Semi-Controlled Chaos, by John Ostrander
People are sometimes invited to my house. They’re never invited to my office. Ever. A cluster of clutter bombs go off in there with alarming regularity. My shutting the office off from public view is my tacit admission that the place is a hole.
I have a defense. I’m “creative.” I’m an “artist.” My office space reflects my jumbled creative mind. Actually, as I look around me, it’s maybe reflecting a mind that’s on drugs or needs to be. We don’t have dust bunnies; we have free-range dust buffalo. Herds of them move about in a sort of majestic splendor. They intimidate the cats. Wait, I can hear them rumbling by now. No, hold on – that’s a dump truck rolling down the road.
There are piles of things all over the place. There are boxes piled on boxes in front of bookcases that also have boxes in them. Sections of the floor have not seen daylight in the better part of a decade. Not that I’m sure how much daylight gets in through the windows anyway since they acquired a grayish patina. I’d wash them but I think the tint is baked on.
I have a relative idea of where everything is with two exceptions: stuff relating to my taxes and the take-out menu to my local Chinese restaurant. I know they’re both in here but it’s often a problem to lay my hands on them at the exact moment I need either of them. I don’t know what the linkage is between my taxes and the take-out menu. I’m assuming there is one; why else would these be the only two things that go missing? Currently I’m working on two hypotheses – either the office has eaten them or the cats have stolen them. That’s the most logical explanation I can devise.
There’s a fairly clear path from the door to the corner of the room where my desk is located. The mess sometimes encroaches on the path but I haul out the old machete and hack my way back through and things are fine again – for the time being.
Why is my office in such a state? My defense – in part – is that I’m a freelance writer; I don’t get paid for cleaning up my office and I don’t make enough to hire someone to do it for me. I have enough problems with my deadlines as it is and vacuuming the rug doesn’t help me meet them. Plus – I’m a guy. Like many guys, I have a fairly high DTL – Dirt Tolerance Level. Plus I’ve named some of the dust buffalo. There goes Bob. Howdy-doody, Bob.
I think it’s just that deep down I don’t trust order overly much. A messy office may suggest a messy mind and, if so, I need that messy mind to do my work. I need my thoughts jammed together, brushing up against one another, or careening off one another at odd tangents to make the odd connections that let me do my work. If I had a strictly compartmentalized brain, hard-boiled detective fiction would’ve been in one compartment and sword and sorcery fiction would’ve been in another and I would never have come up with GrimJack, my hard-boiled barbarian. And GrimJack is the cornerstone of my whole comics career.
I need those odd synapses firing together in a chaotic fashion, one thought getting linked to another that suggests concepts, stories, plots and so on. I bungee jump into a pit of chaos, grab a few ideas, and then come back out and use them for my stories.
The fact is, I don’t really know how it is that I do what I do and I don’t want to pry to closely. As Geoffrey Rush’s character, Henslowe, remarks frequently in that excellent film Shakespeare in Love, “It’s a mystery.” I’ve heard of comedians who don’t try to look to deeply into their “funny” and for the same reason as I avoid dissecting my ability to write. You dissect what is dead. This ability that I have is living. It’s magic. It works or it doesn’t. I’m afraid that, if I poke around too much to see how it all works, whatever it is that let’s me do what I do will go away.
It’s like switching on the light. I don’t know how that works and I don’t care so long as it does. If you tell me that it’s because li’l zap imps are running around in the walls and the switch is the gate that lets them into the lamp – fine. Glenn, our computer guru, has advised me not to bang my head against the computer for any reason because I might crack it and then the magic blue smoke that makes it run will escape and the computer won’t work any more. Great. Works for me. In any case, I’m more interested in how people and relationships work than machines et al. People and relationships are often messy. So is my office. Q.E.D. – a messy office helps me in my work. Unless I get carried off by the dust buffalo.
Of course, the other possibility is that I’m just a lazy slob.
John Ostrander was carried off yesterday by a dust buffalo. He was taken to the Chinese take-out joint, where he was given a menu and a registered letter from the I.R.S.