“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”
— Jack Kerouac, On the Road
As changes shimmer in the inner eye.
I stare and stare into a deepening pool
And tell myself my image cannot die.
I love myself: that’s my one constancy.
Oh, to be something else, yet still to be!
Sweet Christ, rejoice in my infirmity;
There’s little left I care to call my own.
Today they drained the fluid from a knee
And pumped a shoulder full of cortisone;
Thus I conform to my divinity
By dying inward, like an aging tree.
The instant ages on the living eye;
Light on its rounds, a pure extreme of light
Breaks on me as my meager flesh breaks down—
The soul delights in that extremity.
Blessed the meek; they shall inherit wrath;
I’m son and father of my only death.
A mind too active is no mind at all;
The deep eye sees the shimmer on the stone;
The eternal seeks, and finds, the temporal,
The change from dark to light of the slow moon,
Dead to myself, and all I hold most dear,
I move beyond the reach of wind and fire.
Deep in the greens of summer sing the lives
I’ve come to love. A vireo whets its bill.
The great day balances upon the leaves;
My ears still hear the bird when all is still;
My soul is still my soul, and still the Son,
And knowing this, I am not yet undone.
Things without hands take hands: there is no choice,—
Eternity’s not easily come by.
When opposites come suddenly in place,
I teach my eyes to hear, my ears to see
How body from spirit slowly does unwind
Until we are pure spirit at the end.
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
― T.H. White, The Once and Future King
“The buying of more books than one can perchance read is nothing less than the soulreaching toward infinity, and this passion is the only thing that raises us above the beasts that perish.” — A. Edward Newton (1863-1940)
… It occurred to me earlier today that I haven’t sold any books, CDs, or DVDs on Half.com or Amazon in more than six months. I can’t help but get chills. I don’t think I’m going to like this brave new world of precious art, literature, and music loaded onto cheap plastic gizmos.
…Among those “enemies” prosecuted as a parasite was Joseph Brodsky, a young poet and future recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. At that time, he was considered among “the most politically unreliable” people, because he “was part of a circle of anti-Soviet individuals” and “wrote poems of a decadent and even hostile nature” instead of engaging in activities that would benefit the state.
The hearings in the Brodsky case started on February 18, 1964. Brodsky was charged with willful social parasitism, and his trial would become part of Russian and world literature:
Judge: What do you do?
Brodsky: Write poems. Do translations. I guess ….
Judge: No expressions like “I guess.” Stand still! Do not lean on the wall! Look at the judge! Answer the judge properly! … We are not interested in “I guess.” Answer – why didn’t you work?
Brodsky: I worked. I wrote poems.
Judge: We are not interested in this. We are interested in the following: with what organization were you affiliated? … In general, what is your specialty?
Brodsky: Poet. Poet-translator.
Judge: Who has acknowledged that you are a poet? Who assigned you to poets?
Brodsky: Nobody. (In an unchallenging manner) And who assigned me to humans?
Judge: Did you study this?
Judge: To be a poet? Did you try to complete a degree, attend a university where one is prepared, trained?
Brodsky: I do not think it can be acquired by education.
Judge: By what then?
Brodsky: I think this comes (Embarrassedly) … from God.
Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering — this is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general and fairly salutary daytime advice for everyone. But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work — and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day. At that hour the tendency is to refuse to face things as long as possible by retiring into an infantile dream — but one is continually startled out of this by various contacts with the world. One meets these occasions as quickly and carelessly as possible and retires once more back into the dream, hoping that things will adjust themselves by some great material or spiritual bonanza. But as the withdrawal persists there is less and less chance of the bonanza — one is not waiting for the fade-out of a single sorrow, but rather being an unwilling witness of an execution, the disintegration of one’s own personality…
Unless madness or drugs or drink come into it, this phase comes to a dead end, eventually, and is succeeded by a vacuous quiet. In this you can try to estimate what has been sheared away and what is left. — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up part 2, “Pasting It Together”
Choruses from “The Flight into Egypt”
“In the really dark night of the soul it is always three o’ clock in the morning.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald
Come to our bracing desert,
Where eternity is eventful,
Where the weather-glass
Is set at Alas,
The thermometer at Resentful.
Come to our old-world desert
Where everyone goes to pieces;
You can pick up tears
Or genuine diseases.
Come to our well-run desert
Where anguish arrives by cable,
And the deadly sins
May be bought in tins
With instructions on the label.
Come to our jolly desert
Where even the dolls go whoring;
Become intimate friends,
And it’s always three in the morning.
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
― Albert Schweitzer
This is my passion, you know? This is the essence of who I am now. But before I had this, I was lost, too. You see what I’m saying? You need to find your reason for living. You’ve got to find your big, gigantic drum kit.
— Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel), Freaks and Geeks
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.