Thursday, May 04, 2006


Type Tray Coffee Table - 15, originally uploaded by nep.

1. This photograph, found on flickr, perfectly illustrates the key components of Order: sorting, containing, and throwing away. (Outside all these neat compartments lies the vast world of things that have been eliminated.)

2. I'd give myself a B in sorting, a B- in throwing away, but I get a D (at best) in containing. In my life, thoughts, objects, and emotions frequently overflow their containers.

3. Meditation helps, but sometimes I have trouble finding a "time container" for that.

4. Time and the things that fill it are the most important variables that need sorting in the pursuit of Order.

5. I get more done if I plan my day in the morning, and write the plan down.

6. I was going to give myself an extra week, because my rooms and my files and my life are still out of order. But life being a "come as you are" party, I figured I'd do just that. So here I am--still a mess, but maybe a little less so.

7. Creating Order isn't something you do all at once when the guest is at the door. It infuses everything you do, or it doesn't exist at all.

8. Creating Order from chaos is what writers do all day. Maybe that's why I have trouble with order in other areas of life...

9. Nah. That's just an excuse.

10. If I organize my study for the next day's writing before I go to bed, I sleep better.

11. Order is a close friend of last week's virtue, Equanimity. The more Order I create, the more balanced I feel.

12. My life will never, ever be as neat as the tray in the photograph.

13. The pure truth: I wouldn't want it to be. Too many stories are found in the things that lie outside any tidy domain.

Next Week's Virtue: RESOLUTION


Dave said...

If only I had a type tray like that, I could have Order! Like my two, half-empty filing cabinets, which provide such nice, wide surfaces to pile papers on.

rdl said...

I'm having a very bad time with this one lately. Wondering if i'll ever get even a mere semblance of it again.

colleen said...

The problem is the order doesn't last long. Sometimes I wonder why I even try. Maybe I should just accept the disorder. Managing it seems the most I can hope for. And the older we get the more things collect. I still go back to the old classic by George Carlin on STUFF when I'm pondering this subject.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Swirly said...

I once had a type tray coffee table as well and like a dummy I gave the type tray away. Although it was for a good cause - an artist friend who does assemblage work needed it for a piece. In any case, I could use some order in my life these days. I feel scattered and distracted most of the time and I'm not sure why.

floots said...

i don't like dirty
i do like untidy
as you say
when it comes to ideas
if things are too tidy
you stop looking in
unlikely corners

nice post
made me think
(and it's only just turned noon)
now where did i leave that pencil :)

Marilyn said...

As a child, I was all about order...trying to CONTAIN because things felt so out of my control. As an adult, I've spent a lifetime trying to let go of my need for order. I know it's sometimes necessary, but I love myself and my life so much more when I can tip over the order jar and feel glee at the sight of it spilling everywhere.

tom said...

too much order can be clinically unhealthy, too little can add to an already disheveled life....happy balance is what we need....
sometimes disorder is therapy for the orderded lives we need to live to pay bills, get to work on time, keep the ants away from the kitchen counter.....
sometimes without order and a plan, we remain stagnant and rot......
I prefer to make little lists, and cross off stuff when little pea brain can only handle so much.
Question....does it bother you to leave the bed unmade all day?....not to sweep up the grass after mowing?..... or does it bother you when an "i" is undotted or a 't" not crossed? you pick up the piece of paper in the hall at work? .....some unscientific indicators to ponder.

Perfect Virgo said...

I think you might have guessed this subject would appeal dramatically to me Patry. I organise, tidy, count and catalogue to a startling degree. For a long time I worried about too many things that are beyond my control. Recently I resolved to try and change that. It is the hardest resolution to keep. I love the thought you have put into this little piece.

P. A. Moed said...

Numbers 11 and 12 resonate with me. I crave order in my life maybe because it gives me a measure of peace and stems the chaos. Last week I reordered the cutlery drawer! There--I've admitted it!

Fred Garber said...

We do like to bring order to chaos. It is somehow pleasing.
"The physical is inherently entropic, giving off energy in ever more disorderly ways. The metaphysical is antientropic, methodically marshalling energy. Life is antientropic. It is spontaneously inquisitive. It sorts out and endeavors to understand" Buckminster Fuller Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (1975)

"and the opposite is also true" Hassan el Sabbah a long time ago.

Sara said...

Containment is not all it's cracked up to be. I strongly feel that generosity is way more important -- and interesting, and healthy even -- than containment.

Order is a tool, not a virtue, and as such it is to be mastered, then used or not as its employer sees fit.

Patry Francis said...

dave: sounds very much like my file cabinets...

r: you have no idea what true disOrder is!

colleen: I think I have to consult Carlin, too. If I can't master Order, maybe I can at least have a sense of humor about it...

swirly: Maybe your life is just so amazingly interesting that you feel scattered. (On good days) that's how I feel. On bad days, well, I just feel scattered.

floots: like the differentiation you make between dirty and untidy. Dirty implies grungy, germy, laden with bacteria; untidy can SOMETIMES be the source of creativity.

Marilyn: another good distinction--that between rigid control of everything (and everyone) around us and joyful flexibility. My problem has been the opposite: sometimes I'm so flexible, I snap.

tom: It bothers me far too little to leave the bed unmade, the grass unswept, the "i" undotted--at least consciously.

p.v.: You know that is one of the traits I admire most about you. Don't change too much!

Sara: an interesting perspective, but I don't think that order and generosity are mutually exclusive--unless, of course, one imposes it on others.

Sky said...

oh, patry, when i was working i always organized my desk before i left the office so that i could start tomorrow's tasks with a clean slate! felt great to bring order and to clean the debris from the screen. this very act made me feel like substance became the focus and unnecessary or unimportant chatter was eliminated, thereby making the most of tomorrow's work.

Sara said...

I agree, Patry, but I think containment can be the opposite of generosity, not order, and as such has to be handled as carefully as salt. It's one thing to make sure all the paper clips end up in the paper clip holder so the cats don't swallow them. It's another thing to be constantly on the watch for things to contain.

Living in New England, I see people very worried about containment, containing themselves specifically, not giving away too much, not in any sense. You wrote about controlling spill-over. I see people all over the web saying they blog to get over the practice of containing themselves right out of a voice. These are just some of the things I've observed which lead me to believe that containment can be the opposite of generosity, and therefore not always such a fantastic thing to pursue.

Above all, containment is not order, though it is frequently part of an illusion of order. (Containment can be sweeping stuff under the bed.)

The thing that puzzles me is that neither containment nor the order you seek as you consider employing it is what I think of as a "virtue" in terms of being something which makes the holder a good person, though both are tools which can help. Like all tools, I think, they are no better than the person wielding them.

But then, the things you've listed so far don't really seem like "virtues" to me, unless you mean "attributes," but even then I wonder. So far, except for courage, which truly straddles the line, the first few all seem more like tools than shining bits of a person's character. Discipline is a virtue (again, if not over-exercised or, as you said, force-fed to others); order is a by-product of discipline. At least, that's how I see it.

So, I'm curious: How did/do you decide on these particular things as "virtues"? Are these things Franklin originally chose himself, or are you making this up as you go along?

I know; it seems like I'm over-thinking this -- and it's not even my exercise, even though I sort of admire it! It seems a very ordered way to go about both self-improvement and life cleaning.

(Good grief, I talk too much. Thank you for indulging me. Going to get coffee now. Cheers!)

Rexroth's Daughter said...

Equanimity about order. I let things flow freely for a few days. Then, I round them up and figure out what to do with them. Every flat surface is an in-box. It is also, eventually, an outbox.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Hmm, in thinking about this, I find that I crave order on a certain scale - the kids' toys piled in bins instead of scattered on the floor, the counter cleared of papers, books neatly lining bookshelves.

But on a larger scale, order simply doesn't work for me. I don't like planning my days ahead, at least no more concretely than a general list of possibilities. I like waking up each day and winging it - what mood am I in, am I feeling inspired to write or just play with the kids on the floor? I prefer to go with the flow. Thank goodness I don't have to work in an office at a structured job, because I find that kind of imposed order very chafing.

I like to creat order in the space around me, but I definitely do not like to have my life contained because to me that feels too much like being confined.

Very thought-provoking post, Patry!

Patry Francis said...

Sara: Nothing pleases me more than when a post inspires a good discussion. Thank you for all the thought (and passion) you've brought to this subject.

It seems that the word "contain" really triggered something in you.
Most of us have had experiences with
someone so obsessed with imposing their sense of order on others that they stopped seeing human beings and saw only the messes they made. (I'm thinking of a family member who once asked me to leave her house because I brushed my hair in the living room.) But to me, putting compulsive neatness before people's feelings is inherently disordered.

Emotionally, I suppose the word " contain" can suggest unhealthy repression, the old philosophy of "being seen and not heard"--not something I'd ever advocate. At the same time, I don't believe we have the right to freely express everything we think and feel--either in person or on the web--with no respect for how it effects others. If I'm in a foul mood for instance, I don't have a right to go out and snap at the clerk at the convenience store, kick the cat, or scream at one of my kids for some small infraction.

As for my chosen "virtues", I used some of Ben's and replaced others with my own. You drove me to the dictionary for an official definition of the word. What I intended comes closes to the third meaning listed: "A particularly efficacious, good, or beneficial quality." For me, true order, is neither controlling, nor repressive; it's liberating. It doesn't restrict expression; it makes a space for it.

My list represents the "efficacious, good, or beneficial" qualities I need to work on. A person who feels ruled by compulsive neatness might have chosen flexibility where I chose order. When I first began the exercise, some commenters countered with their own lists--which were great. Since you're thinking about this, you might want to make one, too. I'd love to read it!

Patry Francis said...

Fred Garber: I love your Buckminster Fuller quote (which, due to some disorder in my computer or my brain, I just saw). Everything in nature is essentually predicated on order. (Except when the opposite is true.)

sky: I work mostly at home now, but that's a perfect description of how the satisfaction I feel when I "bless" my work space for the next day.

r.d.: It sounds as if you are a person for whom order comes naturally. For me, a flat surface can become inbox for years...

Sharon: I tend to be so dreamy and unfocused that if I don't plan my day, I don't get much done. But once you're a mother, you always have to be flexible. If one of my kids comes into my office and wants to talk during my writing time, I always turn the computer off and chat. Maybe that's why it's taken me so long to get my novel written. Still, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Alexandra S said...

I get insecure just looking at that photo because I feel like I should be an antonym for the word "order" in the dictionary. ! Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but your lovely post reminds me yet again I'd like to be more organized!

dog1net said...

I find organizing ideas much easier than actual objects. At work I'm considered highly organized. But at home I'm more often than not a complete dunderhead when it comes to my things. I'm not even sure where half the stuff I have came from. Now that I'm in the process of moving, I find the only way to master entropy is to apply Thoreau's degree to simplify.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kerstin said...

What can I say? I am German and I like order. Yep. It's been second nature to me ever since I was a child, being organised has always made me feel better. My only downfall is that I am not a morning person and spend the day in chaos trying to catch up with myself. The morning plan sounds like a good plan!

Sara said...

Heh heh -- no Patry, like I said, this isn't my exercise. I'm no list-maker. However, I do find that my life chooses concepts like these as themes for periods of months at a time, sometimes whole years. The last six months have been all about generosity. The couple of years before that were about kindness.

I think that's why I started painting allegories. Over three years ago I finished a painting of Courage (which someday I will photograph and post on the web, honest). It took me five years to finish that painting because I started it while I felt brave, but then something happened that made me lose my courage for a couple of years. I started painting on it again before I really had my courage back, very tentatively, but as I worked, my life changed and I realized I'd regrown a new kind of courage altogether.

This is the kind of thing that happens to me. I apparently need to spend more time than one week and a list of 13 thoughts to really process this stuff, and apparently I don't get to choose my own lessons. But yes, since the last one to really make itself felt in my life has been generosity, and since I live somewhere where, on the surface anyway, this seems to be a big issue, the discussion of containment as desirable to achieve order did push a little button.

Also, where you talk about taking things out on other people, that's not freedom; what you're describing (kicking the cat, screaming at the clerk) is actually transference, and it's a by-product of too much concentration on self-containment. 'Cause we can't contain ourselves totally, and we shouldn't try. There will be leaks in inappropriate places if we don't learn to let things spill where they're supposed to.

That's what I think, anyway. Tidying is good. Knowing where stuff is -- also good. Containing oneself? Mmmm, go carefully with that one. It can lead to parsimony where there should be generosity, and bad eruptions in worse places. You know this from working as a waitress, I'm sure, just as I know it from cashiering at the grocery store. We have each been subject to toxic spills erupting where people contained something too long and hard, something painful, 'til it had nowhere to go but on us and no way to do it but messily.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

That was beautiful! The photo and how your organzied your thoughts. Funny because of the topic of this post. I prefer to find order in caos.


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting site... Delta airlines phone web site design company Moving companies aaaaillinois Cosmetic surgery rhinoplasty artist san francisco Time share rentals in memphis englewood timeshare Punishments teens sex Vagina plastic surgeries white babydoll dresses sale quit taking propecia

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^