Friday, August 28, 2009

Case 1: "What's the use?"

[Case 1 in Grandmother's Koans]

The Case
One afternoon, Grandmother and a friend sat on the patio under a shade tree having a cool, refreshing drink and discussing the recalcitrant idiosyncrasies of their husbands. They calculated that between the two of them they had been married some seventy years, though not always to the same men.

Contemplating their vast lifetime store of experience, the friend said, "You can't do a thing with them."

"What's the use?" Grandmother said.

The friend sighed and remained silent. Both women nodded.

Grandmother's Poem
All things change they say.
But some things are just more of the same.
So why bother?

A historical note: The "patio" mentioned in the Case is a predecessor of the modern deck. Usually made of brick, stone, or concrete, it provided an outdoor haven when built near a large tree, whose cooling shade was welcome in the days before air-conditioning. Obviously, Grandmother and her unnamed friend are Women Of a Certain Age, given their many years of married life - the only life available to women in ancient times. Another key to their advanced age and wisdom is the fact that they are sitting down in the middle of the day instead of working their asses off. Perhaps they are "housewives," or are retired, or are working women enjoying the classic Friday "long lunch."

The Poem. It has been noted that the Poem does not rhyme or scan, follows no classical form, and has no imagery. Why, therefore, is it called a poem? What is a poem? Thinking deeply on that is an entirely useless past-time, and thus highly to be commended.

A curious fact about the central statement, "What's the use?" is that it takes the grammatical form of a question - but is never answered. It would be a great mistake to answer it in any meeting of Tea Ladies, and would be considered a breach of etiquette. Why is it never answered? No use asking.

The statement can be defined as a rhetorical question, but should not be set aside as trivial for that reason. Work this non-question with all your might, day and night. At every turn ask yourself, "What's the use?" When prompted to speak, stop and ask; when about to take action, stop and ask. When the alarm clock goes off, silence it and, turning over, ask, "What's the use?" Do this until you have become a mass of stopping and doing nothing, until everywhere you turn, you see that there's no use. People don't change, we never get anywhere, you will put every pound back on. By the time you fix anything, two other things will have gone wrong.

Then you will shout to the universe, "Why bother!" and the very heavens will crack open for you, and you will enter a fresh, new life. All delusions fallen away, you will understand the pleasures of a use-less life, and may now enjoy refreshing beverages with your friends, and may enter into advanced contemplation of buying a chaise lounge. But where would you put it?


  1. OMG! I love this! What a hoot!!!

  2. it reminds me of the I Ching - ching in cheek

  3. Thank you, Andrea. We are long overdue for women's editions of a lot of these things. I was also playing off the Zen koan book called "The Gateless Gate."