Chronic sense: “The obsessive need to find sense and order in a world without much of either.”
I’ve probably been an editor for most of my life, long before it became an accidental career path. Editing is a natural fit for someone who must align pictures that are askew, brush out the folds in the bedspread, and arrange the shirts hanging in her closet by color. And that’s when I was six. As I grew older, I naïvely thought it was helpful to broaden my obsessive tendencies to include others—correcting the grammar of my parent’s dinner-party guests, organizing the chaos of my grandmother’s cupboards without prior consent, or pointing out a high-school teacher’s mispronunciation of the word archetype. Finally, someone had the good sense to put a manuscript in front of me to see what I could do with it. And thus a calling was answered. Editing was never my idea, never the sort of career I sought but rather, one that sought me. Finally all my OCD energy could be channeled into something productive. Imagine the relief of friends and family.
Living with such a disorder—one that is simultaneously constructive and destructive—is a constant balance. Do I correct the misspellings in the newsletter sent home from my son’s teacher and send it back to her? Do I tell my brother-in-law that “hopingly” is not an actual word? Beyond grammar, the work I do exposes me to writing on all sorts of subjects, and, as consequence, I hold within my brain a vast repertoire of useless facts, rounding out the array of inner conflict. Do I push the point when a client of my husband’s insists that Anderson Cooper is related to John Jacob Astor when I know that his mother is Gloria Vanderbilt? Do I correct my son’s girlfriend who refers to a collective of gorillas as a herd and not a band? Is any of this important? Of course not. Hence my earlier use of the term disorder.
As you may have guessed, an anal know-it-all such as myself is not the easiest person to live with. I am, however, the first person people tell me they want as their phone-a-friend should they ever appear on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and the one called upon to settle a bet, many of them my eldest son’s. More than one semi-sober call in the middle of the night has interrupted my slumber in order to answer such questions as, “The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free all the slaves, did it, ma?” The phrasing of my son’s questions usually alludes to which side of the bet he is on, though my proclivity for accuracy over maternal bias disappoints when he’s on the wrong side of that bet. The fact that he has never shared his barroom winnings doesn’t bother me; after all, these late-night calls reveal something far more important—my son has actually listened to some of my blatherings, and for this I am secretly proud. Because mostly, I’m just secretly ashamed.
Every once in a while, though, someone will point out some non-sense, however banal and irrelevant (something those with productive lives generally don’t notice), something that I’ve questioned, too, but was reticent to point out for fear of doing what I do so well—annoying those around me. In these moments, I think perhaps my disorder needn’t be so isolating after all, that there are others out there just like me, people who need to hear a similar voice, who seek acceptance of their peculiar tendencies that, like mine, too often inspire groans, sighs, and rolled eyes (when we’re not called upon to be a phone-a-friend or settle a bet, that is). I know these people exist because I met one of them the other day.
While in the produce department of a local market, I was choosing some potatoes. Well, I was actually pretending to choose some potatoes. What I was really doing was watching a man standing at a huge basket of locally-picked corn and shucking several ears, husks and silk flying in all directions. The stranger next to me must have noticed the disturbed look on my face and felt confident enough to say, “What’s up with people shucking corn in the grocery store instead of at home, anyway?” I was giddy with excitement over meeting this kindred spirit, a chance to opine on something I’ve put great thought into, something that has never made sense to me either. Yes! Just when did this phenomenon catch fire? And why? Wasn’t the previous accepted practice of just peeling back an inch or two of husk to check the general state of things good enough? When did it become necessary to strip the thing bare in the actual store? And how do these behaviors catch on from town to town, city to city, and state to state?
And to this same man who we witnessed stripping an ear of corn bare, holding it firmly to his nose and smelling it before tossing it back into the pile, I say, “Damn you, cob stripper! The corn you just rejected is going to end up in one of those pre-packaged produce containers that some poor soul will buy, never knowing that some stranger’s snot is caught between the kernels.”
It’s just Chronic Sense after all. And that’s what this blog will be about, the subtle intrusions of non-sense into the world both at large and at small (that should be a term, so I’m sticking with it), whether pop culture, politics, family dynamics, or daily life. I hope you’ll share the journey with me, or perhaps some of your own conundrums when it comes to finding sense and order in the people and events that surround and shape us.Because I can use all the help I can get.