You know, there are times when you just have to think about things. When to do otherwise would upset the order of Nature -well, one of the orders, probably… Okay, I just made that up -there are no orders. It’s only that sometimes I feel a need to justify walking through my brain -kind of an abbreviated Camino de Santiago without the tourists.
I had an interesting thought one morning when I was cleaning my teeth. I have one of those 2 minute program toothbrushes that I saw in Walmart, so it gives me plenty of time. It’s a sort of forced meditation. I mean who can concentrate on their teeth for more than a few seconds? So whatever’s left, I devote to thought. And I’m never bored; I make it a rule not to dwell on anything that makes me want to break into song, or think things that require sesquipedalian language -Wittgenstein springs to mind. Of course sometimes, before I decide on a topic, the last row of teeth are done and the brush shuts off.
I realized that was telling me something: if I want to enjoy the journey I need to amuse myself. I decided to scotch tape a list of ideas on the mirror by the sink. Nothing too profound, or anything, and printed large enough to read from a toothpaste-safe distance. It had to be a Goldilocks list -a just-right-baby-bear inventory: easy to understand, and short enough to get through before the end of row-one.
And no trick subjects: no quests for ultimate meaning, no topics requiring a lot of background reading, and for sure, nothing that takes me off the job -as a dental bodhisattva, you have to be on the gum but not in it… Well, something like that. Anyway, the aim is not to solve anything in these reflections really, just to think about them… and keep brushing, of course.
I decided to start with paradoxes -I’ve always wondered about them. I don’t think you’re supposed to solve them, or anything, just think about them. And anyway, in the mouth, there’s just not enough time to do much else: oral philosophy is held together more by its questions than its answers I figure, so I mean I couldn’t fail, or anything.
But paradoxes… or should that be paradoces? (sort of like the plural of dominatrix is dominatrices)… Whatever. Paradoxical questions stick in the mind like spinach between the teeth and I soon realized that I could only make it part way down a row before the little beep in the toothbrush went off -the inner side of the teeth are the most problematic, for some reason.
So, short of looking on craigslist for a 4 minute toothbrush, the obvious solution was either an I-spy topic catalogue, or maybe a short list of brain-tease questions -kid’s ones, so I could ponder them until I was finishing off the inner sides of the last few teeth. Uhmm, do you have any idea how boring they are, though? Like, ‘What gets wet while drying? A towel’ That one only took me 6 teeth. I mean I didn’t even make it to the outer row. And it gave me no insights into the world -no revelatory ahhaas. Nothing I could take with me into the day like truly interesting thoughts are supposed to do.
No, I needed oracular thoughts: sudden flashes of epiphanous significance to embolden my comportment, freshen my mien as well as my breath. You have to be careful, though. Stirring ruminations are counterproductive on the bedtime ablute if you ever want to sleep. And anyway, I often cheat on the night time routine because I’m tired and don’t really care if I’ve left something small behind in there as long as my tongue doesn’t find it. Sometimes I don’t even press the little button so I don’t get annoyed with the vibrissae, or whatever you should call those bristles sticking out of a vibrating toothbrush -when it isn’t vibrating, I mean.
So, what to do? Two lists on the mirror? One list with two different colours? Fall back on extemporaneity? During the part of the day that I spend away from the mirror, I thought about what I should think about and then opted for extemporaneity mostly because I liked the word. Of course on closer reflection (sorry), I suspected I had come full circle. I was on a Mobius strip, I was trapped on an Escher staircase. Like Sisyphus, was I doomed to keep rolling the rock up the hill only to have it roll down again before I finished the upper teeth? Was I condemned to a life of forever waiting for Godot -well, twice each day anyway?
I began to dread the drudgery of sink and mirror. I began to understand the thrust of Sartre’s Nausée when, in Wikipedia’s immortal précis, a dejected historian, becomes convinced that inanimate objects and situations encroach both on his ability to define himself, and on his intellectual and spiritual freedom, evoking a sense of nausea. I mean, how did Sartre know?
Suddenly, I had my epiphany; Paul’s route to Damascus flashed before my eyes, and I realized the heuristic had been right in front of me all along. Not the Churchillian Black Dog, not the Cretan labyrinth with its Minotaur waiting for me at the center, not even the Sophoclean Sphinx that Oedipus encountered on his way to Delphi -there was nothing I couldn’t overcome. And, in fact, the very abundance of subjects gave me reason to hope. Artificial lists, by their very essence, constrict: constrain the mind to follow along a certain path, eyes distracted by obstacles, feet wary of roots that trip and stones that slide.
The mouth is a forest full of trees -there are many trails that beckon. I mean, who says I always have to start off on the buccal route and mainline it back to my molars? I could spend a little time getting to know my incisors, for example. Then, maybe stop and chat with a canine while I’m there, or take a tour around the always shy first premolar -find out how it’s really doing. It’s important to get to know the neighbours, no matter where they live.
I’ve come to realize that, on a trip I take so frequently, it’s important not to stumble through it on auto-brush; the journey counts as much as the destination. Let me wallow in surprises, and dance my way through tough neighbourhoods; may I constantly search for unflossed treasures until they take me away -or at least until I finish the final, inner, row and the terminal beep sounds.