November 30th, 2006


Building castles in the air

This might cause anyone who actually knows me (or has seen my flat) to spill their tea onto their keyboard, but I'm naturally an organised person.

When I was young, I would happily spend hours sorting my parents book collection, alphabetically by author and then chronologically by publication date. I had places for all my clothes, which were kept neatly in the wardrobe, each type of clothing on its own bit of shelving. While things could get into a mess when I'd been doing things, tidying up was fairly easy, and I preferred things to be tidy, with everything in its right place.

If all of this is making me sound like a terribly geeky/autistic child who compensated for the strange uncontrollableness of the outside world by creating a Kubrickian defined space, well I won't disagree with you too wildly. Although I'd like to stress that I was largely a happy child, at least when I was at home.

So, the question arises, how on earth did I get from this vision of order to the current state of chaos?And the answer seems to fall into two related explanations and a pair of caveats.

One caveat is that when I have things that simply fall into categories, or an easy way of keeping things organised electronically, then they tend to stay that way. Since I got an easy-to-use calendar on my phone I find it trivial to keep that up to date. My photos (at are all tagged. I have to-do lists at work, and keep items on both it and my defect list up to date at all times. And I do so because it makes my life easier, and I prefer it when things are neatly filed.

The other is that I am generally happier when my flat is tidy. I don't tend to notice my stress levels going up, but when it's tidy I suddenly find myself just feeling more relaxed. So it's not that I'm immune to the effects of untidiness (although I'm definitely less affected than some of the people I know.

The first, and simplest explanation, is that I have too much stuff for the space I have. I have several bookshelves, all packed to capacity, and my clothes are packed away in various places because there simply isn't enough space to store them all in my wardrobe. I don't have the room for there to be "A place for everything and everything in its place." and so I have to have "make-do" organisation, where things are organised in a way that's not bad, but it's not _right_ either. And whle slotting something into place, fitting the piece into the jigsaw and getting the program working perfectly are all things that drive me and give me a sense of achievement, shoving something into kinda the right place, getting kludgy code rushed through or otherwise doing a botched job gives me no satisfaction whatsoever. I might not be able to see the mess when it's hidden in cupboards, but I know it's still there.

The other explanation is that I stopped fully believing in order. Or rather, that I stopped believing that any particular organisational system was absolutely correct. I have a strong urge to "get things right", and the dawning realisation that there is no one, single, overriding source of correctness stripped from me the ability to satisfy this urge. It's very hard to be obsessed with organising things when you don't believe that you're doing it right, because there is no right way to do it.

I remember clearly the first time I hit an organisational problem I couldn't solve - I was around thirteen, sorting through my trade paperback collection, organising chunks of it by writers (because I was collecting everything written by Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, etc) and and chunks of it by character/series when I came across The Killing Joke, and spent a good five minutes staring at it, wondering if I should file it under Alan Moore or Batman, my brain completely locked by a problem I'd simply never encountered before. And obviously life has become ever more complicated since then.

And this has spread beyond tidiness/organisation. I lost any particular direction in my life about 6 years ago, when I realised that my search for meaning through rationality wasn't going to get anywhere, because meaning wasn't subject to rationality. Which, in itself, was a very useful conclusion to reach, but has left me in a blocked state ever since, wanting to do _something_ but not convinced of the worth of any one thing over any other.

Now the _sensible_ thing to do is to replace the idealised single, absolute, external source of rightness with a more human, relative, internal source of rightness. To take my own feelings on things and base my happiness around them. But I can't seem to quite bring myself to do so. Every time I start to build up an obsession in something, or a theory of rightness, the ultra-rational part of me steps in and points out that I'm not even building on sand, I'm building on nothing at all.

In fact, I'm building on my own feelings, and I suspect that the problem is that while I do care about my feelings a certain amount, I don't care about them enough. They don't feel anywhere near solid enough to build anything concrete and meaningful upon, so it feels like I need to either abandon the idea of meaning altogether (which would remove most of the fun from life) or reconcile myself to the idea that my emotions will just have to do as a basis for everything, and see how that goes. It doesn't feel natural, or safe, or sensible, but I don't feel like I have much choice. Possibly I need to try being unsafe and nonsensical for a while...