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"What in the heck am I supposed to do here?"

I swear that there's nothing I can't do if the conditions are right. When the conditions are wrong, though, it seems that there's hardly anything that I can do, or at least that I can do right. Now, if my nose were more sensitive to sniffing out right conditions, I'd belly flop much less. I belly flop plenty. I'll own this little inability, though I might claim that my training's been complicit in complicating my life. I've been more trained in how to do things than I was ever oriented in how to sniff out conditions, even necessary pre-conditions. Conditions seem to take up their position out on the far perimeter of my activities. I often forget to check for their presence before I begin and even when I remember to check, they're likely to slip past me.

Gregory Bateson spoke eloquently about context, the great unseen influence. He claimed that one could arrange a space such that the arrangement itself subliminally informed those who entered it.
Feng Shui operates on a similar notion, that attending to the underlying structure deeply influences whatever occurs there. When we began remodeling the kitchen in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz West, The Muse took aside her son, who lives in that house, and told him that we were fixing to make improvements to the prosperity corner so he should prepare himself for a promotion at work or something. Sure enough, before we'd even finished work, he came home one evening to report that he was being courted for a substantial promotion. By the time we finished the remodel, he was already installed in the new position.

The Muse once convened a session to speak about this context-setting. Before the meeting started, I helped her organize the room into rows of chairs separated by a wide aisle in the middle. In front, she positioned a high table on top of which she placed a big book, open to somewhere near the middle, and two tall candles, lit and flickering. She turned down the lights before inviting people to come in and find their seat. Unlike most meetings, the attendees seemed to enter rather reverently, silently, many with hands plaintively folded in from of them. Nobody spoke. Everyone drifted to some seat, though a few seemed indecisive about their selection. Once everyone was seated, with a few standing in the back, she took center stage.

Her first question was, "How did you come to choose where you sat?" Like all great questions, this one elicited immediate silence. Nobody was expecting to be asked that question and it might have been that in the moment she asked it, nobody really knew the answer. They'd just sat down where ever it seemed right to sit down. Finally, someone said that she'd found herself sitting where her family always sat in church. "Church?" The Muse asked. Then the dialogue began in considerable ernest. Yea, church. Several spoke about how the room seemed to elicit the same sense they'd come to know in the church their family attended when they were growing up. One of those standing in the back reported that he's gone to stand in the back because someone else had "taken his place."

Then the conversation about how context pre-consciously influences really began. Of course conditions are always doing this, always up to some invisible something or other. We're often rubes to their little practical jokes, and fools to sloppy context-setting. I'm confident that conditions get together sometimes and chuckle over the ridiculous stuff people have done without even seeing that they've done it. I don't feel particularly cursed to exhibit this sort of cluelessness, even though I know I could often have been more clued-in had I taken a moment to really observe the soup I was stepping into before I performed that imperfect swan dive right into the middle of the pot. The joke's on me.

This is the part of the essay where I'm supposed to clue you in on how to avoid stumbling into one of these context traps. I really don't hate to inform you that I won't be doing that. Is any resolution even needed? My purpose today extended no further than to remind myself and by extension my readers that this seems to be the way this world works with us. I don't know that there's a solution other than that we might consider stepping a tad more carefully. I'm forever complaining to The Muse when I encounter some inept instance of traffic engineering where what was clearly intended to be a marker to influence my preconscious turned out to be an enigmatic rebus neither my subconscious nor my conscious could solve. When I hear myself exclaiming, "What in the heck am I supposed to do here?", I can be confident that somebody screwed up their context marker.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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