Piece Two (and what a “piece”…lol)

Perseus-Slaying-Dragon-L

This piece, like Piece One… from Steppenwolf, didn’t really ring true until I was in my late twenties and through my thirties.  From the age of 0 to 20, my life was ideal…improving my mind through school and the university…and my body through athletics.  The world was wide open and dreams were to be had.  It wasn’t until I entered the adult world…the one that requires money making…that the below passage began to sing its heartfelt tune.

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“You have a picture of life within you, a faith, a challenge, and you were ready for deeds and sufferings and sacrifices, and then you became aware by degrees that the world asked no deeds and no sacrifices of you whatever, and that life is no poem of heroism with heroic parts to play and so on, but a comfortable room where people are quite content with eating and drinking, coffee and knitting, cards and wireless.  And whoever wants more and has got it in him — the heroic and the beautiful, and the reverence for the great poets or for the saints — is a fool and a Don Quixote.  Good.  And it has been just the same for me, my friend.

 I was a gifted girl.  I could have been the wife of a king, the beloved of a revolutionary, the sister of a genius, the mother of a martyr.  And life has allowed me just this, to be a courtesan of fairly good taste, and even that has been hard enough.  That is how things have gone with me.  For a while I was inconsolable and for a long time I put the blame on myself.  Life, thought I, must in the end be in the right, and if life scorned my beautiful dreams, so I argued, it was my dreams that were stupid and wrong-headed.  But that did not help me at all.  And as I had good eyes and ears and was a little inquisitive too, I took a good look at this so-called life and my neighbors and acquaintances, fifty or so of them and their destinies, and then I saw you.  And I knew that my dreams had been right a thousand times over, just as yours had been.  It was life and reality that were wrong.  It was as little right that a woman like me should have no other choice than to grow old in poverty and in a senseless way at a typewriter in the pay of a money-maker, or to marry such a man for his money’s sake, or to become some kind of drudge, as for a man like you to be forced in his loneliness and despair to have recourse to a razor.  

Perhaps the trouble with me was more material and moral and with you more spiritual — but it was the same road.  Do you think I can’t understand your horror of the fox trot, your dislike of bars and dancing floors, your loathing of jazz and the rest of it?  I understand it only too well, and your dislike of politics as well, your despondence over the chatter and antics of the parties and the press, your despair over the war, the one that has been and the one that is to be, over all that people nowadays think, read and build, over the music they play, the celebrations they hold, the education they carry on.  You are right, Steppenwolf, right a thousand times over, and yet you must go to the wall. You are much too exacting and hungry for this simple, easygoing and easily contented world of today.  You have a dimension too many.  Whoever wants to live and enjoy his life today must not be like you and me.  Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours –”

Hermann Hesse — Steppenwolf

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Piece One

Morning commuteThis is the first of five posts (pieces) that will provide some background for my critical thinking project, that once complete, may change the direction and content of this blog…and then again…it may not.  These background pieces are little snippets from a few authors that wrote works or pieces within their works that struck a deep chord within me…a chord that rung true…to me.  There are of course more authors and pieces, but these few suffice, for they hit on some of the big questions…and their thoughts…are also taken from other thoughts…that came before.

cubiclesNow, we can all say that these pieces, which serve as foundations for my critical thinking, skew the process from the start.  But, this is who I am and how I view the world…for these few thoughts ring true to me…from what I have experienced, observed, and thought…from youth to the present.  These thoughts run deep within me and throughout me…like the blood in my veins…and cannot be extracted…without ripping out a piece of who I am.

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“Whereupon it occurred to me – so it is with every one.  Just as I dress and go out to visit the professor and exchange a few more or less insincere compliments with him, without really wanting to at all, so it is with the majority of men day by day and hour by hour in their daily lives and affairs.  Without really wanting to at all, they pay calls and carry on conversations, sit out their hours at desks and on office chairs; and it is all compulsory, mechanical and against the grain, and it could all be done or left undone just as well by machines; and indeed it is this never-ceasing machinery that prevents their being, like me, the critics of their own lives and recognizing the stupidity and shallowness, the hopeless tragedy and waste of the lives they lead, and the awful ambiguity grinning over it all.  And they are right, right a thousand times to live as they do, playing their games and pursuing business, instead of resisting the dreary machine and staring into the void as I do, who have left the track.  Let no one think that I blame other men, though now and then in these pages I scorn and even deride them, or that I accuse them of the responsibility of my personal misery.  But now that I have come so far, standing as I do on the extreme verge of life where the ground falls away before me into bottomless darkness, I should do wrong and I should lie if I pretend to myself or to others that the machine still revolved for me and that I was still obedient to the eternal child’s play of that charming world.”

Hermann HesseSteppenwolf

Wanting More from Life

The Odyssey -- Homer

It is my want to experience more from life that causes me great sorrow and disappointment in what is.  And I want the same for all of mankind.  The below passage from Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hess, expresses my thoughts so finely that there is no need to recreate the idea in my own words.

“You have a picture of life within you, a faith, a challenge, and you were ready for deeds and sufferings and sacrifices, and then you became aware by degrees that the world asked no deeds and no sacrifices of you whatever, and that life is no poem of heroism with heroic parts to play and so on, but a comfortable room where people are quite content with eating and drinking, coffee and knitting, cards and wireless.  And whoever wants more and has got it in him — the heroic and the beautiful, and the reverence for the great poets or for the saints — is a fool and a Don Quixote.  Good.  And it has been just the same for me, my friend.  I was a gifted girl.  I could have been the wife of a king, the beloved of a revolutionary, the sister of a genius, the mother of a martyr.  And life has allowed me just this, to be a courtesan of fairly good taste, and even that has been hard enough.  That is how things have gone with me.  For a while I was inconsolable and for a long time I put the blame on myself.  Life, thought I, must in the end be in the right, and if life scorned my beautiful dreams, so I argued, it was my dreams that were stupid and wrong-headed.  But that did not help me at all.  And as I had good eyes and ears and was a little inquisitive too, I took a good look at this so-called life and my neighbors and acquaintances, fifty or so of them and their destinies, and then I saw you.  And I knew that my dreams had been right a thousand times over, just as yours had been.  It was life and reality that were wrong.  It was as little right that a woman like me should have no other choice than to grow old in poverty and in a senseless way at a typewriter in the pay of a money-maker, or to marry such a man for his money’s sake, or to become some kind of drudge, as for a man like you to be forced in his loneliness and despair to have recourse to a razor.  Perhaps the trouble with me was more material and moral and with you more spiritual — but it was the same road.  Do you think I can’t understand your horror of the fox trot, your dislike of bars and dancing floors, your loathing of jazz and the rest of it?  I understand it only too well, and your dislike of politics as well, your despondence over the chatter and antics of the parties and the press, your despair over the war, the one that has been and the one that is to be, over all that people nowadays think, read and build, over the music they play, the celebrations they hold, the education they carry on.  You are right, Steppenwolf, right a thousand times over, and yet you must go to the wall. You are much too exacting and hungry for this simple, easygoing and easily contented world of today.  You have a dimension too many.  Whoever wants to live and enjoy his life today must not be like you and me.  Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours –“

Confronting Futility

I have finally come across a passage in Steppenwolf that struck a chord in me many years ago.  It again struck the chord and made me laugh quite loud to the point where people in the cafe looked at me in astonishment.  May it also strike a chord in you. It is this with which I have wrestled with (unfortunately more internal) during the last decade and continue to do so today. 

Whereupon it occurred to me – so it is with every one.  Just as I dress and go out to visit the professor and exchange a few more or less insincere compliments with him, without really wanting to at all, so it is with the majority of men day by day and hour by hour in their daily lives and affairs.  Without really wanting to at all, they pay calls and carry on conversations, sit out their hours at desks and on office chairs; and it is all compulsory, mechanical and against the grain, and it could all be done or left undone just as well by machines; and indeed it is this never-ceasing machinery that prevents their being, like me, the critics of their own lives and recognizing the stupidity and shallowness, the hopeless tragedy and waste of the lives they lead, and the awful ambiguity grinning over it all.  And they are right, right a thousand times to live as they do, playing their games and pursuing business, instead of resisting the dreary machine and staring into the void as I do, who have left the track.  Let no one think that I blame other men, though now and then in these pages I scorn and even deride them, or that I accuse them of the responsibility of my personal misery.  But now that I have come so far, standing as I do on the extreme verge of life where the ground falls away before me into bottomless darkness, I should do wrong and I should lie if I pretend to myself or to others that the machine still revolved for me and that I was still obedient to the eternal child’s play of that charming world.

Hermann Hesse — “Steppenwolf”

Steppenwolf

Looked at with the bourgeois eye, my life had been a continuous descent from one shattering to the next that left me more remote at every step from all that was normal, permissible and healthful.  The passing years had stripped me of my calling, my family, my home.  I stood outside all social circles, alone, beloved by none, mistrusted by many, in unceasing and bitter conflict with public opinion and morality; and though I lived in a bourgeois setting, I was all the same an utter stranger to this world in all I thought and felt.  Religion, country, family, state, all lost their value and meant nothing to me any more.  The pomposity of the sciences, societies, and arts disgusted me.  My views and tastes and all that I thought, once the shining adornments of a gifted and sought-after person, had run to seed in neglect and were looked at askance.  Granting that I had in the course of all my painful transmutations made some invisible and unaccountable gain, I had to pay dearly for it; and at every turn my life was harsher, more difficult, lonely and perilous.  In truth, I had little cause to wish to continue in that way which led on into ever thinner air, like the smoke in Nietzsche’s harvest song.

A passage from “Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse

Rich Man Poor Man

Last week on my way to some half-ass short-lived job I saw the same bum on the corner.  He picked the perfect spot – at the traffic light just off the freeway exit leading to the city.  He could barely walk to make his hopeless stumble along the cars.  His long dirty grey beard seemed to blend in and attach to the blanket wrapped around his body.  I said something like this to my friend, “You know what?  We are all not too far from ending up like this guy.  If I didn’t have some support I could be right there along with him.  I only hope that I would still have the sense of dignity and awareness to go up to the mountains for the long eternal rest.  There is no way in hell he will ever be able to dig himself out of this hole.  No one will ever hire this guy.”

I wondered what his story is and what events or decisions led him to where he is now.  I began to reflect on my own situation.  I grew up and lived a charmed life up until the age of about forty-one.  Then the shit hit the fan.  I can outline all the steps that led to where I am now and they are all mainly my own doing.  This decision caused that and that decision caused this.  The patterns of decision-making can be traced back to when I was a young boy and later a young man.  More importantly, the thoughts and feelings behind those decisions have even more clairvoyant patterns.  Although I can justify and stand by most of those decisions, thoughts, and feelings, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is how society views or interprets those decisions, thoughts, and feelings.  If society doesn’t understand or agree, and you haven’t prepared for war with conviction and determination, eventually you will pay the price.  During youth such decisions and society’s interpretation of those decisions carry fewer consequences for youth has inward and outward armor.  But when one approaches the ripe old age of forty times around the sun, the outside armor begins to melt which exposes the inward armor.

The real test begins now.  In the evening I walk among the streets and look into the restaurants I used to enjoy not so many years ago.  I see the people in their nice clothes sipping on wine and enjoying a variety of dishes without any concern for the pending bill.  All the various flavors permeate the city air.  During the day I observe people rushing to and fro with a sense of purpose while I wander aimlessly and confused to my not so important destination.   I worry about having enough money for a quarter tank of gas or a bus ride.  I have to make decisions about whether or not to get a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon or some Top Ramen noodles.  I don’t have the means to maintain my pride nor the humbleness to seek available assistance.  My living conditions are despicable and uncomfortable. 

Despite my plight, I realize there are millions and perhaps billions that are worse off than me.  I understand that these same people may have never enjoyed the luxuries and simple pleasures I enjoyed for some forty orbits – pleasures and luxuries that I sold out for rather than endure the harder and more true course that my being called for.  I also realize many of these people may not have the luxury or education for higher thoughts and dreams.  And I envy these people who never knew such luxuries and pleasures to some degree.  They are tougher, stronger, used to their daily struggle to simply survive.  They aren’t concerned with dreams and visions or contemplations.  I on the other hand, am like a helpless born baby with a dreamy grown up mind punted into the middle of the ocean without any diapers or a pacifier.  I am like the guy in the Matrix that just had his chords ripped from his spine and can’t swim in the reject toilet bowl because the muscles in the body and mind suffer from atrophied. 

The road ahead will be long and difficult – the comfortable middle ground no longer exists.  I will see whether or not my inward armor is made of metal or just a bunch of hot air that simply needs to be released with a long disappointed sigh.  This will be a very cold, lonely, and lean holiday season – a perfect time for some long thoughtful walks, reflection, and perhaps some laughter and tears of joy.  I think it might be the perfect occasion to begin reading true works of art once again.  Time to pick myself up a copy of Steppenwolf — somewhere during the last twenty orbits I lost my copy of this little golden nugget.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.