Saturday, October 10, 2009

A puzzle to me

Yesterday I re-read a Malcolm Gladwell column from the New Yorker, 2007. I remembered feeling challenged by his analysis of a puzzle vs. a mystery. Today I am still challenged by it, by trying to grasp all his comparisons and metaphors. I feel like I am diagramming sentences in my head. I find myself reaching for a tablet of paper and a pencil to map out each of his scenarios.

He said the location of Osama bin Laden is a puzzle. We just need one informant to tell us where he is. Then the puzzle will be complete. But post-invasion Iraq was a mystery. Every agency (CIA/FBI/State Dept./military officer) had a theory, a judgment, an assessment on how to re-create that country. It was not a case of just ONE missing fact, but of too much information. The agencies and guys wanting to be in charge just had access to too much information.

Enron's collapse - accounting by mark-to-market - and how it "succeeded" was defined as a mystery. All the information was published in annual reports and all the connections could have been drawn just like a follow-the-dots picture. But there was just too much information for any one person to map it out, to absorb it.

Puzzles have conclusions. Mysteries don't. My husband and I put together jigsaw puzzles on a table in our library room. We always succeed, we always find the last piece and snap it in place. But training our dogs is a mystery. Too much information, too much is left to chance, too much left to unknown stimuli or reaction. We can't train the dogs by fitting just one more piece of the puzzle.

Life is a mystery, too? Too much information coming from all sides, all angles. But sometimes it feels like if I could just grab that last piece of the puzzle, I'd have it all figured out and life would be, well, just life.

Here are a couple photos of the new bouganvillas in our backyard. I think the gardening needs to be addressed as a mystery. There are just too many plants, too many scenarios, too many grand ideas to create the perfect garden. All I want it to be is a puzzle. Hmmm, if I think of it as a puzzle, then I am just one piece away from a beautiful garden!


Sharon said...

Wow, there is quite a lot to think about in your post. To me gardening and plants are always a mystery. I just don't seem to have the knack for it. I sometimes think if it weren't for the gardener, I wouldn't have any plants at all. Well, maybe a cactus or two. They seem to do okay in my care. :-)

Sophie's Bistro is on Osborn, just west of 24th Street on the north side of the road. They have excellent French food in a very charming atmosphere.

altadenahiker said...

I was one caught in the Enron fallout. But what struck me, is that I wasn't all that much better than the whole Enron crew. Oh, I didn't swindle anyone, but when I plugged in my lucre, I didn't really know what they did or how they did it -- I just wanted profit. Like magic. So I didn't get magic, I got a lesson.