Confusion Endurance

On the same day that I was thinking about confusion and how often I feel plagued by it–on the exact same day–I read this following passage.  It’s from a book I’m using for a creativity class I’m teaching this semester.  “‘Confusion endurance’ is the most distinctive trait of highly creative people, and Leonardo probably possessed more of that trait than anyone who has ever lived.  Principle number four–Sfumato [Italian for “nuance”]–guides you to be more at home with the unknown, to make friends with paradox” (Michael J. Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, 10-11).

I don’t really get confused by large life unknowns, but small things confuse me more and more, and I’m worried that it’s a sign of deteriorating mental capacity.  The irony of this is that I am becoming more physically fit than I’ve ever been in my life, and I have very fast reflexes.  But I sometimes forget how to spell words like peave peeve.  The other day, I had to read the word “speach” three or four times before I was completely sure that it was spelled incorrectly.  Maybe you only get one or the other–you can be mentally sharp and physically sluggish, or confused and athletic.  I don’t know, and I’ll probably forget that I wondered about it by the time I finish writing this sentence.

Below, random observations on the issue of confusion:

  • If you are confused by your own skin care regime, something has to go.
  • Many people often do not know the date.
  • Perhaps you can remember EITHER your child’s principal name OR that she buys her shoes at Talbots, not both.
  • I’m never sure which set of lights will come on when I press the light switches in the kitchen.  
  • It’s okay to respond “I don’t know” to your child’s question, even if you do know but lack the mental stamina to answer.
  • My kids and I continue to go to the Baskin Robbins “drive-thru” even though they never get our order right.  Ever.

    The doors that lead to my classroom. Does anyone understand this?

I understand the value of embracing ambiguity and paradox.  In fact, I appreciate it and find it very liberating.  But not when it has to do with forgetting where I stored my $700 anti-teeth-grinding device.

Is it aging?  Hormones?  Stress?  A brain tumor?  Something I thought about this morning on my way from the car to my office but can’t think of now?  Do other people experience the sensation of your brain being about a nanosecond behind the rest of your body?

It would be so kind of you to let me know if you do.  But if you don’t, and really think this is the sign of a brain tumor, please don’t write to me.

The poet Rumi understood confusion, which is fine if you are a Sufi mystic who twirls around in circles reciting poems, but not so great if you are a middle-aged woman trying to remember the location of your son’s track meet.  But, as Rumi reminds us, on the other side of uncertainty is kindness, tenderness, compassion.  And also, I would assume, remembering Michael Gelb’s quotation, creativity.  Potential.  “So, it’s okay, my poor overtaxed brain.  I’ll try hard to love you anyway.  Just please remember to pay the mortgage because that really sucked last month when you didn’t.”

What confuses you?

Zero Circle 

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
     to gather us up.

We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.


5 thoughts on “Confusion Endurance

Add yours

  1. My motto is “It’s hard to be me, but it’s worth it.” And I’m not kidding you… it IS hard to be me. The funny thing, is that I apparently give off an air of having it all together, which kinda sucks even more, because people don’t really get how f*ed up I am and hence how hard I work to keep my head above water. They apparently think that it’s hard to be them, but easy to be me. Wrong.
    I can not remember any appointments. No matter, if I set my alarm, wrote it in my calendar and left the house completely dressed for it. If on the way, I need to stop at the bank, there is a pretty good chance, I’ll then decide to go to the grocery store, forgetting entirely about my appointment. I have to write on an index card exactly what I my appointments are when I leave the house. It’s a good thing I don’t often work outside the house, I’m sure I’d not make it there most of the time.

    I finally set up all my bank accounts to “cover draft” each other. So if I do happen to have any money anywhere… I will not over draw the account that happens to be empty. (Usually happens while, I”m carrying around checks to be deposited.)

    I have to write down who I am talking to on the phone; just calling them by name at the beginning of the conversation is not enough. This is even for people I’ve known for years, whom I can clearly see in my minds eye what they look like.

    Forget ever getting a birthday card from me. Even if you are my favorite niece I barely know whether you are a freshman or a senior in high school.

    I could go on. All that said, It’s hard to be me, but it’s worth it. I wouldn’t trade my creativity or my crazy active mind for any amount of organization.
    However, I have found more and more ways to cope with this as I’ve grown older. Learning how to have less stuff and less clutter and disciplining myself into routines is an important part of how I can function at all.

    Thanks for sharing and letting me share too.


  2. Do you mean you don’t become confused by life’s large unknowns or that you have accepted your confusion about them?

    I become confused about the small things too, but the big ones are most confusing to me (e.g., what does it mean to be loved, how to find self-fulfillment without negatively impacting those I love, what will it be like to die?).


  3. Me, confused? Never me, that is I don’t think it will ever be me, once I know who I am. 🙂

    There is a certain charm in confusion. Goddess is drifting somewhere with her cloud bar pals having quite a laugh over me!


  4. Dear Leslie

    In the 1970s, when I was young, I went to visit Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in India. He was a wise man. When people told him they felt confused, he would shake his head in approval (the Indian way) and say with a big smile “Very good! Very good!”

    Thank you very much for the Rumi poem.

    I too once worried about a brain tumour, many years ago, when my brain seemed to turn to mush, and secretly went for a scan, so as not to worry friends and family. My brain was described as perfectly healthy.

    Someone wise near to me says: “Simplify! Do less, do it slower”.

    This may be difficult, with children to care for. Also frustrating.

    I wish you all the best.



  5. What a great post, Leslie. These thoughts occur to me every day as I struggle to complete the daily crossword puzzle. 2 r’s, 1 r???
    I like to call it sensory overload, you have too many things-thoughts to remember and there is only so much space ! I’m so happy you’re posting again!


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