Thursday, August 15, 2013

Juggling

One of my mother's beautiful hand-made dolls
This is going to be a filler post, but the promise of more to come will hopefully excuse the absence of any words from me since April of 2012.

More than a year later, all I can say for myself is that I have been juggling a lot of changes, thoughts, wishes, ventures, jobs, relationships, and unfinished to-do-lists, and somewhere in there, updating my blog fell by the wayside.

Juggling strikes me as a good metaphor not just because it strikes everyone as a good metaphor for doing lots of things at once, but also because it is an ancient and prestigious skill, first recorded about four thousand years ago.  It is an action which has been undertaken by everyone from street performers, who used it to earn their livelihood, to court jesters, who used it as royal entertainment, to famous Chinese warriors, who used it to display their dexterity and skill to their enemies.  Sometimes it has been considered a frivolity, sometimes a diversion, sometimes a sign of witchcraft.  Shakespeare's Macbeth speaks of "juggling fiends" who "palter with us in a double sense"--in other words, who speak equivocally, saying one thing and meaning another.  The word is connected to mischief in its very roots: old French jogler, "to play tricks or sing songs" from Latin ioculari, "to jest."  People juggle tangible things, like handkerchiefs, balls, clubs, torches, and swords, and they juggle intangible things, like words or goals, or most of the items I listed above.  Everybody seems to juggle something, and people have been doing it for a really, really long time.  But why?

I suppose the more modern word for this is multitasking.  The ability to have your attention diverted in thirty different directions without necessarily losing track of each individual thread is a skill that most of the population now boasts, and hones regularly.  At this moment I have no fewer than thirty-six tabs open amongst eight windows in my internet browser, plus two Excel spreadsheets, two Word documents, an iTunes window, and an email inbox open on my screen, not to mention the book and phone lying next to me on the desk, and the other human being sharing the room with me, should I care to turn elsewhere for distraction.  Am I juggling these things?  I have, at some point or other in this rainy day, given my attention to each of these, and sometimes many at once, but without any real sense of prioritising.  A clear-eyed, non-partial observer might identify these as a series of unfinished tasks and projects.  Half-read books, half-filled spreadsheets, half-composed emails, half-skimmed articles.  I keep collecting things to do and never finishing them.  And because no single item in my hoard has made a strong enough claim to gain the entirety of my focus, I have a sneaking suspicion that most of these things, like this post, are filler.

“Juggling is sometimes called the art of controlling patterns,

controlling patterns in time and space.”


 - Ronald Graham, mathematician and past president of the International Jugglers' Association

The control is key here, and I think it's that part which has been missing from much of the past year for me.  I think I took a largely passive role in most of the events that followed a major break-up last March, possibly because I fell apart a little bit, and possibly because I have never been very good at making decisions.  This particular decision having been made for me, in a manner directly contrary to my desires, I sort of let go entirely and waited to see what would happen.  I did a great pantomime of juggling, to be sure.  I acted like I was taking control of the situation and choosing which balls to toss and deciding when to catch and throw them.  But in reality I was tired of the whole performance, so I threw all the balls (dreams, hopes, plans, goals) up into the air and let them all fall down around my head.


So really, I was only juggling in the Calvin sense of juggling, and I have no real excuse for my inability to keep all the eggs in the air except for that dastardly gravity.  Even so, for a while, things seemed to fall into place.  I got a new job, I got a new boyfriend, I travelled some more and learned some more and developed myself.  But none of it felt active on my part.  It all just sort of happened.

I don't have a brilliant conclusion to all of these musings.  I can, however, at least half-promise that I will half-try to half-write some more blog entries in the very near future.  There is much to be told, and much to be pondered.