Friday, September 4, 2009

63) the opposite of chaos

the literary life 9/4/09

Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.

Every day, when I go to work, I carry four our five bags: a purse, a backpack, a lunch bag, a shoulder bag, and whatever is in my hands (sometimes a lesson plan, other times a stack of grading). In the picture above, you can see me holding the pile of grading I accumulated this week, after only five days of school.

The bottom line: week in, week out, I carry a lot of baggage. Things can easily get chaotic. No wonder I mentally aim to embrace simplicity. My life, as a high school English teacher and writer and citizen of this world, is never quiet for long. But I sort of need the chaos, the baggage. It reminds me to prioritize simplifying. It reminds me to seek out the opposite of chaos. I know chaos well. In a way, I kind of need chaos. Bob Dylan has said, "Chaos is a friend of mine." The fact is, being a school teacher means having to embrace order: there are seating charts and bell schedules and clocks to follow. And while there's the baggage of grading, there's typically the structure of an ordered environment surrounding me.

Each day is an exercise in trying to curb chaos. Each day is a quest for simplicity. When I teach, my writing is where I go to meditate. To remind myself of the hidden silences. I'm beginning to see that even in the chaos, there's a kind of silence. Kerry Thornley has said: "What we imagine as order is merely the prevailing form of chaos." At the same time, what we imagine as chaos might be the veil pulled over silence.

At the end of the day, we still have to carry some baggage. I might trim down to two bags, but there's always something to carry. And in the end, I'll have to spend some hours grading. I'll have to do the work. And when I finish the work, there will be more waiting. I'll be meditating on simplicity.

Milan Kundera's novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, opens with this existential catch-22: when our lives are busy and chaotic, we feel like we have a sense of purpose. Weight and baggage make us feel like we're useful. But after some time, they seem to curb our freedom, and we pine for lightness. But while the lightness can be initially freeing, it too has a kind of weight: we eventually feel burdened by nothingness--a sense that we lack a purpose, thereby resulting in the unbearable lightness of being.

Maybe it's the grass is always greener scenario. Maybe it's about living in cycles. Living so that sometimes we are pining for simplicity and other times we are pining for chaos. Appreciating both, repudiating both. Understanding it takes time to develop our own unique sense of balance (I am still only in my fourth year of teaching, after all). If your life is chaotic, look for silences. If your life is silent, explore the chaos lurking underneath. This is one thing we can do as we acknowledge that wisdom comes in different guises. And in time, if we're lucky we might learn how to live "with just baggage enough."

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