all others: that special hell on earth, that evil, frilly pile of clutter and mess to the left of the work space on the desk.
Years ago, I created a primary work space on the desk, a square 12" by 12" field of action big enough for elbows, hands, forearms, keyboard, pen and paper. The keyboard sits in the middle. Supposedly, to the immediate left (or sometimes right) of this work space is a stack of snippets of papers with things to-do, most of them from recent calendar year---ideas, phone numbers, calls not returned. (When you wake at the crack of noon as I do and typing work comes first and the coffee loses its effect four hours later, exactly at four p.m., it's hard to always return calls during regular office hours.)
So I have phone numbers, notes that must be entered into computer files, pages to rewrite, maybe a client's birthdata and address left out so I remember to send a file to her. Whatever.
Over the years, this TO DO /SEND/ ANSWER stack of stickums has become unruly. Old things linger while new things appear in it daily: dozens of little scraps of paper with potential clients' phone numbers, people I met at parties whom I promised to mail information to, each one a valuable contact. (As a writer who rarely finds markets, I publish my articles one on one and mail them to readers on my own nickel. (A lady desperate to be read).
A rent-soaked yuppie who came for one of my past life readings (and saw the 'vision' of past experiences being homeless, all without hypnosis) showed interest in "How to Buy Property and Leave the Bank out of it." A girl who got her palm read last week wants the "Solar Diet' so she could knock off fifty pounds. An older woman wants to know 'How to Cure Arthritis holistically." And a cute divorcee wanted 'how to give singles parties for the sixties set and make $1,000 a night and meet a husband'. (Most of my astrology clients are single women over fifty. ) And then there are the psychic hotline clients I never met, middle American, far from the sites and cities where the NEW AGE holds forth. Tons of info must pass from Mecca to Iowa. Rather than talk out these answers during a 50$ reading, or with the clock ticking at $3.99 a minute) I mail them the file for free.
All these lovely people whose faces I never knew or no longer remember will get a hand written, printed article mailed to them. Well, heck, I'm a writer frustrated by magazines that won't publish articles that deride and forbid BISQUICK so I'm forced to publish ONE on ONE.
I look at a stained cocktail napkin in my pile of chaff which sez MIA/ RECIPE FOR HUMMUS and vaguely recall reading a blonde's palm at a party, remember the girdle of Venus plainly but not the face. What I also don't remember is --did I send MIA the HUMMUS RECIPE yet? I can't tell from the cocktail napkin.
Then, there are phone numbers from psychic hotline clients in 50 states who want me to call them back. On my nickel. I never do. I'm not that anxious to be heard.
Here's a note to myself: "advertise cats in Recycler, Give some away" and with it a list of scratched out contenders who answered my ad but didn't have backyards, only balconies. One was refused because she supported her boyfriend, worked l8 hrs a day and DRANK! A dysfunctional home. (And it was lucky I didn't give Pattie Kate away, for ultimately, she gave birth to Homer Odysseus, my favorite kitten of all).
Middle pile there's a super recipe for potato pancakes Elmer Dill, the Radio Gourmet, faxed me. I want to transfer the recipe to paper before the fax fades because I'm still making latkes the mushy shiksa way, grating potatoes and onions right into hot oil. I must save that recipe. Back into the pile it goes.
Then there are stacks of rejection letters (nowadays, sent on chintzy post cards) from magazine editors. Problem is, I can't recall what article I sent them. Why can't these no-taste bozos just scribble in the title they're rejecting for Crissakes?
Then there are catalogs and magazine ads for fat burner products. Gonna send away for some--hopefully while it still matters.
Then, there are scribbled requisitions friends have made of me: "find a Beta Cam video camera cheap in the Recycler newspaper." But here's another note, another pal has a Canon L-3 Digital and will shoot for $225 a day. Does that cancel the first note out? Should I have my two notes call each other?
And here's another scribble from a client; 'You're a wonderful, accurate astrologer. Send me a stack of your business cards so I can give them to my friends.' How many months ago was it that dummy here didn't send my own card to this willing fan? Mainly because I haven't gone to KINKOS to get cards in several years. (Strands of my chaos stretch out to the car which can no longer freely roam the city streets!)
Then, there are addresses of a good, cheap shrink for my teenaged son and stacks of his garbled Kindergarten-ish writings (he's 28) that I mean to give to the cheap shrink to prove he's crazy in case the kid pulls that 'I got my shit together, my MOM is crazy' act.
Next, pages of to-do-memos with long lists of things I meant to do. 'Open no check charge bank acct, submit Mad Cow Article to the umpteenth magazine.'(the one that warns the disease is in gelatin capsules hence which no mag will touch.) Can't throw those away. Gotta handle these, along with the endless shopping lists, 'get coffee, jam, hair dye, Unisom.' A reasonable diet post 50.
Then there are the pep letters to myself. "Call Fred the agent. He'll sign you." and a puerile bright new age note: "How Good can I stand it today?" Can't throw those away but where can you tuck or file crap like that?
The stack goes on because then there are wild news clippings, things you can't even believe, you want to xerox them and send them to relatives. "Anti-violence Negotiation counselor beats up his own Student." That was ripe. Sooner or later I'll get that to a xerox and then you'll all get it as my Xmas card.
Then the Gary Webb San Jose Mercury article on the CIA dealing drugs to the LA barrios. I save it because it would make a great article when it already was an article. So there's no logic, here in the chaos pile, except that I did finally write "HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, THE CIA'S BEEN SELLING HEROIN TO THE GHETTO FOR FIFTY YEARS" I wrote the thing and it got published at a few websites (Jeff Rense site) and this copy which is at my own.. so my chaos isn't total.
That single publishing event helps me rationalize that the reason all this NOTE TO MYSELF stuff is out in plain sight is because they have to be out because if you file them they might stop getting handled or worked on. So there's this scraggly deck of unshuffled cards, this furry haystack of chores and work undone spilling over into that 12 x 12 work space like a tsunami, a tidal wave of GUILTS that multiply incrementally while they go untended, flipping around in my skull as tension grips me when I come into the room, much less actually pick through it.
Once I thought I'd solved the problem. I created a collage hanging from my lamp, made of hundreds of pieces of paper: people to call, things to do. Notes dangle beneath shade's edge, brightly lit, in front of my face. It was great. The light shone thru each one but even though they were illuminated, the chores didn't get handled.
I've tried ingenious solutions. A yuppie pal gave me a little hand-held computer that reads all the things you have to do in a Blade Runner 'replicant' voice. It ended up in a drawer. It's alive every time I look, chortling TO DO's from l982.
So I typed up a huge, huge MEMO page with every chore listed. Printed it out, both pages single spaced, hung it on the wall and never looked at it again.
I tried a new tactic. I brought the unlooked-at Memo up to date, making a new one not once, but every month for a year. I printed it bigger each time, until now it can be seen across the room. It fairly BLARES at me and it's in my clients' line of sight. I catch sight of them reading it, their lips moving 'call psychiatrist about my son,' 'Call Art Bell radio show about Terrorists mistaking the very late Flight 800 for an on-time, scheduled El Al plane. And 'Remind P. she must get mammogram'. Forcing me to wince and apologize and feel called to explain. WHO NEEDS THIS GRIEF?
Wait, but we're not off the stack yet. There are terrific notes that need incorporating in an article on women picking nice men---some great lines on 'wasting a lot of good years on bad men,' Funny stuff told me by my writer pal. "Is he genuinely friendly or merely a predator?' How to test men who claim they understand Pinter. Or men who say 'O Neill, who does he play for?' Great notes if a little elliptical and piece meal. Oscar winning stuff.
Next, a drawing of an invention I had, the "Lumbar Cucumber", a huge pillow shaped like a pickle that you wear on a velcro belt to keep aching back supported when you sit down. I invented it because I am seated a long time daily, trying to organize my desk. I need to use a back support everywhere but kept leaving my rolled up beach towels in theater seats after the movie. So I invented the solution. Well, an astrology client saw my drawing on the wall, (I know, cuz I saw her lips moving,) she went right out and manufactured it in Taiwan. Now they're available nation wide. Who named and designed it? ME. My wall. My chaos. One day I'd like some royalties.
Then, there are three library cards in 3 different aliases. I'm trying to figure out which library card has the 50 dollars fines for the research for that unsold Medieval screenplay. Don't want to strut into the library with that sucker on me. But can't remember which card the fines are on so I'm doomed to do just that.
Then there are urgent messages from producer pals. "Get me four scripts. I'm going to Cannes." Then another later message, "just got back from Cannes. Sean Connery is interested. Why did you send four copies of your OTHER scripts?? I wanted the DEER HUNTING script!"
The nasty thing about this level of chaos is that it swallows up all hope of making it in the world. Chaos doesn't make you money. It GIVES IT AWAY. It costs you cash. Proof: There are phone numbers of clients who want me to work for them and another group who already owe me money somewhere in this pile. Can't find them. I received three letters this morning, thought I read them all but later found one sliced envelope empty. No sign of the letter. The black hole CHAOS had swallowed it.
Now, I know who sent the letter but I never read it nor did I find it. Had to scribble an embarrassed note to that girl. "Lost your letter before I read it, what did you SAY?" She's in her 20's. Does she understands stuff like what's happening to me? Heavy duty adult-sized chaos? Can she imagine what waits for her after age 50? Probably not and that's why I'm writing this. Enfants, Be Ware.
Beware of fur brains, beware of scraps of papers, especially phone numbers. Oh yes, the core of my stack is made up of dozens of phone numbers written on such scraps. For years I've had this problem of writing down a phone number with no name. Scores of digits that looked real important just lying there attached to nothing, no clues. Finally, with utmost effort, I began writing down the first name next to the phone number. When that proved to be absolutely no jog to my memory and I found myself calling someone named Jane? "Jane? Which Jane are you? Do I know you?" and the most embarrassing question of all. "Do you know me?"
Such embarassing episodes prompted me to start writing down both names and the phone number. Now, totally murdering my complacency and self image are the completely written out names and phone numbers---and the finale: I still don't remember who the HELL this Jane Jones person is and why that number is there!
I do not have amnesia. I remember things like brushing my teeth, earning and paying the rent, getting more catfood at the market. But the stack to the left of my desk seems to contain the krill, the fine bits that passed through all the finest strainers of my brain. I go through this black hole and make no sense of it and panting, feeling faint, the bitter taste of self disgust in my mouth, I have to go into the kitchen and make some more mushy latkes. And then, sitting contemplatively chewing, finding refuge in food, it comes to me. I need an upright bulletin board, perhaps incorporated in the lamp base, yes...that's the ticket! It'll be square-base lamp, about l8" high, with corkboard on all four sides, ready to accept pinned up memos and stick-ums. I quickly sketch the 'light my way to order and success lamp'. And here's the high concept: It will revolve with a push, so I can check all four sides with a turn of the hand. That's it. It's neat, it's orderly. It's heaven!
I run back to my office with my design. (THIS "LIGHT YOUR WAY TO ORDER AND SUCCESS BULLETIN BOARD LAMP design is AT THE "INVITATION TO BE AN INVENTOR/ MERCHANT Billionaire WEBSITE as I'm offering it to the world. Because Were can I hang it? Set it, stick it? Where else? Right on top of the black hole to the left of my work space so that the next client with manufacturing ties in Taiwan can spot it and I'll see her lips moving and know my lamp is about to be a reality!
While writing this piece, I devised a final strategy:
1.) all incoming notes, requests or thoughts go on sticky papers, "post-ums," stuck around monitor screen and on sides of the computer. Never write a phone number without full name and description of who they are. Important if you have three or four different cottage industries.
2.) A sturdy composition notebook with a board-cover has notes glued inside its pages, sequentially, and dated for what it's worth. Less urgent postems go in there.
3.) Rig a 5-shelf work space to the left of computer screen. The INCOMING PHONECALL notebook is always on top shelf and next to it the POSTEM NOTEBOOK. For the most part, there those scribbled notes sleep soundly, totally ignored, forgotten. OTHER NOTEBOOKS you might have. WORK TO DO. URLS for all PAGES at my WEBSITE.
4.) A stack of colored folders holds different categories of mess and goes into a floor book shelf to the left of my desk chair. Charts of actual clients. Fascinating Celebrity Charts for an astrology class, charts of my internet pals, charts of personal friends.
Did any of this work? Not a drib. I never look inside the notebooks and when we're talking about memos to your memory, NEVER LOOKING at them? ---Right there you have a problem. In my day runner where I log incoming phone messages, I find, in my own handwriting, stacks of numbers without names. I dial them and half the phone numbers turn into futile searches. Disconnected phones. But I often get through to puzzled strangers who claim not to know me and who never phoned me, who claim never to have left that message. Well, it IS two months later when I dial them back. On a madly depressed day, these phone calls to strangers kind of restore you to a good humor. There you are, two grown people, absurdly trying to recall one another and where you vectored once and failed. It is so amusing you should try that one day with strangers out of the yellow pages!
Then, the post-ums on monitor are a kind of vertical mess right in your face but strangely they blend in. You can ignore these longer than any kind of note. They become INVISIBLE. POSTING things simply does not work.
HOWEVER, all these filing systems work on one level. Technically the desk can be clean for an hour or two using this method. But spores of the old pile always linger on the desk and within hours of a totally clean desk, another huge stack of notes sprouts, --even larger than the first --most of it post-ems that come unstuck and rain down on you.
Periodically I mow this 'desk lawn' but it always grows back. Some days, the wind blows showers of postem leaves around the room. I have to recopy the bent and faded ones to new postems as you can't stick a postem twice. Then I pin them back to the computer. And I stare at them. I no longer remember what it is telling me to do. Arugula? What does that refer to? Buy some? Or go back to my old house and tear the plants I had out of the ground and repot them here? Not a clue. I stare at the note and my brain just doesn't come up with the concept that goes with arugula. Is it a ARUGULA cookie memo maybe? Why would the Jews name a cookie after a healthful laxative green? Pondering it, my brain grinds to a stop.
It has happened, finally. The chaos has become internal. The rust virus has spread from the desk to the floppy disk to the hard drive. My mind is about to seize. ALL text looks garbled to me. Words don't ring bells.
On good days I accept it. Chaos is a kind of multi-colored confetti celebration of the fact that man is given as many lifetimes as there are pieces of unidentifiable crap on the desk. No doubt, in one of these lifetimes I will beat this problem. That's how I see it on good days.
But I have so much chaos that there are FEW good days anymore. My days have become stunted by the mess. Imagine the HOURS subtraced FUSSING, ORGANIZING, CLEANING that then yield SHORT, actual, work days which creates a chronic lack of productivity.
One is hampered by forgetting, missing bases, opportunities, clients, creating a lack of cash which in turn creates panic, which creates stress, insomnia and fatigue which caused my eviction from a pretty house in town and exile to an ugly house in remote Van Nuys where clients won't visit me and I have to garden, landscape and decorate this cheap shack all the time to make it tolerable and still, this shack is so ugly nothing works on it so there's hopelessness, a downward spiral all due to CHAOS.
So children, listen here, desk frill is not to be taken lightly. It is a serious black hole into another dimension, a twilight zone that will suck your pride, mind, family, career and home into the zone of melting atoms. Get on top of it before it inhales you into non-beingness. Beat back the chaos relentlessly. TOSS old papers. Never handle any paper twice. "FINISH FILE" it every time you see it. LAST and most important is... leave no chore til tomorrow. Do it now, do it completely, leave no part of the chore undone. Chaos is frizz. What do we do with FRIZZ? We file it. We cut it off. We make it gone.
I guess what's GONE is my mind. That is what mess delivers, a zen no mind. It may be a good thing. God is in the YIN brain, so Chaos reduces us to rubble, a yin condition. Chaos may be a part of nature. Everything rots doesn't it? What palace isn't termite dust? A philosopher said that when the seeds blow out of the pod, it may destroy the seed pod, but the l'il guys run off to sprout somewhere so the whole process is perfect.
If on a scale of zero to ten, Maya being absolute corruption and the disincarnate soul in Heaven a lofty 10 of absolute perfection, then my travail to end mess is a Zen zipper sliding up and down and everywhere between, an endless 'growth session' where I practice creating order, self-acceptance, self-forgiving, non-irritation, patience, working on a mastery that never comes, just an endless scales or practice, a five-finger exercise, spiraling upward toward a heaven of perfect order, with no arriving, ever, a school with no 3 o' clock bell, ever. From that perspective, striving for order is like life itself. Hopeless and tedious. So how can any part of life be better than life at a total? It is an unanswerable thesis. Why bother trying for order? It wasn't our destiny down here. And then, I look at the center of the sunflower I picked this morning. An immaculate, perfect spiral. So the sorry truth is that a vegetable can do order but a human can't. Well, I'm at the end of my tirade. I have to go to the healthfood store for a bag of fresh, raw sunflower seeds. Maybe if I eat perfect order, I can become it.
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