Once in a while, well maybe more often than that, I find myself at sixes and sevens.
Sixes and sevens isn’t the name of a corner bar (although that would be a really good name for one); it’s a state of confusion or the inability to make a clear decision about something.
One source defines the term as follows: if you are at sixes and sevens you are in a state of total confusion, disorder or disarray. You might say, “When it happened, I didn’t know what to say. I was at sixes and sevens for a moment.”
It’s a very old expression, not used much anymore except by people like me who often find themselves in indecisive situations. Digging a bit further, I found Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable offering this: “At sixes and sevens (means) higgledy-piggledy, in a state of confusion; or of persons unable to come to an agreement, at loggerheads.” Of course this introduces two more dated phrases: higgledy-piggledy and loggerheads. But let’s not get involved with those right now. We have enough on our plate with sixes and sevens.
As I started to say before I interrupted myself two paragraphs ago, today is one of those times where I find myself at sixes and sevens. I know I must get going and write my weekly column, but on the other hand, I don’t want to. There you have it. I’m at sixes and sevens. I’m sure, dear reader, you have found yourself at a similar dilemma from time to time concerning my column. Haven’t there been weeks when you just weren’t sure if you wanted to read my article or not?
As a reader your decision is much easier than mine as a writer. Should you opt to skip my column then you simply don’t read it. However, if you choose to read my column, you simply make the small effort to do so. The entire endeavor takes at most four minutes out of your life. Once read, you never have to think about that column ever again.
On the other hand, as the writer of said column I first must have a subject in mind to write about. This can take anywhere from three minutes to four days to settle on, depending on my state of mind. (Ideas don’t grow on trees, you know!) Then I must put myself in a “writing mindset.” Just sitting down at the keyboard doesn’t do it. Without the proper mindset I could sit at that keyboard for hours without contributing a single thing towards my column. And I have. Sometimes the writing muses just don’t show up.
Once the subject is settled on, once the muses have inspired me, then the physical work begins. If the topic of the week requires research, I must do the research before writing anything. Sometimes this requires reading through several sources, double-checking for accuracy and any inconsistencies of information.
After that I type out the initial unedited version of the piece all the way through. Then I go back and attempt to structure it, hopefully, in a legible and entertaining fashion. Once I’ve finished with it I walk away from it coming back to it sometime later to re-read with a fresh eye. If I’m satisfied with it (or as satisfied as possible), my work is done until I send it out for publication.
If, however, I opt not to write a column at all I will have saved myself all that physical work and brainpower, but I will not be able to rest easily. Guilt and self-loathing will seep into my soul. The knowledge that I have not only let myself down, but have deprived my loyal readers of their beloved and much anticipated weekly visit with their favorite columnist will fill my heart with remorse and sadness. In short, the entire week will be miserable for all concerned.
Knowing all of that, I still don’t want to sit down and write my column this week. Oops, looks like I already did.
And that is why I am at sixes and sevens.
Greg Crosby is a writer and cartoonist and former executive at the Walt Disney Company.