It is hot and muggy out, good old Washington giving us a foretaste of the summer weather for which it is justly infamous. It is somewhat oppressive acoustically, too, for a reason that, while seasonal, is less ordinary. Seventeen trillion cicadas emerged from their larval lairs below the ground last week and started carrying on like mad. Their corpses are all over everywhere by now, but there are still enough of them carrying on, singing a song of life and death and reproduction, all condensed into one piercing keening buzz, to make the whole outdoors sound like it does indoors when the mike has developed feedback. Fortunately we have an indoors that is proof against both the sound and the heat, and I am in it, and will stay in it except for brief forays, until at least the noise if not the heat has abated.

This particular breed of bug emerges once every seventeen years, on the dot, punctual as a Swiss banker. Makes me wonder whether Swiss-punctual is really all that advanced as compared to Latin-casual, as I had always assumed. But that is not the issue on the agenda for today.

What bugs me about these bugs is the notion that maybe they are better organized than I am for savoring the good things of life to the maximum. You have to deny personality and any significant capacity to enjoy life as far as the individual bug is concerned, but there may be some basis for assuming that individual swarms, if that is how they are organized, equate in some rough way to individual people in our species. If that is the case, these swarms have it made. They are immortal, and life is one big orgy after another. They emerge, make a hell of a racket, reproduce like mad, disturb the whole neighborhood, and then before anyone can do anything about them, like eat them up or spray them to death, pop! they go underground and sleep it off, hibernating so long that by the time they are ready for another go they are not only fully rested up, but the neighbors have forgotten about them and are just as unprepared to cope as the last time around. How does the Calvinist attitude toward life square with that kind of success? These bugs have been dining out and partying since time immemorial and still have paid no bill. Where is retribution? where is justice? and if they are all going to perdition, when?

I looked at myself in the mirror when I first got up the other day and thought, Dad, you are getting in a rut. You know exactly what you’re going to be doing for the next hour and approximately what you’ll be doing the rest of the day. Where is the adventure, the excitement, the unpredictability of life? Well, in retrospect, I can only reflect that that particular episode confirms the general principle, don’t look at yourself first thing in the morning if you can possibly avoid it. I can also, however, conclude that I was dead wrong. The cicadas have shown me that a solid routine can be pretty heady stuff, if it is organized the right way. There’s no way of course that I could spend my waking hours the way the cicadas do-my health wouldn’t stand it, nor would my wife. But there is a need for structure, some structure, to act as the cement in the foundation of your life, and the better organized it is, the more creative and enjoyable your life can be. So don’t malign your rut, rejoice in it and if possible improve it. It bears the same relation to your life that your skeleton does to your body. Who wants to be a jellyfish?

– CSCoon – July, 1967 (rev)

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1 Response to Seventeen

  1. Carl Coon says:

    I just write it as an email and copy and paste rather than send. Primitive but simple.

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