Live the life your soul intended. Create your perfect future. Live fearlessly. You Can Heal Your Life. 10 Steps to Get What You Want. Change Your Life in 7 Days. Change Your Life in 30 Days. Change Your Life with Feng Shui. Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed.
Before psychology ruled the world, She tripped on the borderline
and it turned to dust. she took several steps and looked back. Still She
stood on the first stop and sent orderly sounds from an echoing head.
she went pilgrim to the ground and smoothly slid up a shaft
the same naked colour as herself. At the tip she clung and vegetised. (1)
I keep reaching for the redemptive books. Answer the following questions. If you've answered yes to more than six, you need to get in touch with your inner saviour. Repeat these affirmations three times a day with a modest green meal: I am successful; I am beautiful; I love myself; I love all my challenges; I can have what I wish.
There's no excuse. Here's the method. You can get over It. You can achieve It. You can be It. So why am I still aflutter in the chest (it’s not love)? Why is the final option of walking off a cliff a comfort that keeps me on my feet?
... I was reduced to the condition of a silly old woman, worrying about a lot of imaginary rules of health, standards of food-value, and a thousand minute details of conduct that were in themselves completely ridiculous and stupid, and yet which haunted me with vague and terrific sanctions. If I eat this, I may go out of my mind. If I do not eat that, I may die in the night.– Thomas Merton (2)
Health is an achievement. You too can have... Why don’t you have...? The skin of others. Apparent health at least. That which we see, is. A lifetime of pretence is the thing itself, said W. B. Yeats. I begin to agree. Identity is nebulous. Maybe Michel Houellebecq’s character is right when he says that we are only made distinctive by means of our products. Accepting my dispensability has been the most liberating mental shift of my life. You are not special is a salutary lesson. It frees you from the malaise of passive performance—the princess position. Abdication allows you to behave according to your convenience.
Seekers after happiness, all who follow
The convolutions of your simple wish,
It is later than you think....
– W. H. Auden (3)
What if you do little or nothing, take your time, cruise It? Once it seemed adequate to be partly or wholly a dilettante (from Latin, delectare, ‘to delight’), because who should I please? I realise now I was adapting to what I experienced as insuperable restrictions. My constitution (character is destiny), my social circumstances, my family history, conspired against achievement (Old French, a chief , ‘to a head’) that would elevate my social status. I pretended it was a virtue to be nondescript (Latin non + descriptus, ‘unwritten’).
There’s none less free than who
Does nothing and has nothing else to do,
Being free only for what is not to his mind,
And nothing is to his mind.
– Edward Thomas (4)
Did I exist well enough in a battle of behaviours? Is the battle the thing? Yeats said that ‘all noble things are the result of warfare’, ‘visible and invisible’, the ‘division of a mind’. (5) Is it the lot of artistic women to aim for perfection in every aspect of their lives? Edna O’Brien applying art to the arrangement of flowers in a vase, the minutiae of social intercourse, child-rearing. Sylvia Plath wanting ‘a life of conflict, of balancing children, sonnets, love and dirty dishes; and banging an affirmation of life out on pianos and ski slopes and in bed in bed in bed’. (6)
I have a current pet phrase: ‘agitation till you die’. Note the absence of a predicate. This is a state imbued with the feinting principle of meaninglessness. What would we be doing if we weren’t striving? How can one actually do nothing? At our most inert state we at least metabolise. Was Sylvia Plath’s obsession with what she saw as the creative work of reproduction and being a wife essentially different from her desire to produce ‘athletic’ poems, that were ‘supple’, full of ‘blood’ and ‘discipline’, ‘using all the divine flexions of... muscles’? (7) There seemed too little time to bring everything to a head and still be the ‘magnanimous’ person she wanted to be. (8) Determination, approaching panic, sucked all perceived available time into a reflexive capsule destined to explode. Would she have made it to the age of 25 in the current media-cracy without one thing or another coming to a head?
Mediacracy, or a system of the middle course, is one way to achieve without self-destruction. We are all in this together. We share. We co-operate. It’s uncool to be egoistic or uncaring. This is also a great formula for the survival of the species. Oxytocin ubiquity. Down with the drunken poet. No need to be unhappy or crazy to be creative. Unless you’re Amy Winehouse, who was not a beautiful, rapid completion, but an artist burdened with Borderline Personality Disorder. Several others, greater and more intense, have been described in popular psychology as possessing some manner of abnormality. Einstein was on the autistic spectrum. Darwin suffered from anxiety. Beethoven and Sylvia Plath were manic depressives. Health being too nondescript for these (and many others), they recreated life in their vortical, fragmented selves, becoming infinitely heavy pods that burst forth into orderly, irrefutable molecules; thereby supplying centuries of health. Sanities as solid as any marketed in bibliotherapy. Sanities you can enjoy without getting out of bed (yes, that is an actual book).
How, yes how! To achieve in a world of flux and bonfires
Something of art’s coherence, in a world of wind and hinges
An even approximate poise, in a world of beds and hunger
A fullness more than the feeding of a sieve?
– Louis MacNeice (9)
In all of human history, who didn’t care about health in some form? Geniuses often opt for the product and not the organism. Rather than being supremely special, maybe they are the ultimate unspecial, sloughing off the manifest in favour of its projections, dying into their creations. A measure of genius is now being suggested to us all, as long as we’re prepared to accept that kind of agitation, and as long as we’re on the mailing list. Many are still fully occupied in battling death, the first imperfection.
To disintegrate on an instant in the explosion of mania
Or lapse forever into a classic fatigue.
– W. H. Auden (10)
We are all products of our genesis and generation, the greater organism of the species. It’s human to strive to the death. Battling stress, battling ease, what matter? But to battle ignorance, I think, is matter for concentrated effort, passive and active at once. Ad terminum ad infinitum.
i don’t care if i go crazy
just so i can beat my daisy
– Hubert Selby Jr. (11)
found Her underfoot and stepped back, did what they do, formed a circle.
The mad stampede they said had done it. she let them think so. But it had been
a white crane that lifted her, the only thing she saw that reached someway skyward.
she had moved out onto its teeth, itching to see and longing to be taken
high as butterfly-possible. When it tipped over she was its, that unity,
gashed her wings on it, before letting every stray and ordered colour,
each herSelf go. (12)
(1) Máighréad Medbh: ‘A Capacity for Wings’, Shine On, anthology, ed. Pat Boran, Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2011
(2) Thomas Merton: The Seven Storey Mountain, London: Sheldon Press, 1975, P.163
(3) W. H. Auden: ‘Consider’, Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson, London, Faber and Faber, 1991, p. 62
(4) Edward Thomas: ‘Liberty’, Annotated Collected Poems, ed. Edna Longley, Highgreen: Bloodaxe, 2008, p. 101-103
(5) W. B. Yeats: quoted in Edna Longley, Yeats and Modern Poetry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 233
(6) Sylvia Plath: The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, ed. Karin V. Kukil, New York: Anchor Books/Random House, 2000, p. 225
(7) Sylvia Plath: opus ibid. pp. 205, 207, 208, 270
(8) Sylvia Plath: opus ibid. p.76
(9) Louis MacNeice: ‘Window’, Collected Poems, London: Faber and Faber, 2007, p. 307-312
(10) W. H. Auden: ‘Consider’, opus cit.
(11) Hubert Selby Jr.: A Room, London: Penguin, 1971, p. 183
(12) Máighréad Medbh: opus cit.