Greetings students of life! I was once called optimistic, but due to having a child with autism, job struggles, struggles with bipolar, the possibility of divorce, have felt my cheerfulness dampered, like a bundle of wet logs thrown on a fire that almost extinguish it, but once the water is boiled away, will only feed the fuel to a higher blaze.. Like everything I have been sending, this is a first draft. I spend months and years revising these – feedback is helpful! And like most my essays, each one is centered on one idea, yet picks up my perennial concerns again and again.
Take care, Caretakers!
Optimism must be militant. So much of the world, and so much of the intellectual world, sits upon its clever skepticisms and rancid wit, like the know-it-all first grader who is past the hoax of Santa and loves to despoil his classmates of the same game, not in the name of truth, but in the joy of witnessing first hand innocence disillusioned, that it is all we can do to take the edge off of youthful arrogance, and yet help each young man foster his optimism like a vital well that may at any time be poisoned. Cheerfulness wins the day; enthusiasm is god of this world; the child's innocence matures into elderly wisdom: each man will at last be a god, if he holds only to his innermost and never sneers at the beautiful things in this world. The hopes of man's souls are real, and find answer in the universe – needs predicts fulfillment – but let as avoid education and tuition. I prefer ignorance to wisdom, so long as it is my ignorance and your wisdom. I would rather be a fool who owns himself than a professor begging his university for a sabbatical. Whitman was a militant optimist, and knew that at times one must insist on beauty – and the civil war silenced that muse. Emerson was a natural optimist, and found muse on his sullen days as well as his dawns. They are the spirit and soul of this country: I conspire with them; they share my designs without knowing it.
The heart is a world of emotions, and each must express itself when it is ripe, but always to serve the same few goals that the outer will has set before it, so that yes I am angry, and hateful, and jealous, and all those other beautiful emotions, which only gain a bad name from bad use, but I must make them serve me, my will, and never dawdle and let the emotions indulge in themselves for their own sake, such as when the angry person scans the newspaper each morning solely to fuel his anger and keep a few bitter scraps in his teeth till he gets to work. Every day I become more myself. Each decade I am more Daniel. Perhaps on my deathbed I will suffocate from Danielness, and take that fragrance upwards with me, and begin my life as a higher consciousness. Yet the world gives itself to me, I internalize all, and I have knit my soul to so many great men and women already, and have even found a few living friends to adore and cleave soul to soul, and hope heavens for – such is my joy in them.
And so I balance my reading out with hate. I read the authors I love, and never cease of them – they visit my heart as welcome guests, I have a throne therein for each of them – yet I also greet enemies, and by no means pray for them, but prey on them, for they are strong, and like a fine cannibal, I would eat their strength and make it my own. A few authors have I hated deeply, and also read widely: Ayn Rand, C.S. Lewis, Derrida, Zizek, and William Gass. I distrust them, I slash great X's all over their words with an angry crayon, and yet I continue to read them and understand them because they each contain a bit of mystery into what I struggle with in this world, and with myself. Perhaps each of them lives in me as a bad shade which I keep around to distil, purify, abrogate, and finally dissolve in a purified vengeance. Intellectual purity requires reading what you dislike. As Nietzsche read Saint Paul with gloves on, and chased the bad air down with the lively esprit of Petronius, for contrast, for fresh breath; or again, set down the cowardly Plato and picked up Thucydides to clear his mind again; so I in turn pick up Nietzsche, after reading one of my abominable five, visit my favorite, or Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Ambrose Bierce, Machiavelli, William James even – though not as quickly – and breath the fresh air of a fresh spirit, and an again cheered, and being cheered, and returned to my native divinity, and can shine my sunlike ease on the world again.
The sensitive man does well to be optimistic – he needs it. The man of dull-senses seeks more pleasures, perhaps is richer and better fed, but is pessimistic, as the often ill Nietzsche was an optimist, and the bon-vivant Schopenhauer coined the term "pessimist" for himself. I am reminded of the lusty and popular Tolstoy, whose soul-killing "confessions" reveal the miseries of a spoiled brat; or again the over-sexed Augustine, who condemns his own birth as being "between shit and piss"; and then revel in the quite, patient, gently sarcastic difference of an unknown and never in his life popular Thoreau, who lived for himself, by himself, and whose prose, period, cadence, and breath make me glad I have eyes and can read. As writers are the best thinkers, and think for the world, these few men represent, more than any ideas or philosophies of life, certain basic attitudes of life, and attitude is of the soul and in the blood, and all the ideas built from these attitudes are nevertheless important and good, but possible only in the secondary sense that they grow from a soil balanced to sustain them.
Anything can be said cheerfully. And the man of good cheer, who thinks quickly, leaps to do what he loves to do, and is above all grateful to life and the universe for his existence and fate – this man is worth all the rest. It takes strength of will to build a set of habits that let us enjoy the world; optimism too is a habit, requiring practice and the creating and adopting of a set of ideas that will let the heart hold that stance. Cheerfulness is a discipline. What comes naturally for children requires practice for adults. The first thirty years are to gain a second nature, the next thirty are to regain the first. The meaning of suffering is to teach us happiness, just as life is the meaning of meaning, and nothing matters at all except to the life that needs it. Wisdom is knowing how to be cheerful in all circumstances. It is easy to break a child who is under your control. It is impossible to break a philosopher who has mastered happiness. Philosophy is preparation for divinity.
To be cheerful, you must not be idealistic and expect the world to be better, to suspect that this world is a ruined thing, your life a ruined thing, and the only hope a better world in the hereafter. Such utopianism, such piety, is merely a symptom of depression. Instead, bless your world eight times a day, and each waking hour invent a new praise for your place. Perfect your enemies before you attack them; kiss the brow of your problems before you dash it open. Call on your lovers to send you some heart bleed; their soul will feed yours. And if your enemy stares you down, then let his face be an intensity mirror over your faults. Wisdom rejoices in rebuke. Meditate during your cleaning rituals: the threading vacuum lays trails of clean, and inwardly you poeticize every moment, dancing in tropes, and humming to the music of the spheres. Because I am here, this world is worthy, because they see me, these people are blessed.
Dear stranger, when you look at me, you smile involuntarily, and your eyes widen so slightly and suddenly, I wouldn't even know it, but feel somehow desired. Thank you. I do not know you, and will never see you again, but your appreciation for my presence blesses me, and reminds me of my inner cheer. Man is cheered by man. Seeing you all, I am happy and forget miseries. Miseries can only go so deep. The centermost is made of joy. Wide empty gaps are necessary for beauty – nothing is more beautiful than an apartment barely furnished; so I love you all, my dear friends, because you are so infrequent, so nearly impossible, that when I see the eternal glint of a hidden friend finally reach my path, neither of us is ashamed to kiss each other full on the lips. See the angel of inspiration step her dance from off my brow and begin again on yours. Power and form, power and form; with the smallest touch of grace, the world is adorned.
Every time you set down a spoon or a book, set it geometrically artful. Give that third dimension to your writings and words of quotation, illustration, and allusion. Let everything you do be beautiful. Live a novel, speak in poems. Poems are universal, novels particular; blend each against the other. Constantly restructure your life – structuration is a basic virtue of us artists of life! – for we know that in every combination of parts, a best arrangement exists for the moment, and parts increase and decrease continually. Heraclitus valued the random array as the highest beauty, but we value it as the highest desire: for we wish to arrange it. We are the maximizer of every system.
So we do not use our wits to curse the world. It was correct of the Jews to murder the child who cursed his parents. William Gass, who focuses on the ugly in all things, is like a bitter alcoholic: in Nietzsche he delights to catalog physical maladies, in Emerson he sees "bitter wisdom." He can scarcely praise anything without also turning it to filth – the leprous Midas! – and like Zizek, delights in feces as his prime metaphor for life.
Well sure, we aren't here to be happy. We are here to grow. Rocks are happy. Water is happy. All nonlife is happy. To exist is to be happy! But to live is not only be happy, but also suffer – for the needs of life are not be happy homeostatic, but to suffer and grow. Granted, life has ugliness: why must I revel in it? If my parents mis-raised me, yet I will bless them in all things because they managed to produce me, and whatever created me is right and justified. Characters are strategies, personalities are games. This attitude I have, and you yours, are like the shells of snails which we live by and cannot live without. We exuded them in defense and now we must live with them. Behind every habit is an idea, behind every idea is an experience, and in every experience is a need. We create ourselves we create our world. We create in two directions: externally and internally. Whatever bit of clay I make with my hands, the inner reflection is my hands on my soul, making again me.
Whether we believe in this religion or that is of no eternal consequences, and this is even more true if we are each eternal. The universe could not be so heinous as to care about the accidents of our birth, the chance religion of our parents, of which only 1 in 10 will escape. What matters most is how each of us adapts such happenstance conventions and create our selves and lives from them. Religion is neutral. Only what comes out of a man's heart can nourish him.
And so in all our experiences, the external is internalized and the internal replicates itself in the world. The mess in my apartment is projection of my soul, and the economy of my desires imitate the democracy I live in. A few decades ago, the mind was a lot like a computer; a century earlier it was like a series of pipes; now it is an internet.
Our sensations of the world are basically the same, and we can know this, because we do not experience merely red, but an arrangement of colors in relationship, so that the color blind are readily identified, since their private experience reveals they do not experience the same relationship between red and purple that others do; and we all react to colors psychologically (a red car or red light gives a sense of foreboding, for that is the color of fire and blood). And yet the colorblind can conceptualize what it is like to see colors, just as a blind man can understand that some people can be aware of objects and people without touch or sound. And so experience is basically the same, perceptually; and yet my eyes tend towards these things that reinforce my cheerfulness, when I am cheery, and towards those things that reinforce my depression when I am depressed. We all live in different worlds, since we seek metaphors and analogies for our moods in the world around us. How is experience structured? Should we be gleeful like the praisers of providence who thank God their tongue was set on the upper end of their digestive tracks, or hold a pragmatic view on gratitude, and be thankful to the universe simply because gratitude feels good? We will be more than grateful, we will be graceful, for grace is beauty in movement.
"Actions speak louder than words" the proverb teaches us; speak deeds and you'll finally be heard. And so actions are the strongest ideas; having done something makes doing it thinkable; having experienced something makes it believable. True humility is to enjoy serving a worthy one, or the worthy part of yourself, with gratitude to add to her beauty. For again, the actions must be streamlined – only what you always do can you do naturally. Where does your energy go? If you have such and such amount of mental energy, and mental energy alone can create the habits of physical energy – by mental energy I mean emotion itself, which is called motivation when it is preparing to act – where is it going all day, every day? If life consists in what you think about all day, and we can do almost any action, no matter how mundane and trivial, with grace, by the manner of our mind and speech as we do it, then the Tao speaks wisdom when it advices a humble home and a simple job. The energy we expend each day enlarges that habit; emotions grow like muscles; we pour our problems into the same perennial questions, and pour our excess emotions into the mold of the same few outlets that we've worked out.
The greater Man of mankind, of which we are all a cell, slowly works out his habits of action, just as Buddhism streamlined the Hindu meditative process, making it simple and marketable – not that the Buddha experienced any enlightenment significantly different than the Brahmins and ascetics, but he simplified it – and thus mankind as a single person things through each of us and through the centuries of progress we cells see with telescopes, so each of us streamlines his own organism, and makes his ideas marketable, and before his passing on to the next level, can give in a few hearty words, the summary of ideas he has processed all his life, smooth and beautiful like river rocks, softened by centuries.
The success of each religion is in its propaganda – the very word propaganda is a Catholic coinage – and as Mormonism proves, marketing is the determining factor in religious success. It is as if each religion were an expanding mind, or organism, that lives in a layer of the minds of its followers. God lives through us, and we must beware his designs. We must believe in a metaphysics, and not worry too much over proofs.
Metaphysics is the lie that puts our truths in a row. Fictions are necessary for life and for truth. We hold countless truths, but must structure them like fictions, simplified and aesthetic. Metaphysics is a sort of aesthetic we need over truth. Lacking it, truth would not fulfill us. Our own emotions could not be communicated through language to a friend. We must represent them and therefore falsify them, and in this process our emotions themselves retroactively change. We felt something odd and happy, but when we simply called it happiness, the oddness was lost. When you give account of your sadness, your feelings change to align to the account, and react to that account. By telling stories, our experience is digested and becomes artificial, useful, more truthful and less real. Reality cannot be spoken, but only truth. Actual, factual, and real are unimportant unless processed into concepts, artificial and tested against reality , to see if they are trustworthy, and therefore true. Cycled memories become mental furniture, a couch or chair to lie upon during the work of the day, and these are built up into concepts and habits, the mental work stations we are busy at all day through.
Religion as a system or structure centers primarily on the religious experience, though many religious people never have it, the so-called "oceanic" feeling that Freud reported never experiencing – atheist that he was! – but would be better described as the desire for and sensation of being contained in something larger and more important than yourself, especially something "supernatural" which pragmatically means, "unassailable by doubt or enemy. The philosophical experience too might feel similar: metaphysically, it is always the same, even when it claims otherwise, and can be summed up like this: All is One and I am of it. The difference between religion and philosophy is one of will: the religious man gives up his will, because it hurts him, and so he submits: Islam purifies this aspect of the religious feeling, yet no religion is without it. Philosophy on the other hand seeks if anything to increase will power in order to conquer the self, and nothing external is imagined to help in this, for it is the will of the self, and the self above all, who is sovereign in philosophy, for the philosopher is his own god.
We each are born with a temperament, and build our attitude from it, out habits of emotion. And so depending on that temperament and our acquired attitude, we will be either more philosophical or more religious. Each man must find peace with in himself, and in the All form of mankind, we are all needed, and the sneaky manipulative evil people help as much if not more than the philanthropic, just the wolf and the fox keeps the grouse fit and fine.
Cheerfulness is in doing what we love, and loving what we do. Our achievements become symbols of our will, physical representations of them. A modest job is preferable to an exhausting one, one not only modest, but free for creative interpretation. Sweeping the floor, washing cars, waiting on tables, is preferable to the thoughtful person, than a job that exhausts him, demands he worry and care, and lose his cheerfulness; that is, unless he is high achievement minded, and can find no cheerfulness in modest. Each man must work from his temperament, his inborn attitude, and find a way to be cheerful in that. Desiring the impossible is a sure way to disappointment: idealism is a disease.
And so let us be cheerful, and in being cheerful be modest and humble in our possessions and ambitions in this world. Do not bleed your passion, but keep its purpose pure and direct. Attempt to much and you will get too little. Stick to the few things you love, never do what you hate, and your cheerfulness will shine from your innermost, and you will be fine.