A friend of mine has long been a far-reaching, outside-the-box thinker, seemingly knowledgeable on any subject, no matter how esoteric or mundane. If plotted on a graph, conversations with him would not reflect a normal back-and-forth pattern between us, regular and predictable along the spoken axis; rather, his portion would appear as jagged deviations from the anticipated flow of talk, spiking off in all directions from what might be expected.
He never tells a lie, so far as I know. But his conversational pattern reminds me of what one might see on a lie-detector print-out—the lines ordered and sure while I’m speaking, careering wildly up and down on the page when it’s his turn to talk. His free-thinking tendencies result in tangential observations I sometimes have difficulty understanding in relation to what we’re supposedly talking about.
My pseudo-psychological label for his thinking process is random-hysteric.
By contrast, I am as predictable as the sun at dawn, and as ponderous in my thinking as he is not—my label, perhaps, fixed-stable. Although I love my friend dearly, it can irritate me when he strays from our conversational path, rather than continuing along what I perceive as the direct route from A to B.
“What’s that got to do with what we’re talking about?” I often cry after one of his rambling excursions. “Stick to the point!”
More often than not, he’ll simply shake his head at my apparent obtuseness. But he doesn’t change his approach. In his wide-ranging mind, everything he says is related to the topic at hand.
Deep down inside, though, I suspect the problem is mine, not his. I am a plodder in most things. It’s amazing how many times, as I journey from here to wherever, I am unaware afterwards of almost everything lying between point of origin and destination. Stop to smell the flowers is not an adage I have ever rigorously adhered to.
When flying, if I know the expected time it should take to get there, I become impatient with deviations to the flight-path that might delay arrival. When driving, I hate if we pull in at roadside attractions or scenic lookouts because stopping means we’re not actually getting to where we’re going. When reading, I constantly check how many pages I’ve read and how many are left yet to read—even when I love the story.
When swimming in our pool, I count each lap faithfully, and get annoyed if I feel I’ve lost count. It was actually a depressing moment when I first learned that a lap is properly measured as two lengths of the pool, not one; I felt cheated, as if I had lost half the number I had accumulated. And worse, it got harder to keep accurate count!
Because I alternate strokes after each lap—freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, sidestroke—I have my own counting pattern: 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 2-2, 3-1, 3-2, 4-1, 4-2, 5-1, 5-2…until I hit my goal, 20-2. And then, while showering, I go over it in my head, trying to ensure I didn’t miscount. Obsessive?
If you look up the word methodical in the dictionary, my picture will be there.
And so it is in conversations with other people. I absolutely love when they stick to the topic, acknowledge what I’ve said before beginning their reply, listen politely when it’s my turn again, offer their further thoughts when I finish, and (I really must say it again) stick to the topic.
Because I’ve long been aware of this eccentricity of mine, it has occurred to me that it might be one of the reasons why, when I find myself in a social setting with several other people enjoying conversations with each other, I’m often the only one not directly engaged—a gadfly, as it were, flitting from eavesdropping here to overhearing there, nodding and smiling as if I were part of each exchange.
But never mind. A plodder I may be in just about everything, but in writing I find my escape. For some reason, it seems not to disturb me that I can ramble on, hither and yon, from the start of an essay to the end—likely confusing many readers as to my thesis, my conclusions, even my thinking (such as it is).
Granted, there is always a starting point for each piece; but I seldom know at the beginning where the end will be found, or on what grounds I will trespass as I look for it. Most of the time, I just stop writing when it seems best.
There is a lovely peace that steals over me, and a surcease of compulsive demands, when I hie myself off to write. Perhaps my brain draws respite from its normally-plodding behaviours as I lay down on paper the thoughts jostling each other for escape.
Once there, however, those thoughts are fixed. As Omar Khayyam wrote (according to Edward Fitzgerald’s 1859 translation)—
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
And so, here I shall stop for now.