Thursday, October 26, 2006


It's my favourite metaphor of complexity. Always has been. No that's stupid. Stoopid. It has been for a while, but not for ever.

Engaging with life, if you have any sense of normality about you, is like trying to remove a single coat-hanger from a large box of coat-hangers. If you pull on one you will be very fortunate if only one comes out.

I love it when life is so simple and straightforward, one thing at a time, that there is no box of coat-hangers around, but rarely is that the case. It is why, as a busy minister, I tried to learn the skill of relaxing whenever the opportunity came along rather than at the end of the day. It seemed to me the antidote to high-blood pressure and mental illness. If I only get to relax when the coat hanger box is sorted I never will. The pile of sorted coat-hangers will have mysteriously linked back together again, unless you keep each one in a separate box and that way lies obsessive, compulsive disorder.

I remember a day at CPAS about five years ago. The organisation was in the middle of a crisis and after a three day session to try and feel our way foward in the company of an outside consultant there was a single, one-day, follow up session. I thought I had a few moments of clarity and spoke more than I usually spoke at those meetings. I could see a single coat-hanger that would come out. There was something I thought we could do that wouldn't have any knock-on effect and didn't need cross-organisation approval.

To tell the truth the idea wasn't well received and I retreated into my inner world and wrote a sketch.

Some weeks later my colleague was on holiday and asked me to keep an eye on his email in-box and sort out the wheat from the chaff chaff chaff chaff chaff. Sitting at his desk I saw, sitting in his in-box from before his holiday (so none of my business), an email from another colleague with my name in the subject box. Now I shouldn't have, but on the other hand I put it to you that there are few of you out there who wouldn't have. So I did. I read it.

It included the line, 'I think that is why Steve Tilley was so obnoxious the other day.' Ever since then I have tried to work out how I manage, occasionally (and I know from talking to others that I do), to pass through the secret door between passionate and obnoxious.

One of my heroes is Michael Stipe, vocalist and lyricist of REM. He said once that he has such a creative mind (in that he always sees the creative possibilities) that he often retreats into an inner world and works on an idea whenever it strikes him and then expects people to be excited about it when it emerges, again whatever the situation. 'This' he said, 'has made me very prolific but lousy company at dinner parties.' Whilst claiming no other connection with his Stipeness apart from being lousy company at dinner parties from time to time I recognise the symptoms.

So there's this box of coat-hangers see. The best advice I ever had about the coat-hanger problem was to have a permanent list in the files of any problem you were trying to sort headed, 'Who else should I tell?'

Life is much more than coat-hangers but it is, as the late, great Douglas Adams's character Dirk Gently (holistic detection) said, all to do with the basic inter-connectedness of things. Which is why, on a busy day, I am now going off to the gym to ponder and keep fit, before I tackle anything else.

1 comment:

Matthew P said...

I have never found you to be obnoxious, which in a way I think is the key. Is it down to a person to be obnoxious, or is it up to others to find them obnoxious?

(I haven't seen you for a while of course, so it may be that you have become obnoxious in that time.)