Clear as Mud

My parents often said that Asians — particularly Chinese — were “inscrutable.” Of course, they said this without telling me the meaning of the word which is pretty damned inscrutable of them, but…

They were right. But within Chinese conventions, the Chinese were, the longer I lived there, less and less inscrutable. I think my parents’ perception was based on cultural conventions. For Chinese, direct eye-contact can be considered rude. You don’t say, “No” you say, “I’m busy” or some other formulaic excuse that everyone around you (except the lumbering American teachers) knows means, “No.” It took about three months for Chinese inscrutability to disappear leaving only one mysterious and wonderful ability — the ability to be in a crowded room with Chinese people and feel a sense of solitude. Good solitude, not alienation. The Chinese have a word for this and I cannot remember what it is 😦 It’s a real thing.

When it came to inscrutability, no one was more inscrutable (to me) than my own mom.

Now I think we’re all inscrutable to each other a lot of the time. Along with cultural meaning, we have generational norms, gender norms, and individual perceptions, preoccupations, and who knows what else — we have individual paranoia mixed with the tendency to project things onto others. We have biological weirdness; we’re short, tall, fat, skinny, 12, 20, 50 and BEYOND. We have insoluble family problems. We have preferences and regionalities — truly, New York City is NOT the San Luis Valley. It just isn’t. We have different levels of education from different education systems. We have unconscious and conscious biases. We have ingrained religious and ethical belliefs even if we don’t practice a religion. We can have nearly identical political and philosophical beliefs and vote for candidates from the opposing parties. We don’t make sense. We know it, too. Laws, language, holidays, rituals, conventions — designed to make us more scrutable to each other, or so I think.

Add to this the fog that is tomorrow. We don’t know. All last summer I had this strange feeling that something was going to happen and I’d better hurry up and get my garage fixed, clear out stuff I didn’t want, put up a fence — it’s a pretty long list. I was anxious and felt like there was a gun at my head — OK a cap pistol, but I still didn’t want it to go off. And sure enough, at the end of the summer? My hip went south. I am pretty sure that was not new news for my body, but the messages sent to our brains from our bodies are sometimes inscrutable.

Fortunately, I live with dogs and they are not as inscrutable as people. If Bear hits me in the leg with her current favorite toy (right now it is a little, stuffed king) it means, “Play tug with me. When I let go, throw it so I can fetch.” What IS inscrutable is she ONLY plays fetch inside the house. I know her, so I understand. Inside there are no “messages” for her to read, while, outside, the world is full of important missives from various agents communicating all kinds of critical information that only Bear can understand.

So… I just don’t know. It’s all inscrutable. Even for the Central Scrutinizer.

10 thoughts on “Clear as Mud

    • Yeah. I knew SOMETHING was going to happen. The only concrete knowledge I had of anything wrong was my garage had a hole (really) in the roof and my dog could get out of the yard and there was a bunch of boxes in the garage that had to be emptied. I went at all that like a fiend with an ever increasing sense of dread. So strange and interesting.

  1. And interesting write. Is it the older generation perhaps? My dad was always telling me about the inscrutable orientals, it was part of my home schooling, although I interpreted inscrutable as being something untransparent. as you say as clear as mud. I am not even sure if dad knew the meaning of inscrutable, he just liked the sound of it.

    • I definitely think it was their generation — my mom was really afraid when I took off for China because of the “inscrutable” orientals and what they might do to me. Maybe it was the war against the Japanese that affected her in this way.

  2. And that is why I love being around dogs so much more than people. The dogs I understand and are usually quite logical. The people? They need to start taking dog lessons.

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