When I was younger–shall we say early twenties?–I wrote a screenplay about a man who wouldn’t leave his front porch. He’d travelled the world, and then something happened, but I don’t remember what, or maybe nothing happened–I’ve always been a big fan of the anti-drama–and he sat in a rocker on his front porch and refused to leave. His mother fussed over him and consulted various experts to aid in his cure. She talked to ministers and doctors and wise neighbors. He chatted with the mailman and with small children that ran by the house. We worry about him, because he’s not behaving like everyone else, he’s not normal. But he seems okay. He’s a little confused, but he’s pleasant and cheerful. He’s alright. It turns out he’s trying to rid himself of fear and desire, based on some combination of ideas gleaned from several philosophies that I barely understood at the time and understand even less well now, all these many years later, seen through a haze of crumbling memory. I still think about this from time to time. Would I want to rid myself of fear and desire, assuming I had the strength to do so (I don’t)? In all honesty, I don’t think I would. Desire, like hunger, is such a part of being alive. Wanting keeps you wishing and hoping and trying. And fear is so closely connected with imagination and creativity and dreams. The idea seemed good at the time, I suppose. I was confused, myself, and so full of wants and worries. But in thinking about losing myself, I was doing the opposite, I was completely self-conscious and self-centered. We all look at the world through our own eyes, through the prism of our own fears and desires. As Hobbes so delightfully says…
…for the similitude of the thoughts and passions of one man, to the thoughts and passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself and considereth what he doth when he does think, opine, reason, hope, fear, etc., and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know what are the thoughts and passions of all other men upon the like occasions. I say the similitude of passions, which are the same in all men,- desire, fear, hope, etc.; not the similitude of the objects of the passions, which are the things desired, feared, hoped, etc.: for these the constitution individual, and particular education, do so vary, and they are so easy to be kept from our knowledge, that the characters of man’s heart, blotted and confounded as they are with dissembling, lying, counterfeiting, and erroneous doctrines, are legible only to him that searcheth hearts.
“Only to him that searcheth hearts”!!! I love that! Where was I? Ah, yes. I’ve been remembering my juvenile struggle with all of these muddled ideas lately because of all the memes! The memes and soundbites and super-designed quotes and quips and words of wisdom. It feels, sometimes, as though we’re taking little pieces of these philosophies that we don’t understand, and spinning them around to become something entirely new. Like all good twenty-first century Americans, we’re stripping them of their original meaning and making them all about making us feel better about ourselves. So that they’re no longer about losing ourselves, but about loving ourselves. We don’t have to rid ourselves of anything, cause we’re okay! Reduce a philosophy to a few pithy phrases, superimpose it over a rainbow or some flowers, and its meaning is distilled–it’s all about me! I know, I know, I sound hypocritical and hypercritical. But it seems as though if we’re going to appropriate ideas we should at least read enough of them to be confused by them, to let the words get us into a muddle, to struggle to understand something of the original wisdom, and not just swallow it down like some sugary pill that makes us feel better with no side effects. We should have more respect for the words than to make them into social-media-ready memes. That’s what kittens are for!
Springtime with its damp fragrant earth and unfurling ferns always makes me crave beets. So I bought a big bunch. My favorite method of cooking beets is one that Malcolm invented…grated, tossed with olive oil and herbs and roasted. So that’s what I did here. And I roasted some buttery butterbeans in butter. And I sauteed some spinach with garlic, and I mixed all of these things together, stirred in a little black truffle butter, added some ripe avocado, piled it into a nest of fresh wild arugula, and grated smoked gouda on top. Delicious! A warm, hearty salad with such lovely melty, smoky, sweet and buttery flavors.
Here’s Tom Waits with Just Another Sucker on the Vine, just because I love it.