Friday, February 10, 2012

Sheep That Pass in the Night


You have never been on cordial terms with arithmetic or its snootier cousins, mathematics.  At best, you had what had been called in those dreadful Nixon-Kissinger days, a détente.

Beyond the occasional crisis that arose when you miscalculated the occasional bank balance or ignored some aspect of the personal budget, the worst experience came when you were brought to bear with long division, which is to say occasions beyond the immediate capacity of your muscle memory relationship with multiplication tables.  Not only did long division of you require to determine how many times some dreadful number such as, say, 237, be found in some larger number of equal dreadfulness, say 6,218, you were required to record with exactitude the fractional remainder, that part less than 237.  To add even more humiliation to the process, you were also required to demonstrate your ability to express this remainder as a fraction or a product of the decimal system.

You made many mistakes, enough that you later stumbled through algebra and geometry, resenting the assurances of your teachers, fellow students, and parents that in later years, as you plied your craft as an adult, these disciplines would become of enormous value to you.

True enough, the time came when you were to design and otherwise layout the text of books, a task you thoroughly enjoyed—until someone pointed out to you that you were using geometry as the basis for your design. Of equal truth, with one and in its way ironic exception, the books produced on your watch fit well within their budget and subsequently earned their keep.  For reasons unknown to you, your arithmetic abilities betrayed you with a book titled How to Get Out From Under, a self-help guide to declare bankruptcy or restructure disastrous financial positions, a project that, because of your miscalculations, cost the publisher $1.16 for every copy actually sold.

With all your mathematical errors put forth to ante you into the larger poker hand of reality, you have no reserve about admitting errors of significant and insignificant other natures.  Some of these mistakes were moral, ethical, judgmental, romantic, baseball related, editorial, grammatical, automotive, and time line, to say nothing at all of career.

This was not intended to be a litany of self-mortification, nor, as you begin to reflect on some of the mistakes in greater specificity, do you suspect it will become a condemnation or even a reproof.  To the contrary, if such things matter at all, you do more things correctly than not.  You are by no means error-free—you make big fucking mistakes, but you also do well enough in the few areas where you do things well, in particular areas where you’d never thought to do well under most circumstances.

For whatever reasons, you’d been keen on taking a course in dramatics, but the pre-requisite was public speaking.  At the time and now, the pre-requisite makes sense but you were as effective in public speaking classes as you were with your earlier ventures with long division.  Even in junior college, where you had an incentive of a different sort, a young lady urging you to take the class with her, the results were as flat as a fallen soufflé.

Errors are things somehow bungled, good intentions gone awry, shoe laces left untied, i’s not dotted, t’s not crossed.  You sometimes send off a thing containing an error before you realize it is an error.  Sometimes, in an idle moment of thumbing through a book, you see an error someone else made, but all the same regret because, in that way of cosmic things, it is associated with you.  The motivation for this entire essay and in particular this paragraph has to do with the forthcoming second printing of your latest book, in which you discovered errors

Navaho blankets are said to have deliberate errors introduced into them so that they will not be exact replicas of sand paintings, whose purpose is to cure some error in the cosmos then be obliterated.

Some errors, if left unattended, will over time appear not only to have corrected themselves but in the bargain to have become prescient as they reflect a greater understanding of the way things work.  These errors, once called old wives’ tales, or perhaps cultural lore, assume irony because the real error was in the way they were interpreted by those of us who are looked upon to interpret such things, a truly patronizing way of looking at survival strategies of those who came before us.

At the moment, you have no preference between error and mistake.  You are every bit as likely to say the one as the other.  Both mean the same thing:  you were wrong.

Committing an error, while frowned upon in baseball, places the individual in the enviable position of learning something.  You would with great cheer accept the potential for error (or mistake) as a senior discount for learning something.

Not all learning is beneficial, nor is it worth holding onto.  You’d be mistaken to think you knew the difference between which learning is worth holding onto and which to have packed up for the thrift store, the next time its truck is in your neighborhood.  You’d be wrong to try to implement the belief that you knew and it would be an error to try to convince others that you did.

It would be an error to think you will never make another mistake, a greater error to think so poorly of yourself for having made one or two or sixteen here and there.

There are many individuals who have such poor visions of themselves and such dreary prospects for any kind of future that they have invented systems of judgment and punishment for themselves and for you.  Others still have devised systems where they will need to relive many lives in order to pass enough judgmental scrutiny to allow them, at last, some relief.

You see them and they see you.

Ships that pass in the existential night.

Make no mistake about it.  You all have a long way to go.




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