Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Open Meandering Letter to a Kind Reader

"Snail, snail, glister me forward,
Bird, soft-sigh me home,
Worm, be with me.
This is my hard time."

-Theodore Roethke

Madness and brilliance are similar. If one is the latter, he speaks and is not understood for years; if the former, he speaks and is never understood.

On the year of his death in a lecture to Northwestern University students, Roethke mentioned E. E. Cummings' quoting himself as an answer to an interviewer's question. Roethke thought it bold and brash to do this, and wrote it off to Cummings' being young. But he later got it: if you spend so much time to say something concisely and correctly in poetry, why not re-say it as an answer to a question rather than going round in dialogue circles.

I'm obsessed with the minds and lives of geniuses. We're all obsessed with this. We celebrate Van Gogh now because he died decades ago and never sold anything while living, and created the most expensive paintings of the 20th century. We celebrate Zuckerberg for monetizing an idea. We celebrate Seth McFarlane, creator of Family Guy, who was fairly recently called the "smartest man in television" because of his excellent marketing. What do Van Gogh, Zuckerberg and McFarlane have in common? They make a lot of money today (regardless of whether or not they are dead).

I often quote Keirkegaard's The Present Age to those who have the stomach to hear a quotation of Keirkegaard's The Present Age: "Our age is essentially one of understanding and reflection, without passion, momentarily bursting into enthusiasm, and shrewdly relapsing into repose."

It's easy to be smug in repose about the passionate.

What do Roethke, Van Gogh, and Keirkegaard have in common? Passion and brilliance. What do Zuckerberg and McFarlane have in common with the above? Money made off a brilliant idea, which is not the same.

Nietzsche romanticized the stoic temperament for whatever reason, but he was a wild, bombastic, mouthy genius who died of a disease that, if he stood true to the message he preached, he never would have received. But he was passionate, and is the the most read philosopher today. Passion combined with brilliance makes a famous genius, if he is lucky.

"Talent, luck and discipline" make a great writer, according to Michael Chabon. And you can only control one of the three. Neighbors of Voltaire said you could set a clock by his schedule: when he awoke, ate, drank coffee (apparently 70 cups a day), worked, etc. He was disciplined.

Genius can be lazy. Passion can make one jump off a boat (Hart Crane), or die of syphilis (Nietzsche). But discipline puts a roof over your head and food on the table.

The previous paragraph brings me full cycle (hopefully not full circle, which doesn't rise or fall). Roethke said, "Above all, I possess a driving sincerity, -- that prime virtue of any creative worker. I write only what I believe to be the absolute truth, -- even if I must ruin the theme in so doing." This letter is not a letter at all, but just an amalgamation of ideas. It has poor form, a poor broken theme. But it is sincere.

Will I be a genius spoken of 100 year from now? Who cares. No one can control that, and it's bullshit to aspire to it. But I'll always be sincere. Passion, I got. Discipline, I'm always working on. Talent and luck, out of my hands. All I need is a worm to be with me in my hard time, preferably not a Tequila worm.

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