Jul 11, 2009


Left: "Sloppy Drunk"

To Bettertry, about yesterday’s post and your welcome comment:

You're right, of course, about the middle, and the penguin example is perfect—the warmth of the middle is necessary for survival.

However, the fact that most penguins, people, and other critters choose the middle is precisely what might make it mushy (formless, noncommittal, moderate, conventional, easy, safe, unquestioning, unimaginative, unchallenging). From there to “cowardly” is a short stroll.

I was aiming at the notion that heroes are heroic precisely because their actions are rare, a tiny minority of all actions, as well as being momentously courageous. In fact, maybe it’s the rarity that creates and defines the courage. In any case, heroic behaviors are not typical of the acts of ordinary citizens in the vast middle.

(See my June 24 post, re: W. H. Auden’s “The Unknown Citizen.” Better yet, read the whole poem. It must be available online.).

After the conclusions of courses I've taught, I've often had the warm, fuzzy, and once-puzzling experience of having dozens of nice, able teen students ask if their group was the worst class I'd ever had.

What I heard was that they wanted to be memorable, which probably meant that they knew heroism wasn’t an option. So they sought the identity of renegade or outlaw, anything but the mainstream, the ordinary. They seemed not to realize how completely embedded in the middle they were (along with me!), while sociopaths and rebels-with-a-cause, along with cowboys, exceptional soldiers and other heroes are what they are precisely because of their extreme distance from the middle, the norm.

Where do the WSDs (walker, sitters, dozers) fit into this scale of normalcy and aberration?

Maybe the interior lives and inner cultures of great thinkers are so often adventurous or tragic because HBDs (hiker, bikers, and runners) pale by comparison to the fireworks in minds of high-powered thinkers. Need I mention names? Plath, Sexton, Van Gogh, Nietzsche, and on and on.

AH (Altadenahiker) contributes to this with a nifty paradox. After yesterday’s post, she wrote, “Fast clockers have a hard time getting along with anyone. They're too impatient. And when you're too impatient, you're rude. I'm rude.” And she continues, “Hiker/runners may, for those moments, be the closest to nature, because, for those moments, they are outside of their heads. You have to be, or you couldn't continue the pace.” So . . . closeness to nature means . . . outside one's head, beyond self-consciousness and into the realm of instinct, that which is necessary, urgent? Squirrels don't look in mirrors, don't comb their hair. The squirrel state of mind is where running and other mind-altering, mind-emptying activities take us. I hope no one's hearing that as a negative. Why not hear it as transcendentalism or mysticism?

Isn't the next step obvious? What if we change AH’s subjects from runners and other speed folks to thinkers and artists? What if the stationary but creative types are too smart to be patient, even with themselves? What if they’re so involved in ideas and visions of shapes and stories they must create that “they are outside of their heads?” Maybe they “have to be, or [they] couldn’t continue the pace” – the pace of the argument in the case of historians and philosophers, maybe, or the pace of the story in narratives and dramas (which involve the creation of other humans!) or the shapes of images (in poems and the visual arts), demanding to be conveyed.

Isn’t the very definition of “vision” -- as in “visionary” -- essentially a mental/conceptual/psychic/mystic/spiritual experience that transcends rational or conscious thought?

Maybe runners, intentionally or not, create endorphins the way Native Americans have used peyote, and writers have used booze. A recent History Channel program (probably a re-run) proposed the likelihood that America’s Founding Fathers were routinely high on beer, wine, whiskey, and, yes, marijuana. Hemp was used for all manner of items, from rope to sails to paper and more, so why not smoke it too? (I wish I could properly footnote the program—it aired around midday sometime in the last three days, I’d estimate).

Maybe we come to a thesis something like this: Our greatest insights and achievements occur only after the shedding of mundane thoughts, worries, anxieties, and niceties—by any means necessary, from Harleys to Nikes to Amish rocking chairs or LSD.

Or, the only good thought is a drunk thought.


Jeff M said...

Yes, there's something to the axiom that drunkenness inspires the creative wings to take flight. Yes. For example, I'm at work now, I'm sober, and my creativity is sodden with sobriety. But when I get home and pour the brown elixir of bourbon, my inner mind will take flight --- much like our most beloved artists, including Coleridge, Poe, Rimbaud, Blake, Hemingway, Faulkner, Berryman, etc. Living behind the curtain of sobriety is difficult work and often stunts our true voices; it is only after the proper soaking of our inner mind that we become more external, more revealing, more authentic.

Banjo52 said...

Thanks for the visit, Jeff.

Would you revise the booze-sodden version? I once read or heard that Hemingway claimed he could spot in a manuscript the place where a writer had begun drinking. Of course, Hemingway said a lot of stuff . . .
and that might have applied to Fitzgerald alone, but I think it was all-encompassing.

Also, I just misread one of your clauses as "our true voices are stunts." Hmmmm . . . .

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