Yesterday’s post detailed my ideas for a book project. It was built on a simple premise: I have a better handle now on my recent experiences in therapy and even find some of it comical. Maybe I can make something constructive out of the experience. The last post detailed the numerous ways this made me return to somewhat tortured thinking about it all and how confused some of my feelings were.
All of which invalidated my premise — I did not have a good enough handle to return to that subject just yet — and I was in a low mood most of the day because of it. But towards the end of the day, it came to me — I don’t have to write anything at this time. I don’t have to think about the experience, I don’t need to try to figure it out, and I don’t need to re-enter the Fun House of the publishing industry and be set up for another frustrating near-miss.
That lifted a huge weight off me. This is the wrong time, and it could be the wrong project for me in general. I can check back in later to see if I still have interest in it and if the work brings back too many tough emotions.
So instead of looking back on THAT again, I decided to take another look at some of my old Montaigne essays. One in particular stood out to me as holding up really well through the years — my penultimate essay that tackled Montaigne’s On Physiognomy. So many of the things I have been trying to express about my recent experiences were better covered in that essay and I recommend it as the most concise explanation of what I took away from the original Montaigne series. The line from Montaigne that says it all for me is this:
My opinion is that death is indeed the ending of life, but not therefore its End: it puts an end to it; it is its ultimate point; but it is not its objective. Life must be its own objective, its own purpose.
As I pointed out at the time, basically all of Nietzsche and his anti-nihilist point of view springs from that idea. Nietzsche ends up adopting “amor fati” a love of fate that is easy to misunderstand. You could look at it the way the Jim Carrey movie “Yes Man” did, and just passively say yes to everything in life, becoming a passenger on the raging river of life. But what Nietzsche asks is not to become a yes sayer in your actions, but in your reflections. Look back on everything that happened in your life and say yes to it — I willed it to happen that way, even if if was a terrible ordeal.
Through this approach to life, we can bracket out experiences and create out own heroic outcomes. I could, for example, start a story in early January in my life feeling on top of the world, then face a series of challenges big and small, followed up with a global pandemic. And I could end this story in early June with the events of the last two weeks that made me feel successful and triumphant.
Combining Montaigne and Nietzsche, you do not need to wait until the end of your life to declare such victory and growth, you can bracket off any segment of your life that you’d like. And that’s basically all that good stories do. There isn’t really a happily ever after. The end of “Groundhog’s Day” spares us the messy reality of Phil Connors and Rita Hanson having an actual relationship, that very easily could have been brief and disastrous. But that doesn’t take away from his triumph, he conquered the Feb. 2 time loop and emerged a better person — not a perfect person, just a better one.
Re-applying this thought to yesterday and my tendency to self punish for success, perhaps I need to figure out a way to celebrate the small wins in life and declare some challenges conquered. However, understanding that life goes on and new challenges will soon emerge isn’t a terrible approach either. I don’t need to punish, but there’s nothing wrong with preparing.
Every story in our life requires us to adapt in a new way. This new chapter for me begins with non-action and perhaps a return to more frequent writing in this space to better prepare me for the big challenges I’d like to tackle ahead.