How to know thyself

Telluride Daily Planet,  Monday, January 3, 2011

I’m loitering at wikiHow, which is what I do when I’m frustrated or seeking answers to pressing questions. Right now I’m doubly frustrated because there is nothing here at WH telling me how to deal with my particular circumstance, which is that my knee is injured. There’s the knee and there’s the frustration, and at this point I’m not sure which one is more debilitating.

I know you’re probably thinking, well what about How to be more patient? Or How to be grateful for what you do have? Yes, theoretically. But not today.

Today, I type in How to deal with frustration, and what comes up is How to hit your pillow without hurting your hand! For cleverness alone, I’m tempted to read it; but I don’t want to hit my pillow. In fact, I want to not want to hit my pillow, but I sincerely doubt there’s a how-to for that.

You know, right this second what it is I’m most wanting to type in? How to make a New Year’s resolution. Because it occurs to me maybe — somehow — if I’d lived better in 2010 I would not have injured my knee, and that maybe 2011 needs reassessment before I get any further into it. Wait. I’m sensing quicksand. Self-defeatist thought dead ahead — Quickly, I force my hand and mouse to click firmly on one of today’s Featured How-To’s, which turns out to be something cheerful and distracting called “How to make a blade sheath out of plastic straws.”

The blade sheath, made from cutting each of four different colored straws into four strands and then intricately weaving everything together, is ingenious. And it’s just one of 18 straw-craft how-to’s — projects as diverse as pentagons, bird puppets, paper napkin flowers, small foxes, and what I consider the most beautiful, the plastic straw-craft shrimp in Dayglo green.

These completed flexi-straw crustaceans are so essence-of-shrimp-like, that I start thinking of what it would feel like to carry a pound or two around in a bag I’ve seen and admired just a few hours earlier, one made entirely of woven plastic bread bags from Rudi’s bakery. Which, its owner informed me, cost only $28 and would probably last forever. That’s when I start thinking about real stuff versus fake plastic stuff, and then this thought occurs to me: What if nothing is real and what if I’m actually a doll-house person on a doll-house couch living in a doll house on a doll-house planet?

I know it’s less than a zygote of a philosophical idea, which makes me wish I were better educated or even knew what the framework of such subjects looked like. (Flow chart? Lotus blossom? A line from here to the moon?) But then I remember that the doll-house idea was actually something I saw on a Twilight Zone episode more than 30 years ago, which makes Rod Serling my surrogate father of philosophy, which gives me a sense of bubbly weightlessness … for about five seconds, when, all of a sudden, mouse moving automatically like the pointer of a Ouija-board, I am spun around again, staring not at shrimp but at How not to be a Cartesian dualist. Which instructs those who believe that their minds and bodies are essentially separate on how to move beyond this nagging thought-trap.

Wow. Even though I’ve never even heard of Cartesian dualism, all I can think about now is how am I going to purge myself of this poisonous idea and stop thinking this way. Which makes me think that if I’m so very susceptible to suggestion, what a huge hypochondriac I must be, and if my knee injury really is as bad as it seems to be. Is it? I think it might be. But who is doing the thinking? Someone carting plastic shrimp home to a doll-house wok in a doll-house kitchen?

A short series of desperate, fight-or-flight clicks later, I have miraculously landed on a soft cloud called How to know thyself, a peaceful meadow-like place where the first of 10 steps is to Ponder the nature of the universe. I feel instantly comforted here, instantly good. Less frustrated. Number 5 helps solve my Cartesian dilemma. By number 10 I’m breathing more slowly.

And so, once again, through another topsy-turvy, carnival-like ride through the white water of how-to’s, my needs have been met. How to survive the ride at wikiHow? You’d probably find that answer under How to have faith in the process.

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