Outfit # 67: Carve the atmosphere
“Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me,” wrote Thoreau in Walden. Thoreau was a transcendentalist. His writing sounded to me like what someone experiences when they drop acid. Then I remember what it was like being the new kid in school and feeling that every small town was the same. And it was. People couldn’t see beyond their problems and families and county line. Then it happened again, except this time it was me and I couldn’t see past high school. All school, like all small towns, was the same. Less than half of it was actually interesting and it would be the same in college. It was for a while. I went to a community college. With all the people I graduated from high school with. I had one goal in mind: get HOPE scholarship. Nothing much else mattered.
Luckily though the world is in a constant state of flux and one day the ground was breaking beneath me, like an escape hatch. Although at the time it felt more like a bottomless pit. I watched my grandfather die. I lived with my Nana as her mind swallowed itself – imagine a black hole swallowing words, memories, friends, family, ideas, concepts, how mailboxes work and the dividing lines between memory, imagination and reality.
Through all of this I’ve held on tight to daydreams. Something like escapism except I actually want to be someone and do something. But old habits require strangling, mangling and a few swift kicks. Now all I have are day dreams. I have to make the rest- the reality. Can I?
My email signature for a long time was the Thoreau quote above. Because I was hopeful and working. But when I read the rest of the paragraph today, it was me getting the swift kick.
“Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?”
Here’s the hope, the challenge, the key to a poetic life:
“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.”
Suddenly there’s no one calling my name asking for help, needing a hand, offering a job. I have my own daydreams to become reality. First by own efforts and then by calling the names of others. It’s like assembling the Justice League. I’m hoping for a magic conch or meaningful symbol to project into the sky, but I think it will take being awake. Awakeness, consciousness, effort, time - to carve my own view of the world and to set about walking through it.