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Messacognition: Beware the Temptations of Reasonable Illogic

February 17, 2010

I even shower with my pen, in case any ideas drip out of the waterhead.
• Gracie Harmon

No one means all he [or she] says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
• Henry Brooks Adams (1907),
The Education of Henry Adams

Sometimes I write things and I don’t remember having written them. Francis Bacon said that you should “write down the thoughts of the moment,” since “those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.” Bacon died in 1626,* so he couldn’t have read what follows. Fortunately. The father of the scientific method would be disillusioned. And a warning for you, dear reader: what follows is the actual stream of consciousness, marginally punctuated stuff I wrote on a piece of cardboard from the trash in the bathroom when I got out of the shower since I didn’t want to get distracted by a hunt for paper and I’d run out of the 3×5 cards I usually keep there. This is odd stuff that captures thought on the run.

Shower Thoughts (written while dripping wet):

Where do ideas come from? Sometimes I try to track their origins. What was I thinking? Why? I retrace my steps from there to here. I’ve been standing in the shower thinking about many things and making lists of everything I need to do when I get out of here when I should be relaxing and just let the water wash away everything but this moment. But no, I’m creating acronyms for things I need at the grocery store and emails I need to send and I know I will never be able to remember it all and then I hear this couple taking in my head and I think there may be a poem in what they are saying, but there’s only so much I’ll be able to remember so I try to repeat their words over and over.

Don’t think of anything else. Forget the lists. And while I hurry to get the shampoo out of my hair, over and over, I repeat what they said, but I can’t stop adding to it since it seems to me it’s probably a poem trying to get out. Brain, don’t think about anything else don’t think stop it now he said she said get out of here rinse off don’t bother drying pull on a robe and get my pen and write it quick—what they said—easy to remember but maybe not and especially make some notes of all that filtered through the lists that wouldn’t go away so I won’t lose it all. Can’t write fast enough and this thought’s inside of that and maybe they will coalesce and I am gripped by the fear that it will disappear or that it won’t mean anything at all if I remember although I know that I prefer banality to the nagging feeling that something anything was lost.

Oh, and there’s the phrase, the one that I forgot and now it’s intruding and I need to get them these people that I hear written down but reasonable illogic is what I wanted to remember and now I can rest a bit and write down the other things I heard. Their order doesn’t matter this crowd will settle down line up not yet not yet just let them gather here, corralled by inky lines that hold them in their place.

“There’s no money in poetry,” he says, repeating the reasonable illogic that someone famous–he can’t remember who–once said.

And she replies, “There’s no poetry in money either.”

And I think
but wait,
it’s not that simple.

There is poetry everywhere if only you could see it, and a
penny, old or shiny, doesn’t matter
reminds me always of Abe Lincoln and
“All my life,” he said, the time it took him to pen the
Gettysburg Address.

It reminds me of
Pennies from Heaven or
gumballs or
the candy bought with money moist
from sweaty palms

running all the way
to the store trying to decide on
fat red wax lips or
magenta candy lipstick wrapped in golden foil or
strips of paper dotted with sugary circles or
licorice red or black or mama’s favorite chocolate or

taffy four pieces individually wrapped what a bargain
in chocolate banana peanut butter and vanilla.

There is poetry in money.
There is poetry everywhere.

My life is filled with reasonable illogic, things that sound good but that have no real meaning in the context of the life I am living. I delight in having captured this phrase from my shower thoughts. When you’re a student, it’s easy to get caught up by the reasonable illogic of professors or family or other well-intentioned people who provide perfectly reasoned arguments for things that you know in your heart—and in your mind—won’t work for you. We are all vulnerable to such arguments. Remember this phrase as you work through the ongoing challenges of staying true to the things that are meaningful for you.

What kinds of reasonable illogic do you have to watch out for?

Even as I write, strange words come back to me. I don’t know what half of them mean–I most likely never did–but I must have heard them so often, long, long ago, that they are firmly planted in my brain. • Sir William Orpen

* I use Bacon’s death in Yuckology 101: Vile and Disgusting Literacy Activities for Children of All Ages since he reportedly died from pneumonia contracted while conducting an experiment using snow to preserve meat (he stuffed a chicken with it). Perhaps this was not causal; perhaps it was simply contiguous. Nonetheless, it makes a good story to capture students’ attention.

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