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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


I am not the only person who will tell you that their car drives faster and better after it has just been washed. It’s alchemy, I swear. The same is true of a freshly organized spice cabinet—everything you cook somehow tastes better, and do not get me started on clean, freshly laundered sheets. Order, or at least our reactions to it is something most humans prefer—we just wish someone else would be responsible for the effort it takes.

Now I do want to admit that I am certainly on the CDO side. You know, OCD but with the letters in the correct order as a friend of mine says. Well kept files, a clean desk, things in their proper place make me happy. So, you might think that things out of place, a general mess would do just the opposite but that isn’t always the case. There are times and places where a little disorder is for the best.

If you’ve ever spent time waiting to be called at the DMV, you may know what I mean. That is a place where order prevails and none of it is good. You end up wishing that someone behind those counters would just once break into a laugh, maybe cut a little corner, do something to relieve the tedium and bureaucracy, but I have yet to experience it. Even the little town in which I lived in NH—where the town clerk was also the registrar for vehicles, there was no joking around. Nothing disturbed the deadly serious business at hand. A little disorder would have been welcome. Is registering your car really a life and death business?

Used bookstores are another place where disorder often reigns and is always a delight. It does make finding a particular title more difficult—but I for one never go into those kinds of shops with a fixed objective. I’d rather wander around craning my neck sideways and scanning the rows of shelves for a find. There is nothing better than walking out an hour or two later with a crick in your neck and a prize—a book you always meant to read but forgot about—or another that a total stranger perusing the stacks recommended in such ardent voice that you just had to buy it. Creative disorder.

The best disorder is made by kids. Children are masters at the art and lest you think they are just careless or lazy—nothing could be further from the truth. Things casually dropped, laying wherever they happened to land, toys perhaps some half-eaten bit of sandwich, these are the signs of fun. Sure, we adults have to help get it cleaned up eventually but hopefully not too soon. In the meantime, drag out all those baby doll outfits and GI Joe accessories—color outside the lines and make cool forts out of bedsheets and chairs. Or better yet, a castle from the cardboard crate the neighbors threw away. Disorder can be healthy. It can free us from the cares and responsibilities of adulthood if even for just a while and we need that. These days we need it a lot.

Many years ago, my father bought a small sailing skiff. Well actually what he bought was a giant wooden crate filled with nearly two hundred pieces of wood and some fittings and cloth—the pieces of a skiff in kit form. In fairness, it did come with a set of instructions that had been translated into English from whatever language they had been written—but the translator had evidently never built a skiff or anything else very complicated. The first line in the instructions read “Take first from the box the boat.” But Dad was not daunted, he was an engineer after all, so we set about building the boat relying on some pictures, some common sense and a lot of laughter, at ourselves, at the translator, and at the folly in which we were engaged. Disorder to be sure, but one of my fondest memories and a time well spent with my father. The skiff, alas, never did sail right, a design flaw I’m sure and certainly nothing we did wrong.

When I come across those adults who cannot abide disorder, who must insist on establishing the neatly regimented and organized at the expense of creativity, freedom, and fun I am saddened for them. I don’t want to follow their sense of decorum, I want to have fun. I got that sense of playfulness from my Dad. He was a serious guy in many respects—the oldest son, a soldier who fought in some of the fiercest battles of the war in the Pacific, an engineer and son of an engineer & inventor. But he knew how to have fun, how to laugh and I loved to watch and listen as he and his brother would banter --especially at the expense of my Grandfather who had no sense of humor whatsoever. Their favorite game was the intentional misinterpretation of some dictum that Grandad would utter—just enough to cause him to shake his head and huff. As soon as he would depart the scene, there were gales of laughter from the conspirators—the creators of disorder.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote “When virtue is lost, benevolence appears, when benevolence is lost right conduct appears, when right conduct is lost, expedience appears. Expediency is the mere shadow of right and truth; it is the beginning of disorder.” In the face of this over ordered, strung tight and all too serious world we are confronted by each day a little disorder has the power to keep us sane, to remind us that even in adversity there can be joy, even a mess can reveal something worth preserving.

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