I found this essay difficult to write. Even now its structure needs layers and layers of integration; I’ll do that over the next few months. But what troubled me was the topic, that of the necessities of career and family, and their relation to working towards a life purpose. It is a personal question I am not certain I have fully answered.
Though there are two great needs in man, for love and for importance, and though these are allowed and structured by our institutions of marriage and the work-place, it is yet unclear whether a man can be fulfilled through them. Love is not enough, work is not enough: family and money impose duties on the man, they collude together, so he most clasp the handle of employment no matter how hot it burns. Marriage and career are the foundations that set up a man, give him a place, make him a member of society, and yet both can tear the threads of his heart inside out, and neither redeems him, except when he adds the top to the pyramid, combining love and work together into passion. Each man needs a life-purpose.
If my heart weren’t bruised, my mind could think
If my tears weren’t thick, my eyes could see.
So says every philosopher who falls in love. He must make his heart proud again, and not let the sorrows of love and the indignities of work distract him. He must enshrine his purpose.
This purpose cannot be in mere family, for love cannot make a God of man, nor in work alone, if it is not his work, his rules, his own goals. Since these institutions are external, they are also alien: he may succeed at them, but he did not create them, they are not his image, are not his emanation. He has no final possession of them: his wife may leave him, his boss may fire him. There, he plays a role, and yet his ever simmering genius feels a greater calling within him, the fire and intensity of pure god in his heart, and he calls this “art, poetry, purpose, religion,” so many words for the same thing, his very self, which must expand forever wider to fill the entire universe.
Those who insist on their own way, and do not readily fit in the ready-made genres will never be rich. Their success, if they find it, falls as a happy accident. For the rest of us, we must work jobs that do starve the soul. It is better if we can simply avoid losing creative energy on them, can make the most of them, can enjoy some humility to balance our grandiosity. I sing a little verse to myself while I serve customers:
Chest of Pride
Eyes of Sparks
Address your god
Grant you massage.
Apollo worked as a shepherd, Hercules toiled his labors. And yet we resonate with Boguereau, who said “Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of the darkness I can scarcely wait for the next morning to come. My work is not only a pleasure, it has become a necessity. No matter how many other things I love in my life, if I cannot give myself to my dear painting, I am miserable.” He could only be happy when painting. This is the suffering found in every great passion.
A man must not seek virtue when he chooses his job, must not do what is right, but do what opens his genius. Virtue can corrupt; it is better to be original than moral. If a man is a great artist, but is convinced by his family to waste time with charity work or missionary trips, he would decay, gain a false, external virtue, a virtue foreign to his native abilities and genius. Many actions are called moral. Being active in politics is called a democratic duty. However, some people would better spend no time at politics. What is right for each individual is the opposite of the Kantian ethic: instead of asking if everybody should do a thing, we should strive to do what nobody else can our should do. That, for us, is our place on this earth, our calling, our virtue. If we are to imitate a great man, we are to imitate his greatness, but not his method for achieving it.
With troubled economies, and no money for artistic and literary passion, it is best to choose a supplementary job that doesn’t get in the way of the real thing. And yet, we internalize structures from our job, and they play out in all we do. The fundamental structures of our heart, the moods and attitudes from which we build all habits, conform to what we do the most. This systematizes the rest. Only what you do always can you do naturally. Whitman gained from working as a newspaper editor for so many years, editing his poems as a newspaper editor would, clipping and pasting wholesale, with an editorial style akin to the modern word-processing style. Our character is the sum of what we do: our career sets our character.
An artist must love and master his medium, and explore its limits. This is only possible for a metaphorical mind, that thinks of his art through his daily chores. When your dishes, when your broom, when your job, stand for ideas, you will be able to practice continually. It is best to study always the same few things. The overly praised curiosity of the child lacks discipline. As adults, we grow a few permanent interests and become incurious regarding the rest: and this is wisdom. We must be akin to Odin, with one eye ever in wisdom’s well, one eye on the grand picture of our purpose. A few versatile instruments are better than many specific; the best fighter resorts to the same basic moves. My mind is a thousand Hindu hands moving countless ideas, pushing around all the details of life, while the central blue hands do the true work, the simple thing.
Meanwhile, we ought to work continually on our project, as with Emerson with his Notebooks, Whitman with his Leaves of Grass, Ive’s with his music projects, and Edison with his notebooks: decades of accumulation of notes and ideas, thick with ideas like Cambrian fossils. Flaubert labored for days over a single page, and this must also be our second pole: intense attention to detail. It is like a great triangle, where billions of ideas press their weight down, pressuring the pure gold out the nib of our pen. Writers are oysters who need only minor irritants to produce pearls: normal trauma would shut them up. The body language of inner rhythm of sentences can express worlds, because the writer is grown so sensitive and nuanced. And as a true virtuoso, he knows how to balance complex chaos with sloganistic simplicity, like the guitarist Steven Vai, who alternates between simplistic guitar riffs and chaotic excess.
We must work our jobs as if we didn’t really belong to them, work while meditating on our real interest. Newton focused on math so intently that he forgot dinner; Joseph Sealinger was so caught up in Homer that he failed to register the massacre of Bartholomew as it unfolded around him.
And yet me must engage the world and our chores, with slow accumulations in a hundred pockets, let them all gestate and produce in turn. We must actually care about friends, work, chores, and duties, a little bit at a time, to learn from them. My heart swells by accumulation of such stays of energy, which ripen and finally explode. When the passion is there, the world must bend, when the passion is lacking, I must bend. Every fight, ever dispute, every joy, ever intrigue, every story, feeds some fruit, which when ready ripens into the perpetual harvest of my heart. Such was the way of Ives, Emerson, Whitman, Edison, Leonardo, and all the others who put the wealth of a lifetime in the pen nib of the moment’s art.
The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own.
There is in each man a central name, his first word of creation, the name he said when he came into existence. The logic of that name structures the rest. The bleed of our ideas must follow the same circuit. As William James says “Knit each new thing on some acquisition already there. See each new thing as an answer to a question already present in the mind.”
But to think we must learn to shut up. Strength is silent. If a man talks long, he speaks his spirit gone. His very being leaps out his throat. Better to sit long and brood over his soul. It is best to “Give thy thoughts no tongue” but to let the words you desire to speak turn instead back on themselves and grow thick. Speak but brief and natural – the tempest dies before noon. Seek no confirmation. For pride never boasts. Seek also not to praise: we speak fairest when our words are falsest. Be silent as stone; then your ideas will endure.
“With old friends a word stands for a whole story or set of opinions,” and yes, we must tell stories, and constantly, rehashing them and reestablishing them. There is a balance to silence and it is poetry. Poetry or silence. We tell stories to get closer to their basic structure, their mythic structure. By constantly telling stories we rewrite our memories into stories, our stories into myth, our life into legend. The greater the artist the less fantastic his story. It takes a deep mind to make the everyday world appear deep, and to achieve this, even the most elaborate fantasy looks cheap. Plato’s dialogues outshine the gospels.
The stories we hear are types for the stories we continually tell, all variations on a theme, the central motif of our own private myth. The myths are yet with us. The enlightenment is as mythic as any religion. We are told a story of the progress of mankind with science as Prometheus; and the entire genre of science fiction explores the outer logic of this myth. The myths about technology and man’s progress make us hum; but the counter-story is just as likely: that man’s extinction will be discovered in a cheap and easy technology anybody can make. What matters with stories and art is not truth, but beauty, what will inspire us to realize the stories? And how can we internalize them as our own?
All stories begin to take on the same tone, the temperature of the inner climate. And yet we must hold them in, and not wind them away, keep them warm in our hearts oven, till they are boiled to their bare glory, and spoken out with swift and devastating austerity.
To be bright of brain
Let no man boast
The sage and silent
Come seldom to grief
For our friends and enemies bridle us by our tongue. Vanity boasts hopefully, arrogance boasts disdainfully. Pride won’t boast.
By your words are you known. By your words are you destroyed. If three know, thousands will. Let no one discover the matter of your heart. Speak an idea at a time, for others can hardly hear you. Clearness is in distinction. And say only the simple truths that stun the fools who intrude on wisdom’s subtlety. I play the hermetic fool before the world: what have I to do with appearing wise? I speak to my inner nature and am cheered.
Our best nature, our god nature, the hidden name we may dare to label, call him by an unspoken name a say to smile at the mirror. Evoke him in triumph and defeat. Being wrong and insulted is not ignoble. Owning it is. Attitude is tone of voice. We may even speak of the mere weather and prove yourself a greater man than the eloquent pastor. There is nothing to prove, and therefore, nothing to say. Do the work before you, that is all.
Beautify and purify your enemies in your speech. Shine your benevolence upon them and cast a halo over their hair. Let them be central, no need to say your own name. Never betray the secrets and sell your soul. Prefer to speak of others. The way to have friends is to show interest in them. You need not distrust them. The truth wants to be known. Lies tell on themselves. Do not fret a liar, but when the truth is known, show no mercy.
Yet never flatter. We say the kindest things about those who are dead to us. The more you praise, the less you love. The desire to praise is already a sign of guilt. Instead make your words bold as a promise, and reserve them with glacier’s patience. Do you have to say your way? Keep it. It will be shown by and by.
Be silent in your work, be silent with your family, digest all experience into the womb of a golden child. You require the endurance of solitude. The philosopher occasionally complains of his solitude the way a wife complains of her husband. Only the foolishly literalistic friend advises her to leave, not knowing that the most tender of loves also loves through complaints, and other such indirect praise. Intense trusts are the children of distrust, faith grows from doubt.
Speak less, but think the more. Imagination thickens experience with a wide set of expectations. We live many lives by imagining the possibility of this one. An experience of ambiguity feels many possible interpretations at once. Even if an interpretation is false, its possibility is felt and works as if it were true. We don’t have to believe in God or Karma or whatever else. It is enough that somebody somewhere does, and that vicarious belief makes it work as truth for us.
Strength is silent. Don’t even speak of love. Love is a beautiful weakness. It makes a man dependent. It gives high joys, yet aches, as all dependencies ache. Where there is love, she cannot be hidden, where there is no love, she cannot be faked. Judging from results, love is similar to hatred. Indeed, hate is the skin of love, by which she protects herself. Do you flee from me? I am not surprised, since my heart has already leapt from you in secret. Now I smile to please you because I can hardly stand you. Anxiety is the opposite of sex, angst the opposite of love. Only commitment keeps me through these gaps: I lose most of my friends when I consort with the abyss. This duel thread of love and fear sets the foundation of work and marriage: attitude strings her beads on these. Attitude is tone, attitude is voice, attitude is the source of style.
My attitude is for friends who resonate to him. My heart calls to those after my heart. Never make love to a partner you wouldn’t want children with. Never pledge yourself to work which denies your art. “Man is cheered by man” the wise Odin said, and yet, there are times to flee from man. Love is a weakness, it is a need we cannot directly fulfill. We must ask, and when we deserve it we may still be denied. Throw your arms around her and she shrieks. Neither pleads nor praises upturn her frown. She stands next to you, but her heart is far.
So hum silently to yourself, your inner god still shines. Music is the language of emotions. Emotion are music themselves, and we program our emotions through the music and dance of our culture. Blood-music flushes the cheeks like wine. We must learn to be alone to hear the heart’s music. Attention intensifies an experience: we must pay little attention to the world’s distractions. Listen to the inner hum. The way to have friends is to take a genuine interest in others. And yet the love between people makes heart-storms. I myself suffer from heart-storms too often, and can’t seem to drop away, to let go of others as I ought.
My words are finicky seeds
They may thrive in your heart’s garden
If they grow into friendship
-- Rare and dearer for that.
I cannot tend my strivers in your bed
I leave you all for that blessed inward
If you weed me out in my absence, so long
I must rediscover the rose of my godhood.
And so we turn inwards. In our solitude, we must only kill one foe: boredom. Boredom is the anxiety of desired interest, a lack of invigorating object which takes time’s passing itself as an obsession. Boredom depresses the system, and even alcohol stimulates here to depress there. To find depth in shallow matters is the secret of besting boredom.
I’m enthroned on my heart
Moods trapped in glass
A couch to bind
The chaos ocean
The glass casts coral inwards
To protect delicate feelings
The breeze feeds basket leaves
To protect the subtle beasts outwards.
Oh funnel cloud of inner focus!
You spiral over the same painful thoughts
When will you secure the bed of your joy?
At your central eye at last be calm
Ama finds you a God
Be ready to drop duties and loves.
All relationships are a play of power and love. Every word and gesture moves emotion tokens across the chess board. Love is weakness, power strength. A man may have an ivory idol for a wife, and his eyes tickle when he thinks of their love, and yet she will make him bleed as no other could. We need it and yet we cannot control it. Our childhood lives within us like a ring within a tree, and our mother’s love will continue to sap through our veins. We need an escape of love, we need holidays and exceptions. No rule is possible without breaking the rule, no absolute can last with its exception. The romanticism of emotions and infinity must be balanced by non-love, by fear, by power, by the classicism of impersonal control and intelligence. Heart gives substance, mind gives form. And when we are ready to create we must not cry when our friends peel away like petals of a flower. Like a buoy in the bay, push me under and I will next leap the waves. Never mind pleasure and pain. People seek neither happiness nor pleasure, but vitality, and will adapt vices and embrace suffering, though they claim otherwise, if only to feel alive. Not pleasure, but vitality, is the object of life.
To destroy something, first strengthen it. To leave her, first love her. Human power must control and subdue the heart, and yet be flexible enough to submit, when the heart is ready to explore. All human power comes from the mind’s ability to focus on an object a little longer. The mind is a weak thing, but free enough to slowly build habits. With the swinging of great weights, a small coercion of the will can move mountains. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that habits long established should not be changed for light and transient causes, but when a long train of desires builds up towards the same aim, the power must burst forth and do its work. Only what you always do can you do naturally, and yet interpretation can find precedence of any new habit.
Focus and volition are the same thing. To focus intently is the full of power. Ideas move autonomously, and the strong will knows how to select or dismiss them. Genius is only persistent attention. Choice of focus makes our world. An easy choice is no choice at all, and the will, which is a mobile nothingness, makes reality by focusing on one thing. We must be torn to be free enough to make a choice. An actual choice implies a real possibility. Emotional ambivalence, which a surge of will could swerve, desire against desire, feeling against feeling, this is how character is smelt.
Ultimately, the choice career is superfluous to a man’s purpose, if he knows how to prize purpose above the rest. Yet the right choice can compound his interest, strengthen his will, and give him stretches of silence with which to meditate upon his ideas while doing his task. The great man stands on marriage and career: he stands above them. A career is merely a stumbling block when it becomes a thing in itself. Only the purpose is the thing in itself, the rest is distraction.