Thursday, November 02, 2006

Order In Consciousness

For a long while now I have been in the process of writing a book about my dad. He succumbed to a lengthy battle with congestive heart failure, and passed away on Dec.13th, 1999. I have several chapters of the book completed, but a long ways to go yet. It is, hmmm… how can I put this, a "severely procrastinated labor of love."
It will be called I Have A Picture©. Each chapter will begin with a photo of my dad, followed by an elaborate discussion of the memories that the photos stir up, within me.
My main goal is to present the book to my mother, his wife of 48 years.
Publishing is not even an issue, I just want to present the book to my family. My mom and my four siblings. And perhaps also, my favorite aunt. Aunt Evelyn.
So the book will have a circulation of six readers. [May have to go into reprintings, we're not sure yet!]
Ummm.... I don't think it will be short OR long-listed for the Booker!

Thing is, I sent the unfinished draft to my best friend, and she read it all. She is my editor, my proof reader, my reading partner, my muse, and most importantly, [as mentioned] my best friend.
And she is a high-school English teacher. In rural Illinois.
And so, you know how English teachers are, right? Always trying to find something new to inflict upon students?
Well, a certain section of I Have A Picture was just generalized enough to warrant infliction upon these unsuspecting youths. The topic is solitude.
She assigned it to them as an exercise in which they had to write a brief statement of their opinions of my whacky theories.
It was so neat for me to think that an entire classroom of Illinois teenagers had to look at this piece and say, “What? We have to read this crud? Awww, jeez!”
[Do kids still say “Jeez”?]
And so now… I am inflicting it upon you, my faithful blogreaders.
Yes…. it is time for, Cipriano Bookpuddle’s….

Order In Consciousness

Dad and I could not be any more different than in this one area, our attitude toward solitude. He hated it. I love it. He tried to avoid it. I can’t get enough of it.
Solitude, or “being alone” is a fascinating thing. To really understand it, we need to talk about how we go about creating “order in consciousness”.
The normal state of the mind is chaos. We don’t usually notice how little control we have over the mind, because our own habits channel our energy so well that thoughts seem to follow each other by themselves without a hitch. From the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night we are constantly making decisions of how we will create order in consciousness.
For some this may mean flicking on the radio, for others it may mean arguing, or praying, making coffee, listening to the news… soon it involves making breakfast, driving to work, work itself, etc. All day long a barrage of things (life itself) is conspiring to help us NOT THINK ABOUT THINKING.
All of these things I’ve mentioned take up a certain percentage of our concentration. For instance, as we drive we know we must stay on a certain side of the road, maintain a certain speed, stop at certain signs or lights, change gears, signal when turning etc. And all of this, whether we are aware of it or nor, creates order in consciousness. The mind is constantly asking to be directed somewhere… talk to this person, pick this up, blow your nose, etc.
And generally, the younger you are, the more intense is the need. This is why kids need to be playing a video game, watching T.V., talking on the phone, and why we are forced to go “Googly-ga-ga Boobly-moogly” to a baby so it quits crying. Or give it a rattle to play with. Because the conscious mind needs stimulus, it needs order. And this is natural. It follows that the more immature your mind is, the more you need external things to create order in it.
So what happens when there is no stimulus? No order? You are not driving somewhere, or talking, or arguing, or watching T.V.?
What about when you are alone?
Well, here’s the thing… now you have to CREATE order in consciousness. This is something you have to work at… it’s a discipline, it doesn’t come naturally. That’s why babies don’t understand it, and they need so much attention and diversion. Their very existence becomes something to cry about.
Well, when an adult is in the same predicament, that’s very sad! Here’s the thing. Creating order in consciousness can only be developed in solitude, and if you constantly avoid solitude you will never learn how to create order in consciousness.
You will never develop the art of inner dialogue that is needed to be at peace when you are alone and unoccupied. You will remain dependent upon other people to give meaning to your decisions. And you will become bored too easily.
Writing a letter (writing anything for that matter), reading a book, sitting under a tree and just thinking… all of these require a certain amount of freedom to be alone with your thoughts. The person who never embraces solitude will never experience the benefits that can come from something as simple as sitting under a tree and thinking.
A mature person ought to be able to hear their own thoughts without having to bounce them off of someone else’s eardrums. (Or much worse, their own eardrums… just think of people who walk down the street and talk out loud to themselves)!

BTW…. I want to see your report handed in on Monday morning!



Anonymous said...

Ah, Cipriano,

Such enjoyable reading.
I doubt you even have an inkling of what this little book will mean to your mother and the rest of the family.
To be able to craft words - especially words that have the ability to vividly call back a memory of someone - can anyone desire a more treasured gift?

I have had a few gifts of written materials given to me, and I revisit them at least as often as I look at photos.

I carry the words with me.

Those who might want to do something with family histories but who hesitate because they just can't think of stuff to ask beyond the cliche, stock questions...might want to have a look at Bob Greene's To Our Children's Children.
It is a book-length compendium of questions to get people in the family talking about themselves. Greene and his sister compiled it after attempting to put together some kind of memory book gleaned from their own parents.

I wish you all kinds of good luck with this venture. And I envy the family who has a writer with your talent, wit, and honesty to pull it together.

A fellow believer in the need for solitude

cipriano said...

Thank you, anonymous[e]. Your comments are greatly appreciated.
Thank you for reading this spazzy site of random-bookishness interspersed with whatnot.
And remember, every tree, without exception, is asking you to sit under it.
-- Cip

Dorothy W. said...

I was totally into your post until the part where you started to bash English teachers. Sigh. The oppressive stereotypes we English teachers labor under :)

Anyway -- very cool project you've got going here. I love the idea of organizing it around photographs and memories.

Isabella said...

I happen to love solitude, I crave it. On first reading, I agree with your essay because it feeds my ego that I have superior consciousness-processing abilities for all my solitude. But. Hmmm.

(By the way, your project is a beautiful concept.)

Something about this value judgement bothers me. (You realize, of course, you're implying your father's mind was immature. Think twice before you tell your family that. I'm sure you've already given it a lot of thought, but I'm just saying...)

The activities you mention associated with solitude are really only a different sort of stimulus. Reading can be an escape; letter-writing (or blog-commenting) though a more active form of sorting out one's thoughts is still a kind of performance to an audience. Meditation is often associated with the phrase "emptying one's mind" — is that really creating order, or ignoring the need for it, or denying the natural impulse to satisfy it (through all those mundane mechanisms we've devised)? It is a discipline. But.

I guess I'm seeing that you associate solitude with maturity but also an opportunity for personal growth. But babies, for example — they're not all the same (I didn't believe that myself till I had one); some cry more than others, some don't want stimulus, I swear some wish that we would just leave them alone, so there are factors other than (im)maturity at work, there's character/personality, something that's innate with its own predisposition.

What I think I'm saying is this: I agree that "being alone" takes discipline, and the exercise has certain value (to me, to you — but universally?), but I'm not sure it's more valuable than being engaged in the world (which is completely the wrong phrase for me to be using actually, because I don't think most solitude-avoiders are actively engaging, it's, as you say, falling back on habit, letting our lizard brain, the one that keeps us breathing, take over).

I dunno.

Stefanie said...

What a wonderful project Cip. You write well. Will your friend let you see what her class wrote? That would be really cool.

As a fellow person who loves and needs solitude, I can totally relate to what you are saying and it is my prefered way of processing life. However, I know and work with people who are quite intelligent and mature but need to do their thinking out loud. They need people around to bounce ideas off of, not because they don't trust their own judgment, often the other people don't have to say a word, but because that's just how they think. They enjoy solitude, but they get their energy from being around people.