Some days, as the saying goes, are better than others. Some days it is easier to make that conscious choice to be more… whatever, more positive, more productive, more upbeat, more hopeful. Some days it is easier to try to smile more. But not all days.
Some days just don’t make sense. Some days, hiding, avoidance, and retreat all seem far more sensible. Some days those days don’t seem to end. Some days turn into weeks.
Some days, you try your best to do… something, anything to make things different. Some days that effort works. Others, well, not so much.
Of late, I have been having a particularly tough time figuring out what day it is.
In looking back on the past many days (I have no idea how many) it all seems a bit of a blur. It is not like the days have run together, nor that they have been reiterations of one another. It is hard to describe. It is more like it has not quite mattered whether it was one day or the next. I had, in a sense, lost the will to differentiate them; succumbed (perhaps willingly) to a certain malaise that kept me going through the motions of doing what needed to be done, but having a particularly difficult time either caring about any of it or being able to see a point in trying to care. It was kind of like being on autopilot, but autopilots are not to be wholly trusted.
However, each day is of course new and different. Each day presents new challenges and opportunities, and unless you truly shut down and do nothing, you have to navigate those variations regardless of how strong the ennui might be in control.
There is a concept in archaeology called chaîne opératoire, the literal French translation of which is “operational sequence”. On a very rudimentary level it refers to a series of structural, and perhaps predictable steps or stages involved in the acquisition, creation, and eventual disposal of functional items; specifically in an archaeological sense, stone tools. It suggests a particular mental template that is inherent based on the social norms of a given culture or society and thus can be used as a means to analyze and interpret past human behaviors based solely on concrete material remains… such as lithic debitage, which I have discussed briefly elsewhere.
It is not to be confused with the chain of command.
“What the hell is he talking about now?” you ask. Well, let me see if I can make sense of it.
I have, in the past, been accused of described as being controlling. At the time I never understood it, but in looking at my life I now see what was meant and I guess I cannot honestly deny it. It is not that I want to tell others what to do, in fact, I dread the idea of “being in charge” most of the time. My problem relates more to my overdeveloped sense of some personal chaîne opératoire. I like things to be, or to go, just so… an organized Tupperware or silverware drawer for example, although these are trivial examples. And rather than try to explain to others what I want, which naturally comes off as being controlling, I find it often easier to try to make sure I do (or in some cases redo…) things the way I want them. Which of course can present other problems.
Yes, there is OCD there, sometimes quite a bit of it. But, when taken more in the context of how this narrative began there is more going on.
As noted, some days are easier to manage than others… in many ways. When my mood is not so dark and it is easier to adapt and adjust, to be positive and to smile, it is easier to navigate the unanticipated variations that each new day presents. But, on other days, well… if the chaîne opératoire skips a tooth or breaks a link, suddenly I have to deal with that, whereas, when all of these different “operations” run smoothly in the background, then it is less difficult to face the unanticipated challenges.
Consider using a computer. At start-up and through the course of a particular session there are all sorts of operations that run in the background. Some are short, they run their course, do whatever task is required and cease. Others run sporadically, checking back in now and again, updating things, etc. Others run as requested, open when commanded, complete a task and close again on command. Most of the time this all works in harmony, but when something gets upset things can go wonky. The computer runs more slowly, operations fail for no obvious reason, operations freeze up and require some sort of intervention, the computer itself freezes up and requires a forced shut down. In the worst case the computer crashes.
I am not a computer, but I hope you can see the analogy. In my mind, things often have to be just so. When there is deviation, of one form or another, adjustments have to be made. Minor adjustments generally cause no upset, or even fairly major ones so long as they occur in relative isolation. The problems begin when there are too many deviations to manage or when certain deviations are too severe.
So, going back to the initial ideas, when my mood is dark and the days are grim, it is more complicated to manage deviations in a routine. Tension is higher, frustration is more common, patience is shorter. I will be distracted and when there are many tasks to juggle things get missed. This can create a sort of feedback loop where, distracted by trying to manage deviation, I will miss other things, thus causing more problems. At the worst of times things spiral out of control and I get particularly bitchy, or simply lose it altogether.
So, the real problems arise when, say one finds oneself in said state and one is also obliged to interact with others. In the worst case, the computer crashes.
This winter has been odd. Unseasonably warm and mild up until a few weeks ago when, having lulled us into a false sense of security (dubious as we may have been) it doubled back and kneed us in the groin by suddenly dropping to -40 with little to no warning then staying in that unsavory neighborhood for the better part of a couple weeks. This sort of deviation can really break the chaîne.
I will spare you the details.
This week has been brighter, and perhaps there is a silver lining to the complications of the past many days. The heightened sense of tension trying to deal with complications, while also trying to maintain some sense of civility during a particularly dark stretch, has perhaps elevated one’s ability to manage a greater number of deviations.
We are not out of the woods yet and truth be told there are still moments when all I want to do is find somewhere to hide. But there seems to be a wary equilibrium emerging. For those affected, I beg your patience… you know who you are.