The Meaning of Life Is What You Make It Be

I wish I could say I haven’t been blogging the past three days because H. is here for the week and I’m devoting all my time to her. But it isn’t so. A few hours after my last post, my internet went down. I reported the incident to the company and they gave me a tracking number and say they’re working on it, but that proves nothing. I say I’m working on my German.

It is now 6:11 a.m., and I am here sitting in the kitchen again as H. sleeps. She thinks I’m a freak for waking up at such ungodly hours all the time, but I’ve been institutionalized. For 16 years, I owned and operated a construction equipment rental business in South Florida, and had to be there at 7 a.m. everyday. I’m still on that clock. Wednesday, however, I slept in till 9:37 and was very proud of myself. It meant I had slept 8 hours and 37 minutes. Or so I thought. H. told me later we didn’t actually get home until 3:15 a.m., and I believe her because I don’t remember. Also reported was that I’d drunk five large German beers, four Thomas Specials (tequila and lime juice), a tequila shot, a Mexikaner and a margarita. I believe that too.

“What’s your life-motto?” my friend T. was asking the bartender. It was the first of two philosophical questions he would pose that night, probably because it was his birthday. I don’t know how she answered, but then she asked me the same question and I told her mine had to do with seeing things with my own eyes rather than with other people’s.

If all the people of the art world tell me the Mona Lisa is a beautiful portrait, and I don’t see it, I might try to understand where they’re coming from, but I’m not going to take their word for it. If 20,000,000 Christians including my sister tell me Jesus walked on water, I will not believe them. I will tell them to have some respect for mythology.

T.’s next question came a few hours later. “What is the essence or meaning of life?” he asked.
I said, “That’s the easiest question you’ve ever asked.”
“Then what is it?”
“Are you ready?” I said.
“Yeah.”
“You sure?”
“Come on, man. Get on with it!”
“Okay,” I said, and took a slow sip of my beer to draw the agony out further. “The meaning of life,” I said, and put my glass down, “is whatever you make it be.”

The answer was a flop.
More was to be expected from a self-published author.
Neither T., nor his German friend Marcel were satisfied with it.
Marcel then started saying the meaning of life is to “make it better.” But I wasn’t satisfied with that because so often those trying to make it better are only doing it for themselves, or are so misguided in their approach all they do is botch it up for the rest of us, and you can’t help but admire instead those rare and shiftless souls, devoid of vanity and self-importance, with no more ambition than a dog, forever enjoying their folly and today, today, today.

Relax, be private, don’t worry too much
about whether people are suffering at all;
be glad to accept the here and now, and don’t
be serious.
~ Horace

Later that night, the bar was paid a visit by one such fellow: the German shaman. I call him that because when I first met him in 2011, he told me the earth talked to him. The earth was crying and said, ‘what are you people doing to me?’. There is also something about the way the German Shaman looks around and the way he moves through a bar. If Christ were alive today and homeless in Berlin, I could picture him with the same kind of demeanor. He’d just got out of jail, he told me. He got a year for stealing a Vespa motor scooter and three months for riding the trains illegally. Now he is selling homeless rags, and I gave him a euro, but didn’t get the rag. I always give him something. He’s the only homeless guy I consistently give money to, partly because I know him and my heart goes out to him, and partly because whenever I see him I am reminded of Heinrich Heine’s poem Gotterdämmerung, and can hear (somewhere in my head) the lines being read by Klaus Kinski.

Poor earth, I know your pains! I see the glow rage in your bosom, and I see your thousand veins bleed, and see your wound burst wide open, and flames and smoke and blood stream wildly forth. I see your huge defiant sons, primeval brood, climbing up out of their dark abysses, brandishing red torches in their hands; – they set up their iron ladder and charge wildly up into heaven’s citadel; – and black dwarfs clamber after them – and higher still all the golden stars burn themselves out with a crackling sound.

POSTSCRIPT

All the above was written yesterday morning before 7 a.m. Tonight I am at my son’s mother’s house along with her husband and my girlfriend, and we have just eaten dinner and have three bottles of wine waiting to be drunk. Meantime I am using her internet. Mine is out till Tue or Wed. Getting new box. Repair proved a failure. See you then!

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5 thoughts on “The Meaning of Life Is What You Make It Be

  1. Late nights and heavy drinking – I salute your constitution, sincerely. After reading of your adventures, I feel like a wimp now: You leave me acutely aware that, on average, I’ll be in bed for hours before you even leave the party. And if I drink three hard drinks in a day, I end up bedridden with worry that I’ve destroyed my stomach lining. (My point is that I’m a hypochondriac and the opposite of a courageous Falstaff. Yet, however much I lack in this department, no one can stop me from idolizing the best!)

    I relate to your pride over sleeping in – I haven’t slept past 9 a.m. in years, but back when I was in my twenties, I could not manage to wake before noon; so I guess everything pans out in the end. I never had my own business or even the excuse of a morning job to justify my early rising: nowadays it’s just fear, existential fear of everything, which causes me to get up at 5 a.m. — I am an expert at trembling and taking the shallowest breaths.

    I think your “meaning of life” answer is excellent. It’s in fact the only one I’m willing to accept. Anything more specific and CLOSED would cause the world to feel insufferably claustrophobic.

    And I love what you say regarding your life-motto, trusting your own eyes, etc.: “If all the people of the art world tell me the Mona Lisa is a beautiful portrait, and I don’t see it, I might try to understand where they’re coming from, but I’m not going to take their word for it. If 20,000,000 Christians including my sister tell me Jesus walked on water, I will not believe them. I will tell them to have some respect for mythology.”

    Take it as a compliment that your words remind me of one of my favorite essays by one of my favorite minds: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”; I feel that I could grab any passage at random and it would be pertinent, because the entire work hovers around this topic, but the following sentences struck me just now as a fitting echo of your words above:

    ‘Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested,—“But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.’

    Also I give a sincere salute to your German shaman. I, for one, choose to believe that he walks on water.

    And you’re winning me over to Horace. I hadn’t had any reason to pursue him until you started throwing his wisdom around here online. For that, I’m thankful…

    Lastly, Heine: these lines that you quoted are the first I’ve read of him—I love it—is this your own translation, or do you recommend any particular English version? (I’m embarrassed that I remain the cliché monoglot American.)

  2. I LOVE Emerson, but I left all his books in Florida so I can’t reread him. Thanks for the quote! He’s always so wise and eloquent, kind of like Horace as a matter fact. If you’re still on the fence with him, here are some quotes I’ve copied into my notes folder that might further entice you.

    * In our folly we assail the very heavens.
    * As we speak cruel time is fleeing. Seize the day, believing as little as possible in the morrow.
    * Now is the time for drinking, now the time to dance footloose upon the earth.
    * Whoever cultivates the golden mean avoids both the poverty of a hovel and the envy of a palace.
    * Death takes the mean man with the proud; The fatal urn has room for all.
    * The man who is tenacious of purpose in a rightful cause is not shaken from his firm resolve by the frenzy of his fellow citizens clamoring for what is wrong, or by the tyrant’s threatening countenance.
    * As money grows, care follows it and the hunger for more.
    * Enjoy the present smiling hour, And put it out of Fortune’s power.
    * We are but numbers, born to consume resources.
    * He is not poor who has enough of things to use. If it is well with your belly, chest and feet, the wealth of kings can give you nothing more.
    * At times the world sees straight, but many times the world goes astray.
    * The years as they pass plunder us of one thing after another.
    * When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men’s minds may take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.
    * He wins every hand who mingles profit with pleasure, by delighting and instructing the reader at the same time.
    * Mediocrity in poets has never been tolerated by either men, or gods, or booksellers.
    * For joys fall not to the rich alone, nor has he lived ill, who from birth to death has passed unknown.

    I recommend any of the latest Penguin translations if you’re going to read him.
    re: Heine, he’s definitely worth investigating. Götterdämmerung is one of my favorite all-time poems. There’s something almost Blakean about it, and this translation (by Peter Branscombe) is excellent.
    re: drinking. I am a lifelong drinker, but it’s mostly binge drinking. I can go several days without if need be. I wish I could say the same for writing. Take my means to write away for more than a few days and I’m best off in a straightjacket.

    • Joy & I just read these Horace quotes aloud, with the greatest admiration. It’s barely believable, the wealth of genius that is compacted here. …Also I’m SO happy to know that you’re an Emerson admirer rather than a detractor (I’ve met people who utterly hate RWE, and I’ll never understand why – so I don’t take it for granted when I meet a clear-minded sibling!!) And I thank you for your answer about Heine: I’m more than interested, and I’ll follow your advice! (Gonna revisit what I can find from Kinski, too, in the meantime – I’m a longtime fan and it’s enjoyable to be reminded of his ferocity.)

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