I had a great week.
That’s not something I get to say all the time — rarely more than fifty times a year.
The truth is, most of the time I feel like an undocumented refugee from a forgotten country known as A Different Way Of Thinking. I don’t feel any huge bond of commonality with most of the people I know about, and, when I do, that just by itself is a cause for celebration.
What’s different? I could say “I love myself” or “I love my life,” but those sentiments are too vague to be useful. It seems easier to me to define what I’m talking about by negatives, rather than in affirmative statements.
So, for example, it never occurs to me to start a sentence with the words “With my luck…” or “Knowing me…” These are very common expressions, and it’s plausible to me that the humble attitude being expressed by those phrases is faked — that the speaker doesn’t actually feel the — to me — humiliating self-degradation implied by the words. But it doesn’t occur to me to express humility in the first place, not even faked humility.
To the contrary, if I could paint a picture of my own idealized self-image, it might be something like a conquering Viking, sword held proudly aloft, or a virtuoso pianist in that eternal instant of silence when the last note of the concerto has faded into the ether but somehow still rings on in the mind’s ear. I don’t actually see myself that way, but that’s a way of imagining what my life looks like to me from the inside.
And just that much is boundlessly funny to me, since, if it were measured by any presumably-objective standard, my life has been a colossal failure. I’m not rich, not even close. My personal relationships have mostly been disasters, to the extent that I am very careful about letting people get close to me. What little fame I might claim amounts to notoriety — and I have complete contempt for other people’s opinions anyway.
And yet inside my own mind, none of that matters. I love being me, and I don’t care about external measures of my relative success at being me. I stalk the earth as the living god of my own idolatry, and there is an extent to which I do not identify with other people at all. As a matter of epistemology, I am just like you and you are just like me. But in my own interior psychology, I am sui generis, a category unto my own.
So here’s a cute question: Why am I saying all this? After all, even if you feel this way about your own life, too, isn’t this the sort of stuff you’re supposed to keep quiet about? Isn’t that what all that faked humility is for, so no one gets the idea that you actually love yourself, that you enjoy being alive, that you don’t despise and resent the gift of mind, that you don’t feel like a born loser? Aren’t we all supposed to act as though being a human being is the worst of all possible fates, a loathsome burden grudgingly to be borne until we are released from this prison of hideous life by the undeserved charity of death?
Here’s my answer to that kind of argument, every conceivable variation: I will be damned before I will damn my own life.
So why am I saying all this?
The answer to that question is simple: I want to infect you with my attitude.
I do feel myself cursed in a way, because I feel I have a duty — and you cannot imagine how I hate a word like that — to share what I know about being alive as a human being.
If you could see the world the way I see it, you would know how little of myself I see reflected in other people — most of the time. When I run across another refugee from A Different Way Of Thinking, I am twice delighted. First, I get to live my way, without the constant tug of war with the habits of mind of living death. And second, I get to revel in artifacts of A Different Way Of Thinking without having to think all of them up myself. I know it is possible to live all the time in A Different Way Of Thinking, but, for now, I don’t get to live there very often — nor for very long.
But I really, desperately want to, and I know that can only come about when more people understand A Different Way Of Thinking. And I feel myself uniquely qualified to communicate these ideas, not just because I live them so well, but because I can express them so well. I don’t believe in fate or destiny or unchosen obligations or any sort of magical mystical supernatural bonds. And yet I don’t feel that I can die at peace with myself until I figure out how to convey what it feels like to be me — what it feels like to be whole and clean and perfect from the inside out.
And that’s funny to me, too, because I can catalog my faults in exquisite detail. I can be demanding and demeaning, peevish and petulant, endlessly impatient and scathingly, blisteringly critical. But, at the same time, I can envision and describe and embody and share a kind of virtue that is itself whole and clean and perfect, a virtue burnished to a glowing radiance, a virtue that enduringly enraptures and ennobles everyone associated with it.
If I have a job in my life, it’s that, to communicate this idea that I call Splendor in such a way that you not only comprehend it but that you live it, that it becomes the ground state of your own mind, just as it is the ground state of mine.
And that may be just about as far as I can go, for now. I know what I want to say, but I’m not sure how I can say it in a way that will reach you, inform you, move you.
Here is a clip from email I sent to a client earlier this week:
Meeting you and your family has been a delight for me. I always have fun at work, but this weekend was even better that usual. I’ve been playing with a lot of ideas about how I think business can, should and will be done, in a post-deceptive age of marketing, and working with you has felt to me like a summation of everything I’ve been saying since I was still in school myself. I believe in a Roman ideal of integrity, every individual thing an expression of the same one thing. And if that kind of integrity can exist and prosper on earth, then good behavior should be delightful — a delight to experience and to recall.
I am not claiming to have achieved anything like this. I am too much aware of how I miss even the easy targets I set for myself. But I have caught a glimpse of how human beings can thrive when they resolve to live only by living up to their commitments, and this weekend was a short vacation for me in an undiscovered country called A Different Way Of Thinking.
I have to laugh at myself, because I can’t do anything without thinking it all the way down to the root. But I want to do this job — being a Realtor, being a husband, being alive — to the best of my ability and to the outer limits of my capacity to act, and I think I caught a glimpse of my own future, as well, this weekend. That’s a precious gift, and I owe it to you.
So: Bless you. Thank you. I owe you more than you can guess.
I can live this state of being. That much is easy for me, if only because I have never once betrayed it. And I can manifest it, both in my own real-time behavior and in the very best of my writing. But what I want to learn how to do is to teach it, to make my own interior experience of Splendor abstract and transmissible.
And that’s funny to me, too, because when I use the word “delight” what I mean is thrilled to the core. There is no way of speaking or writing about what I experience, in the quiet of my own mind, nor any other way of communicating it — except to live it along with me. And yet that’s what I want to do. I want to come up with a way of conveying in that dry dialect called fathertongue the breathtaking drenching I feel when I have lived my life by my own values and standards — when I have lived up to the life I would imagine for myself.
I am as vain as a kitten, I know this, and as eager and as unafraid as a puppy. I see the world at the age of fifty just as I saw it when I was nineteen years old, just as I saw it when I was four years old — discovering virtue and vice for myself, as each human being must do and as no kitten or puppy ever can. But I believe that my experience of being alive as a human being — the Splendor of being thrilled to the core almost all the time — is normal. I believe that this is what every human life should be like, that to fail to achieve this state of being is not just excruciatingly tragic but outrageously wasteful and completely unnecessary.
And all of this is simultaneously dreadfully serious to me and uproariously funny: I don’t want for you to be a better Realtor or lender or investor or whatever. I want for you to be a better person — a better human being, a better expression of the promise inherent in the incomparable gift of volitional conceptuality — of free moral agency. Whatever it is I might seem to be discussing, on the surface, this is all I am ever really talking about.
I want to live full time in a forgotten country known as A Different Way Of Thinking. And I want for you to be able to live there with me. I don’t know how to get there — yet. I don’t even know how to draw the map. But I know that the world I live in inside my mind can exist everywhere, if we let it. I’m going to figure out how…