Sunday, January 28, 2007

Avoiding Hardening of the Categories

Comedian Steven Wright was confronted by a friend saying "Your socks don't match!"

Steven responded "Yes they do. I was going by thickness."

When my current partner, an composer/artist, came to live with me, he immediately started challenging my hardened categories.

One day I opened the kitchen cabinet to take out a glass. Jim had evidently put the clean dishes away earlier in the day. As a person who "likes" things in the Right Place, I had to stifle an annoyed complaint--the glasses and cups were "all mixed up."

However, as a person in love, I wanted to find a cautious, friendly way to make my complaint. So I looked closer, to ascertain the difference between his way and The Right Way, which involved function, not form--I keep mugs and cups on the left, glasses on the right, aligned by use, juice glasses first, then milk glasses, then tall tea glasses. This clearly represents the "natural order" for such implements. So where, I asked myself, had Jim gone so wrong?

At that point, I realized that he had used his artist's eye to group the items by color--blue glass mugs with blue drinking glasses, clear juice glasses with clear glass mugs, white coffee cups with tall white ice tea glasses. Color! He had grouped these things by color, something COMPLETELY UNRELATED to their function!

Instead of voicing my complaint, I laughed. I savored the moment, one that comes too rarely, when I come face to face with my hardened categories and have to grant their fabrication at my own hands. I took a glass, blue one, and closed the cabinet without correcting the arrangement. For the rest of the day, almost, I remembered that I could change my mind.

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