Merry Third Day of Christmas!

Xmas gifts included gift cards (always useful); DVD’s (of tv stuff I do watch – always a good good to give to a tv person); and some books (Al Gore’s book, the tie-in to the documentary – should be an interesting read).

December reading included:

“The Great Game: The Myth and Reality of Espionage” by ex-inspector general of the CIA Frederick Hitz, on the literary nature of books on spies and how the history of real spies is that much more crazy (or just plain more human in a dimwitted kind of way) than what LeCarre or Tom Clancy or even Ian Fleming may devise. An interesting read, consistent with my whole spy reading kick of late. The book kind of made me want to read more LeCarre, if nothing else; on the other hand, it also felt like the author was still dancing around the flaws of espionage (like, how can a democracy justify clandestine operations or acts of subterfuge that seem to undermine the very ideas of democracy, including – say – accountability?) – but, considering that the CIA had to clear the book – well, I was impressed by the candid tone and that someone with this Ivy-League-trained-lawyer/ex-spy bureaucrat’s credentials actually seems to enjoy reading spy fiction (of the LeCarre or Graham Greene variety, anyway; couldn’t tell if he cared for James Bond stuff at all).

“The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to do What’s Right” by Thane Rosenbaum. A rather irritating read; he’s a law-and-literature professor at Fordham; he’s also a novelist. He writes very well, but he’s clearly bitter about having been a lawyer; having been through a bad experience with the legal system (bad divorce? Bad anything?); and so he goes on this tear over why can’t our legal system be “moral” (but doesn’t really define what is “moral” – maybe he means the Judeo-Christian Western culture sense of it?), with references to how the lawyers on tv or literature are so much more noble with their sense of justice and angst and devotion to “truth.” Rosenbaum didn’t exactly come up with solutions (no one’s saying the system’s perfect; morality is not the same as legality, as they taught us in law school; and I thought he’s a little nuts to suggest abolishing statutes of limitations), but I guess he’s trying to be provocative to get dialog in the legal profession. Oh, well. It’s a different kind of reading to have tried.
“The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. Very good reading on comparative mythology. A classic book that inspired Bill Moyers to interview Campbell and produce the series “Power of Myth” (which I’m currently reading). Campbell focused a bit much of psychoanalysis as a way to analyze myths (too much for my taste, anyway, even if he did have a point that psychoanalysis can be insightful), but his storytelling was superb.
In time for the New Year: January is “Get Organized Month.” Interesting NY Times article by Penelope Green – messes may actually be ok. Considering that I’m a horrific clutter person, I find some sense of consolation in this. Quotes:

“[….]But contrarian voices can be heard in the wilderness. An anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that says yes to mess and urges you to embrace your disorder. Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat “office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts. It’s a movement that confirms what you have known, deep down, all along: really neat people are not avatars of the good life; they are humorless and inflexible prigs, and have way too much time on their hands.

“It’s chasing an illusion to think that any organization — be it a family unit or a corporation — can be completely rid of disorder on any consistent basis,” said Jerrold Pollak, a neuropsychologist at Seacoast Mental Health Center in Portsmouth, N.H., whose work involves helping people tolerate the inherent disorder in their lives. “And if it could, should it be? Total organization is a futile attempt to deny and control the unpredictability of life. I live in a world of total clutter, advising on cases where you’d think from all the paper it’s the F.B.I. files on the Unabomber,” when, in fact, he said, it’s only “a person with a stiff neck.” [….]

Stop feeling bad, say the mess apologists. There are more urgent things to worry about. Irwin Kula is a rabbi based in Manhattan and author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life,” which was published by Hyperion in September. “Order can be profane and life-diminishing,” he said the other day. “It’s a flippant remark, but if you’ve never had a messy kitchen, you’ve probably never had a home-cooked meal. Real life is very messy, but we need to have models about how that messiness works.” [….]

Last week David H. Freedman, another amiable mess analyst (and science journalist), stood bemused in front of the heathery tweed collapsible storage boxes with clear panels ($29.99) at the Container Store in Natick, Mass., and suggested that the main thing most people’s closets are brimming with is unused organizing equipment. “This is another wonderful trend,” Mr. Freedman said dryly, referring to the clear panels. “We’re going to lose the ability to put clutter away. Inside your storage box, you’d better be organized.”

Mr. Freedman is co-author, with Eric Abrahamson, of “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,” out in two weeks from Little, Brown & Company. The book is a meandering, engaging tour of beneficial mess and the systems and individuals reaping those benefits, like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose mess-for-success tips include never making a daily schedule.

As a corollary, the book’s authors examine the high cost of neatness — measured in shame, mostly, and family fights, as well as wasted dollars — and generally have a fine time tipping over orthodoxies and poking fun at clutter busters and their ilk, and at the self-help tips they live or die by. They wonder: Why is it better to pack more activities into one day? By whose standards are procrastinators less effective than their well-scheduled peers? Why should children have to do chores to earn back their possessions if they leave them on the floor, as many professional organizers suggest?

In their book Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson describe the properties of mess in loving terms. Mess has resonance, they write, which means it can vibrate beyond its own confines and connect to the larger world. It was the overall scumminess of Alexander Fleming’s laboratory that led to his discovery of penicillin, from a moldy bloom in a petri dish he had forgotten on his desk. [….]

According to a small survey that Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson conducted for their book — 160 adults representing a cross section of genders, races and incomes, Mr. Freedman said — of those who had split up with a partner, one in 12 had done so over a struggle involving one partner’s idea of mess. Happy partnerships turn out not necessarily to be those in which products from Staples figure largely. Mr. Freedman and his wife, for example, have been married for over two decades, and live in an offhandedly messy house with a violently messy basement — the latter area, where their three children hang out, decorated (though that’s not quite the right word) in a pre-1990s Tompkins Square Park lean-to style.

The room’s chaos is an example of one of Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson’s mess strategies, which is to create a mess-free DMZ (in this case, the basement stairs) and acknowledge areas of complementary mess. Cherish your mess management strategies, suggested Mr. Freedman, speaking approvingly of the pile builders and the under-the-bed stuffers; of those who let their messes wax and wane — the cyclers, he called them; and those who create satellite messes (in storage units off-site). “Most people don’t realize their own efficiency or effectiveness,” he said with a grin.

It’s also nice to remember, as Mr. Freedman pointed out, that almost anything looks pretty neat if it’s shuffled into a pile.

That’s right – no anti-biotics would have been discovered if the scientist hadn’t a slob!

And, last but not least: the passing of Gerald Ford. Interesting details on his life; people have this view of him as the not-so-bright man, but he did go to Yale Law for Pete’s sake. And, his historically not-so-smooth actions arguably took courage and ended up not having terrible consequences (pardoning Nixon may have helped the nation move on from the deceitful past – at least, I don’t hold it against Ford for doing it). Heck, apparently Ford’s telling NYC to “drop dead” as the Daily News always had it in the infamous headline ended up being a good move – Ford was apparently trying to tell NYC to get its fiscal act together before he would agree to give financial assistance, which may have led us out of the fiscal basement. Maybe Ford’s legacy may have something to teach a certain current administration? Well, as a student of American history, I’m always happy to keep learning anyway.  Time moves on, and it’s the time of year to reflect.

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