Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Process Is the Punishment

Maps and calendars make me afraid.

I have to get some stuff worked out this week involving credits from last semester transferring back to Mansfield. I have to get a transcript mailed from SBI. I don't think I've really missed anything so far, but it is stuff that I should have probably taken care of before now. For some reason though, I have just had this dread of doing it. It could be that I'm naturally a procrastinator. But I think it's more than that. I'm really scared of organizations and bureaucracies and systems and things like that. I remember applying for my drivers license scared me... probably a lot more than the test itself. Applying for my passport was always the same way. Applying for credit cards. Applying to college. Applying for anything or doing anything that involves dealing with any of the aforementioned conglomerates makes me want to throw up. So I guess it's natural that this would stress me out... but I wish it didn't.

In the old North Hall Library at Mansfield, up on the the fifth or so floor, deep in the book stacks, there is a table I would sit at while unsuccessfully attempting to force my mind to comprehend basic algebra that most people understood with no trouble when they were about 13. On the opposite row from me, there was a book that I sometimes stared at titled: The Process Is the Punishment. I was always intrigued by it, and toward the end of the semester, after somehow getting an A+ in algebra, still without comprehending it in the least, I checked out that book. It was written by a law student in the 1950's or so, and I was the first one to check it out in a decade at least. I never actually read all of it... but the gist was this: that the punishment that our legal system meets out on criminals is not so much in the actual sentence, but rather their encounter with the system itself, from the summons, to the day in court on through everything else after that. The process IS the punishment. I couldn't agree more. I hate systems. I hate them, I hate them, I hate them. There... maybe I feel a little better now.

I realized recently that I'm afraid of calendars too. It never occurred to me until a week or two ago when I had a calendar that I had purchased on my bed. I was about to hang it on the wall, but the thought of waking up and looking at it every morning seemed so unspeakably depressing that I couldn't bring myself to do it. I ended up giving it away.

I'm like that a little with maps too. Not maps of geography or topography that tell about other places so much. I have always loved those. But road maps of places that I actually need to go. I think I realized this while looking at google maps.

This all seemed rather strange to me until I thought about maps and calendars together, and in a way, they are both really the same thing. Maps tell us where we are in space; calendars tell us our coordinates in time. As I thought about it, I realized that these are both things I really don't care to know. I seem to prefer to float through existence without anything by which to judge where I'm going. I need to know that I am going... but where and how fast... no... no thank you. I'll take the blue pill.

Thinking about it now... this apparent phobia of coordinates and systems probably explains a good deal about my miserable aptitude for math. There... I have discovered something about myself... right here.

I don't know if writing about all these things will make them any less terrifying. At the very least though, it may help me to know my enemies. I don't know if I want them to be my enemies though. I've been thinking a lot about the last verse of the last song of U2's last album:

"Choose your enemies carefully, they will define you.
Make them interesting, cause in some ways they will mind you.
And not there in the beginning, but when the story ends,
they're gonna last with you longer than your friends."

- from The Cedars of Lebanon on No Line On the Horizon by U2

- Andrew

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