OPW, poetry

OPW: “The Aliens”

A slightly different poem than usual. “The Aliens” is from the famously tortured Charles Bukowski, and it wears that fact on it’s sleeve. I suppose that even though I don’t really empathize with the poem, it seemed an apt follow-on to the dissatisfied commentary I presented yesterday.

you may not believe it
but there are people
who go through life with
very little
friction or
distress.
they dress well, eat
well, sleep well.
they are contented with
their family
life.
they have moments of
grief
but all in all
they are undisturbed
and often feel
very good.
and when they die
it is an easy
death, usually in their
sleep.

you may not believe
it
but such people do
exist.

but I am not one of
them.
oh no, I am not one
of them,
I am not even near
to being
one of
them

but they are
there

and I am
here.

If you’re interested in a different style of presentation, try out this rather good animation of the poem.

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fiction, personal

My Problem with Fiction

RparleNew Fiction

Everywhere I see people who don’t understand how the world works. This includes, but is hardly limited to, when I’m standing in front of the mirror.

To my limited understanding, the world is wonderfully complex place full of wonderfully interesting people doing their absolute best to live the most useful lives they can. And I don’t understand even half of what happens out there.

And I don’t much see how fiction helps me or anyone else to better understand anything.

In that paragraph is the fundamental hangup I seem to have with fiction. It’s fictional. There’s a tautology if ever one existed.

I’m certainly no lover of literature, so perhaps that’s the simple nature of this beast. After all, I’ve also never been much a fan of any form of art.

Paintings. Drawings. Oils. Giant pieces of abstraction. It all seems rather dead to me.

If we were to accept the fairly reasonable, if not necessarily true, premise that art is fundamentally a window into the artist’s mind, then I suppose my fundamental dissatisfaction with fiction is that the people who write it don’t seem terribly interesting to me. They’re mostly–at least of the authors I frequently hear of–white, middle-aged, and male. These men are like me, or like what I’m going to be. I’d much rather have insight into the mind of a Russian housewife or a Congolese general than into the mind of a middle-aged white American.

But I like to read journalism. I usually struggle to read fiction. In some way, I would argue that even when the two are written by the same person, the first explores others, while the second explores nothing more than the self.

I’m certainly devaluing fiction. It’s an exceptionally useful tool to elaborate your personal understanding of the world. And when you understand something about the world differently than most others, that’s a tremendously valuable gift you give. Your fiction is then a way for people to learn about the world.

So too is it tremendously useful if you lived quite long ago. Roman fiction is often seen as more useful for understanding the world of the empire than are the histories made by friends of the emperors.

But most fiction I see, and most fiction I see people read, is dull. It’s John Grisham. It’s Tom Clancy. It’s Danielle Steele. And I can’t seem to understand the value in that. And I wonder: Am I the only one?

To be fair, I don’t mind watching a good fictional movie. And part of my dissatisfaction with fiction in print is probably that I read slowly. Or not at all. But those aren’t the only reasons.

I feel like most fiction is situated so close to the world I know that I won’t shun it as unknowable. It’s a drama about twenty-something Americans that I’m expected read because I’m a twenty-something American. And something about that just rubs me wrong.

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big ideas, OPW

Other People’s Words: Happiness

These words are from Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard and translated by Jesse Browner. I really enjoy this book, and would encourage you to read it. This quote is about the difference between genuine happiness and what we often think of as means of achieving it.

Once at an open meeting in Hong Kong, a young man rose from the audience to ask me: “Can you give me one reason why I should go on living?” This book is a humble response to that question, for happiness is above all a love of life. To have lost all reason for living is to open up an abyss of suffering. As influential as external conditions may be, suffering, like well-being, is essentially an inner state. Understanding that is the key prerequisite to a life worth living. What mental conditions will sap our joie de vivre, and which will nourish it.

Changing the way we see the world does not imply naive optimism or some artificial euphoria designed to counter-balance adversity. So long as we are slaves to the dissatisfaction and frustrations that arise from the confusion that rules our minds, it will be just as futile to tell ourselves ‘I’m happy! I’m happy!’ over and over again as it would be to repaint the walls of ruins. The search for happiness is not about looking at life through rose-colored glasses or blinding oneself to the pain and imperfections of the world. Nor is happiness a state of exaltation to be perpetuated at all costs; it is the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred and obsession, that literally poison the mind. It is also about learning how to put things in perspective and reduce the gap between appearances and reality. To that end we must acquire a better knowledge of how the mind works and a more accurate insight into the nature of things, for in its deepest sense, suffering is intimately linked to a misapprehension of the nature of reality.

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