Tangelo Time

Pandæmonium. The capital of Hell, whether real or symbolic, the concept Pandæmonium expresses surpasses the strength of chaos by an order of magnitude.

I write “order of magnitude” as if I fully understand the concept. I do not. While I grasp that “the order of magnitude of a number is the number of powers of 10 contained in the number,” I do not necessarily grasp what that explanation means. That failing can be traced back a long, long way to my childhood, when mathematics and algebra and all manner of numbers-related concepts were insufficiently explained to me. Or which I insufficiently understood. Or both.

John Milton created Pandæmonium  when he wrote his epic poem, Paradise Lost. I read Paradise Lost when I was young and stupid, failing at the time to fully comprehend the poem’s vast expanse of lush, awful meaning. I tried to wade through Book 1 again a short while ago; I realize that I am now old and stupid, failing at this moment to have either the energy or the interest to translate Milton’s blank verse into sentences of which my modern mind can make sense. The story line is mildly interesting, but its presentation leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion. Right. I have an opinion about John Milton’s writing, and it’s not an especially appreciative opinion.

I do not remember when I read Paradise Lost, but I suspect it must have been in high school English class, probably a literature class taught by Mrs. Allen. I can still remember the woman’s brunette hair, pulled back in a bun and tied with a rubber band, and her apparent interest in students who seemed to be interested in the subjects she taught. I doubt she had much interest in me, inasmuch as I was an indolent little bastard who would have been happy to have skipped school every day.

So, my education failed me (or I it) in both math and literature. I slid through high school without learning much, though I guess enough knowledge stuck to allow me to slide through college, where I found the subjects more interesting. Still, though, I avoided the “hard” stuff that I thought I would be unable to comprehend. Math in general—algebra, trigonometry—and anything else that might have required real effort. I stuck with subjects that seemed to be sticky; things that did not roll off my brain but, instead, clung to my budding intellectual superficiality like glue or tree sap or tar.

I remain angry at myself, all these years later, for my failure to understand how much more I would know and understand if only I had applied myself in high school and college. The world would be easier to understand and, perhaps, mold to fit my expectations if I had only paid attention, completed my reading assignments, engaged in spirited discussions in class, and otherwise behaved as an interested, involved, student. Instead, I kept my head low, attempting to hide the fact that I wasn’t as bright as I had hoped I was.

It’s silly and stupid to hold a grudge against oneself for so many years. And, if it meant enough to me, I would have spent my adult life compensating for my failings by filling in all the knowledge gaps left empty during my so-called education. Obviously, it means something to me, but not enough to merit real work. Another piece of evidence of the fact that I am and have always been a fainéant fake (My first time to use fainéant; I’d never seen the word before this morning’s foray into the thesaurus. I suspect within a matter of hours I won’t remember the word. It means idle or indolent, for the record.).

Maybe I beat myself up a little too much, though, huh? I do continue to learn, though most of my education focuses on language (always something of a strength), rather than mathematics (always a glaring weakness). So maybe I’m not an entirely worthless human being. I could get a respectable job polishing tarnished letters fallen from the alphabet. Speaking of letters in the alphabet, according to Lexico.com, the letter Q is the least-used letter in the English alphabet, barely surpassing J in usage. I could report percentages and proportions, but I would be in danger of getting over my head in mathematics, so I will steer clear of that embarrassment.

I had breakfast yesterday morning with a friend from church and writing and other such endeavors. We spent a couple of hours at the Home Plate Cafe, talking about a wide range of topics that included my recent descent into boredom. She seemed much more concerned about that than I am. She is, in my view, unnecessarily concerned about minor matters afflicting people in her sphere. That is, I think she makes more of issues than they warrant. I suppose that is the trait of a compassionate person, but it can be moderately annoying. It’s as if she is saying, without saying, “something is wrong with you and I want to fix it.” In spite of this exasperating little trait of hers, I always pick up a gem or two of wisdom from conversations with her. Her reflections on dealing with the vagaries of daily life often are instructive and revealing; not of her, necessarily, but of people in general. What yesterday’s conversation revealed to me is that I seem to be allowing myself to be “bored” with almost everything, yet I could easily get energized by simply deciding to focus on something specific. Like learning a little more math. Or taking a road trip and learning about towns I pass through along the way. Or examining the motives behind my decision to engage in another “doing without” process I wrote about (again) recently. So many things could capture my imagination, if only I would let them. I think I just need to get out of the house on a regular basis. Do something besides sit and write and think.

This afternoon we will attend the Democrat Club meeting. I do not want to get involved in the club as an active volunteer. In fact, I want to withdraw from some of my current volunteer activities. But I do enjoy being in a big room with lots of people who share at least the core sense of decency represented by democracy, if not always shared by the Democratic party. So it will be fun. Maybe.

Even as one slides into old age, it’s still possible and advisable (I think) to set goals and celebrate their achievement. So I shall do that more frequently. Happiness accompanies celebration. Celebrations follow achievement. Achievement, then, correlates in a positive way to happiness. Goals can then be said to cause happiness; though the logic is flawed, it is sufficiently intertwined with truth to be believable. I already have set some goals. I will add more to the list. I will be accountable for pursuing them by documenting successes or failures, the latter far fewer in number than the former, I hope.

Damn, it’s almost seven-thirty. I need to go eat a tangelo.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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