Sunday, November 9, 2008

Swinging the Hammer

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, and this isn’t good. Left unattended, my mind does not turn to chivalry and dragon-slaying, to rescuing fair maidens or changing the world. I don’t dream up funny limericks to write on bathroom walls or pithy epithets that I can rattle off at parties. Frankly, my wandering mind is usually a pretty dark place.

This is why I try to stay occupied, to keep some kind of puzzle going in my head at all times. But sometimes I slip, and that’s when I start thinking.

I was reading Kurt Vonnegut’s “A Man Without A Country” today, and he wrote something that kind of encapsulated what’s been going through my head lately. He starts by saying that he’s been called a luddite, and that it’s not a bad thing. Then he tells the story of Ned Ludd, the namesake of the Luddites, who, according to Vonnegut and Wikipedia, destroyed a bunch of mechanical looms and other equipment in nineteenth century England in protest of being replaced by machines. He wraps up that story with this quote:

“Today we have contraptions like nuclear submarines armed with Poseidon missiles that have H-bombs in their warheads. And we have contraptions like computers that cheat you out of becoming. Bill Gates says, ‘Wait till you can see what your computer can become.’ But it’s you who should be doing the becoming, not the damn fool computer. What you can become is the miracle you were born to be through the work that you do.”

This is in my mind lately because I’ve been spending a lot of time around people in various contexts and I find that, depending on where I am and who I’m with and what I’m doing, there always seems to be a switch or two in my brain that I know I should flip in response to the situation, but when I do, the circuit that should be connected isn’t finished. The switch gets flipped but the light doesn’t come on. The car doesn’t start.

In the resulting intracranial awkward silence, I’m presented with the puzzle table on which my mind is laid out and I’m always stunned by just how many missing pieces there are. Those missing pieces, those gaps in the mural, are all the things that you can become, provided, I assume, that you don’t smash the machines that can help you get there.

The thing is, I’m pretty good with a hammer. It’s okay, though. If you smash enough machines, periodically you have to scavenge the parts to make new ones and when you do, you sometimes find that the new machine will make you another piece of your puzzle. That, of course, is what this is all about.

So if I’ve learned anything over the last couple of years I think it would be that it’s fine to pick up your hammer and pound away. At the cost of looking like a fool, or a bastard, of straining a friendship here and breaking a bone or two along the way, there’s almost always a reward when the dust settles and the wounds heal and you’ve got a slightly more complete picture of what you can become.

So thanks, KV, for putting a focus to the things that have been keeping me up the last few nights.


Manasse said...

Maybe a crossword puzzles...might help? And hey, if they ask for a twelve-letter word meaning "thinking to yourself silently," you already have "intracranial" at your finger tips!

ann marie said...

maybe you should go to grad school . . . there's no time for recreational "thinking"