Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Broken Compass

As so often happens when I set off to write a blog, I'll head off in one direction and not only end up nowhere near where I intended to go when I started, and have no idea how I got where I did end up. I seem to have a magic ability to unconsciously segue from one topic to another, and generally don't even realize that my mental compass is broken until I go back to read what I've written. What follows—the blog I'd planned for today—-is a perfect case in point. I realized I had the choice of just chucking the whole thing and starting all over again, or present it exactly as written as an example of how easily I wander off course.

Yesterday, I had occasion to take down my mother’s picture from the wall, and noted that the brown paper backing was in pretty bad shape, so I tore it off and tossed it in the garbage. And just a few minutes ago, when I was putting something else in the garbage can, seeing the torn backing, I realized with a shock that I was sentencing to destruction something that had coexisted with me—granted, all but unnoticed—for 58 years! I had that picture of my mom painted in Naples, Italy, while I was in the Navy. I'd asked her to have a picture taken and send me a copy, and I gave that to a local artist, who did the picture. It was he who had put that brown paper backing on, all those many years ago, and now I was casually dismissing it. I felt guilty, and sad, and experienced that now familiar sadness of another ending so difficult to explain to anyone who has not experienced it themselves.

For the world is passing strange, and all are mad, save thee and me. That I am constantly throwing out these unrelated little thoughts and reminiscences and then wandering off in another direction before I've adequately dealt with them might indicate that the problem may lie not so much in my compass's being broken as in my tendency not to consult it during the journey.  But if I were to stop every few steps and ask myself what these ramblings have to do with anything, I probably would stop writing blogs altogether. I am continually saved from the brink of this decision by getting notes from readers saying they, too, have had experiences and thoughts and feelings similar to my own, and had always felt they were the only one to have them. It appears that life, as my blogs, is made up of tiny things no one else—for reasons I do not understand—seems ever to mention. 

Life is so infinitely complex that we all struggle just to keep up with daily existence—work and family and paying bills and making practical plans for practical things. There seems precious little time for acknowledging the little things; the thoughts and feelings, and sensations that dance around us like the tiny bit of dust in a sunbeam. And in fact, there are many who seem never have time to consider them at all.

We speak and communicate largely in terms of those things widely acknowledged to be shared by most of humanity. But within ourselves we in fact live in a universe of the unspoken—the little things we assume to be unique to ourselves. And the less others speak of them, the more we assume we are alone in feeling/experiencing them. This adds to a sense of alienation, of being outside the norm, I suspect most of us in fact share. 

Conversely, we also seldom consciously acknowledge the little, off-the-radar things which please and delight us, though interestingly I suspect we don't speak of them simply because we automatically assume that what pleases and amuses us pleases and amuses everyone else.

A few minutes ago, for example, I looked out my window to see a garbage truck in the alley with a  decal saying: "Drugs are garbage. Just refuse." I had never in my life made the connection between the word "refuse," as in "reject," and "refuse," as in garbage. Yet they are exactly the same word, with the same root meaning, but with two totally different pronunciations. And while I realize there are any number of similarly-linked though differently-pronounced words in English, I cannot think of a single one now...a clear case of the "tip of my tongue" phenomenon and the perverse nature of my mind in refusing to give me what I’m looking for. I can sense them clearly, dancing just out of the reach of my conscious mind, teasing me. I am quite certain that the instant this blog is posted, they'll all come running happily toward me, arms outstretched like long-lost relatives. 

Now, if you were somehow able to follow all that without a compass, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

Don't laugh. I have saved almost every movie ticket stub from when I was in high school to recent days. And I used to be able to remember who I went with (many of them were with my father) and where I saw each film.

It seems a bit silly to some, but, for me, it's a reminder I choose to keep.