Out of Control and Loving It, by Dan Coffey | Out of Control and Loving It

The voices in our head that call for us to judge quickly and correctly are usually driven by past pain and have nothing to do with reality. They’re not real because they’re not about what’s happening now. Judging the present by the standards of the past is like planning next week’s trip to Hawaii based on things you learned watching a 1960s Gidget movie. There may be some overlap, but in general, you’d be better off scrapping your cinematic preconceptions and just keeping your eyes and mind open.

Some people only allow themselves one travel destination or one favorite restaurant. Once they found that one safe place, they locked the door and threw away the key, thus keeping themselves safe from dreaded uncertainty. Where do we get the idea that our judgments and preferences are so important? I think it starts in early adolescence.

The day you got teased at school for wearing clothing that your peer group judged as uncool was the day you vowed never to be caught in that position again. The shame, the pain of exclusion, and the terror that maybe they were right and you really are a loser cut to your psychic marrow. And, as the song says, the first cut is the deepest.

So it’s understandable, yet strange, to notice someone acting from that that painful place forty years later. As that delightful, slim, profound pamphlet “The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment” said, “That which you resist you cause to persist.” Whatever you say “no” to will become the biggest fact in your life.

I was recently made to miss my flight by a broken ferry. I was powerless to fix the problem, though I tried. But when it came time to re-book the flight, I didn’t get charged a change fee because it just so happened there was an earthquake off the coast at the same time, and the airline assumed my ferry problem was caused by the earthquake! So luck comes and goes as it pleases. Watching that flow is a lot more enjoyable than trying to control it.

I enjoy visiting the places with the shakiest infrastructures for the same reason I enjoy creative writing. I’m constantly amazed and often delighted by what comes next. As my readers may have noticed, I’m not the kind of writer who can plan a coherent essay. Much as I enjoy logic, it doesn’t have much to do with my writing. The fun part is going with the flow.

Graham Greene, one of the most prolific writers we’ve had, wrote for only one hour a day, early in the morning. That’s when the portal to his unconscious was still open, and he must have delighted and surprised himself every morning for the 50 years he cranked out book after book. He probably reserved judgment for the editing phase. Who knows, maybe he didn’t need one.

There are, of course, certain situations that call for judgment, even for agonizing over a decision. Whom to marry. Which house to buy. Areas where it pays to make  an informed decision.

But certain modern developments only provide the illusion of control. A good friend of mine, a scientist and engineer, is heavily into his GPS. He also has an altimeter on his watch. I teased him, do you really need to know your longitude and latitude to nine decimal places in order to enjoy a walk in the countryside? Staples will sell me a GPS unit that will tell me those things, but it won’t really help inform my decision about which flower to sniff first, or whether to kiss the girl I’m walking with.

Information providers are always promising that we can live better lives if only we can make better choices based on connectivity, but most of that is hype. I can count on one hand the number of times having a cell phone with me has impacted my life for the better.

In the days before telephones, people would go visiting and leave a card behind if they called and no one was home. People living in the same city would write and mail letters to each other. Things still got done. People fell in love, ran businesses, got over disagreements.

They hung loose and allowed others the same freedom, because there was no expectation of instant connectivity.

Speaking of getting along with without laptops, GPS, or cell phones, John Milton was blind when he thought up Paradise Lost. So he memorized it as he created it, and then dictated the final product, from memory, to a scribe. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of words here.  And for those of us over 50, who fear we’ve bloomed too late in life, Miguel de Cervantes was 58 and chained to a wall in debtors’ prison when he began Don Quixote, his most famous work.

You can buy a whole book of Dan Coffey’s essays online: My World & Welcome To It.

Visit the Index for more essays by Dan Coffey and other witty Iowa writers.