I was struck by a passage from heavyweight thinker Bertrand Russell, which has become my quote of the day: “The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen failing courage, to instill faith in times of despair.”
I need a friend like me.
My life has the feel of a complex algebra problem I cannot solve. You remember them, back in Freshman math. You juggle constants and balance the equation as far as you can and after wearing down your eraser to a stub are finally and irremediably stumped. And so you look in the back of the book hoping for some guidance, but of course the answer key only features the evens, and this particular problem is odd. Like my life. I need a tutor. Preferably a pretty one with horn-rimmed glasses, hair in a bun, form-fitting blouse and high-heeled shoes who answers to the name Angel.
But seriously. I need help. My life is all right enough, but I am alone. And sometimes I crave some company, preferably a yin to my yang. But to enjoy this I'd have to leave my childhood home, where I am well-situated and comfortable. Because women like to create their own castle, and this one was made by Laraine. Now, I don't earn a living, because I don't have to. I am overqualified for most jobs and too busy with housekeeping duties to spare more than an hour or two away from home. Besides there's my dog, who suffers separation anxiety and tears up everything in the waste basket until I return. So I spend my days doing whatever I feel like, and lots of chores.
Like Mr. Esselstyn, the prospect of a 9 to 5 I abhor. In the words of my new favorite political thinker, Hannah Arendt, "the society of jobholders demands of its members a sheer automatic functioning, as though individual life had actually been submerged in the over-all life process of the species and the only active decision still required of the individual were to let go, so to speak, to abandon his individuality, the still individually sensed pain and trouble of living, and acquiesce in a dazed, tranquilized functional type of behavior."
This is not for me. While at times I am stricken by the feeling that I am wasting my life alone up here on the mountain doing nothing of practical value, life in the world as a wage slave seems a fate worse than death. And with me chained to a desk, who would use the pool?
So what? So I may be forced eventually to move on. Where to, I cannot say. Maybe Hawaii? The weather is nice, the beach is always nearby, the ladies are shapely and the traffic ain't that bad. Ah, you say, and then your life will really begin. I can find a nice place of my own, find my other half, start a new life, problem solved. But will it be a life I want to live? I just want the simple things: time in nature, time for reflection, time to read and write and exercise. Basically, time. Which is what I have now. But with somebody else, some of the time.
And yet a curious thing happens when couples cohabit. Life gets really busy really quick. The kids come, and with them a whole new set of responsibilities. Things you used to enjoy doing get outsourced. You need to pick up your kids from school, help them with their homework, take them to practice, maybe even coach. So you get a housekeeper, who invariably steals, and hire a gardener, who overcharges you on manure. And don't forget to make enough money to afford all Johnny's extracurriculars, because summer camp isn't cheap. I understand why one historian wrote that many a philosopher dies with the birth of his first child. Because amidst all that frenetic action, who has time to smell the roses?
I often turn to the fathers of Western civilization, those ancient Greek philosophers, for advice in trying times. I steer clear of politics, I mean look at the shit-show that was the recent election. And I am not alone, for much of the political philosophy since Plato is concerned with finding theoretical foundations for an escape from politics altogether. So there would be more time to philosophize. Obviously!
Indeed the ideal ruler is the philosopher king, if there is such a thing (and I think Obama came pretty close to fitting the bill). Plato's supreme criterion of fitness for ruling others is the capacity to rule one's self. The commander-in-chief runs the country, as the soul commands the body and reason rules the passions. The philosopher leaves the cave of human affairs and ventures out into the bright light of the sky in search of pure ideas, Plato's forms of truth and beauty and goodness. And Obama did give up smoking.
Plato went so far as to design a blueprint for the ideal society. His utopia involved group sex. That way fathers would not know which children were whose and so everyone would be impartially kind to all. None of the attempts at implementing this model have succeeded, of course - and many failures involve mass slaughter, like what happened in Waco - though not for any defect in design. Rather the fatal flaw is in the human relationships such societies cannot control. Jealousies and back-biting and petty deceptions, and before you know it, murder-suicide. Because not everyone is a philosopher king. So forgo the cult and govern yourself.
It is hard to sit still and do nothing. The mind plays tricks. It tries to get you out and about with plans and schemes and hopes and dreams. It berates you for being lazy and good for nothing. And so you distract yourself with arts and crafts and other doings and are okay for a time, but how can you ever feel satisfied with neglecting your soul?
My friend came over today. Jason is a man of action. Always evolving schemes, to make money, provide for his family, basically get out of his own head. This is a guy who would be at home amidst the phantasmagoria of sights and sounds found at such consumer bastions as the French Quarter, or maybe Times Square. Jason cannot fathom a life of staying at home. I opened the door to greet him in my robe. Don't I get bored? Is it hard to get out of bed without a zillion things demanding my attention? No, I say. And I enumerate the list of activities that occupy my day. I get up, walk the dog and exercise and garden and clean and cook and eat and read and before I know it it's time to go to sleep again, and I find I spent so much care trimming the roses I forgot to sniff them. Even for me, there isn't enough time in the day. Forget Times Square. I need time squared! Jason suggested I sign up for an acting class. I know, the last thing this world needs is another thespian to be. But this is not a career choice.
Of course to fit an extra hobby into my busy schedule, I'll have to run not 10 miles tomorrow but rather an easy 5, and then feel like a slacker. Ah, the mind! I tell myself that even Hannah had her Heidegger. They were both philosophers. Rip wrote a best-selling book. And Russell was married four times! Maybe there's someone or something out there for me - if I get out of my own head long enough to notice, and out of the house once in a while. I wonder if Beverly Hills Playhouse is accepting applications. Or maybe I'll take a short trip to Maui. Nah, too much effort. I'll just stick with you.