Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Close Enough Isn't Good Enough

Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford, California, USA

March 15, 2010

This essay, Close Enough Isn't Good Enough, is the companion piece to It was written at the same time as I am indebted to Professor William Warren Bartley III who inspired this conversation, and to Bob Battles who contributed material.

I once met a girl who kept her house neat. She furnished it with tasteful, interesting, attractive pieces which were not only functional  but were easy on my eyes as well. They invited  me to touch them and enjoy them. And her style of decorating was immaculate. Everything was in it's place - impeccably so, in fact. Yet it wasn't museum quality  impeccability where everything's also in its place but the message is clear: look but don't  touch! In her house the message was look and  touch - that's what her style invited me to do. And if things got moved around a bit, she reset them after her guests left, back to their original immaculate state. Rather than being hassled having to reset her furniture, she took it as a compliment that it had been used and enjoyed. She actually looked forward  to the next time her guests would muss with her impeccable arrangement.

I suppose you could say in addition to being immaculate and impeccable, her style was pragmatic, utile. Secondarily it was intended for display. Primarily it was intended to be used. There was nothing phobish  or weird about it, even given its impeccability. It simply worked. Hers was a kind of workable generous creativity, a sense of design in which her visitors were included  rather than held at bay like observers behind a roped off area - like, in fact, intruders. Her style not only worked: it was also first inviting then inspiring.

I commented on this to her. I said her chairs called out to me  to sit on them, her couch asked me to come lie on it, her carefully placed throw blanket invited me to snuggle myself with it - something which would have rendered my immediate eviction from a museum, as well as from some of the other houses I know in which furniture is on display only. In those houses it would be unthinkable to actually use pieces of furniture as furniture, god forbid! - as alluring and as tasteful as they may be. In those houses, pieces of furniture are on display like oversized baubles of garish jewellery: shown off, intended to be gahgah-ed over, but not sat on.

She appreciated me noticing. She told me "Not everyone gets it the way you do. Some people call me anal". "Meaning exactly what"? I asked her. "I suppose they think I'm obsessed with tidiness" she said. "And what does that  mean?" I asked. "Who are they being that you're anal?".

It took a moment for my question to sink in. "Hmmm..."  she murmured, having not looked at it that way before. I continued: "You're immaculate. You're impeccable, stylish, and creative. You're also generous, and in addition to all that, you keep your house neat. You're tidy. When someone is labeled anal, there's an implication of obsessive-compulsiveness  about it. So, again, what I'm asking is who are they being that you, being tidy, are anal?  When they call you anal, it says more about them than it says about you. Who are they being that you being neat and having life work  are obsessive-compulsive?".

If you stop and think about it for a moment, life working like a possibility  is a do-able  state of affairs, yes? When life isn't working, it's only not working in a particular situation, in certain circumstances, for the time being. Life not working isn't "the truth"  forever. It's not a fact always. It's not written in stone permanently. That's the whole idea of inventing new possibilities. Who do you have to be being if having life work is anal? What does that tell you about your concept of what's do-able?  About what's possible?

The interesting but not so obvious thing about workability is it's pretty cut and dried. Things work or they don't. There's no middle ground. Close enough isn't good enough.

I watched an electrician working. He was attaching a row of hooded lights halfway up a picket fence along a garden path to illuminate the path at night. To do that, he had to drill holes in the fence through which the electric conduit was threaded, then screwed to each light fixture. The drill bit he used was ill‑chosen. It not only pierced through the fence - it took a sizable chunk of wood out of the other side as well leaving jagged holes in plain view. When each light fixture was mounted in place, the electric conduit on the other side of the fence hung in uneven loops, not stapled to the fence to keep it neat - not "conscious"  as I prefer to say. Wood chips, sawdust, and snips of plastic conduit casing littered the path.

He flipped a switch, noted all the lights came on, and nodded his head - satisfied. Then he packed up his tools and prepared to leave. I asked him about the work still not done, pointing to the proliferation of evidence of it. He told me his job was over and he was going. "When will you return to finish up? This work isn't complete" I observed. He replied he was "only doing his job".

Yet that's exactly  what he wasn't doing.

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