Who are the heroes of our time? I was thinking about this question the other day, and I’m sure for everyone it’s someone different. For me, it’s not a specific person. I don’t have any living heroes, unfortunately. But I do have an image of a hero. I am picturing a man of no particular race or age. He’s an artist of some sort – a poet, or a poet-painter, or a poet-musician, or some combo of the three. He’s also a minimalist. His needs are very few, and he’s learned to shut out most 21st century distractions. He’s not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the other social media sites, although he may have a blog. In fact, he does have a blog – the peacock must show his feathers off somewhere.
This man tries to keep one foot in the unknown as much as possible but also has a structured routine. He wears the same outfit every day. Black trousers and a black t-shirt. His wardrobe used to have more colors in it, but in a world where a man is assailed by so many hundreds of choices so many times a day, to have one less wherever possible is the best choice. His diet too is very sparse. He drinks coffee in the morning and eats very little – fruit, eggs, nuts, a small piece of chocolate; for lunch, he has the same thing every day – a liverwurst sandwich; and dinner is homemade, although he might eat out one night a week. His only extravagance with what he ingests is alcohol. He drinks wine, beer, hard liquor, all to excess, not so much because he’s addicted to it, but for the sake of his art. His Muses demand it.
“Ever since Liber enlisted barely sane poets among the satyrs and fauns, the sweet Muses as a rule have smelled of wine in the morning.” ~ Horace
Being drunk or hungover also gives new eyes to his art. Sobriety only sees half the picture, and too much sobriety is fatal – it’s how you end up with a Donald Trump, a Hitler or the Islamic extremist. It’s his firm belief that the halls of poetry are closed to water-drinkers. He also holds in high esteem Rimbaud’s famous line that the poet makes himself a seer by the long, immense and rational derangement of the senses.
Other than Horace, our hero’s heroes include many of the ancient Greeks, the famous Russian novelists and short story writers of the 19th century, a handful of German philosophers from the 19th and 20th centuries, and Meister Eckhart, William Blake, Beethoven, Bach, Delacroix, Van Gogh, Baudelaire, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce. It’s books by these authors that he will read first thing in the morning as opposed to the latest news cycle. That’s not to say he doesn’t pay attention to current events. He does, but only in small doses, and from the most detached perspective possible, so as not to get too much mud in his hair. What fascinates him most in politics are the eternal qualities of human nature to be found in it, and where these go slack, so does attention.
He sees no need to try to save the world if it cannot be saved by art. And he is not tainted by greed. He might’ve been tainted in his youth due to immaturity and the culture he grew up in, but never to much of an extreme, and he has seen enough to know that the rich are often the most miserable, and there’s very little – if anything – that they have that’s worth envying. Their lives are almost certainly empty beneath the façade, and his art is what he loves. Bringing it out from the very center of him like a silkworm does its thread. He only needs as much money as it takes for him to do that as often as possible and has no machinations or plans to defraud anyone in any business.
Our hero could live anywhere – in a big city, in a small seaside town, in the mountains. Wherever it is, he can often be seen talking brisk 1-2-hour walks, usually in the afternoon or early evening or sometimes very late at night, after he’s done with his creations. He goes out in search of some beautiful thing he vaguely intuits. He doesn’t know what it is, but he knows it’s somewhere. He looks for it in the faces of the passing people, in the reflections of the mountain stream, in shop windows, in the changing shapes of the clouds. He feels he is getting closer to finding it every day. Every day he trembles on the edge of it and every day comes home empty handed. But art is his meditation, his silkworm’s thread, his mad, wall-eyed ecstasy, and sometimes he finds it in there.
“For whether we agree with the Greek poet that ‘Sometimes it is sweet to be mad,’ or with Plato that ‘A man sound in mind knocks in vain at the doors of poetry,’ or with Aristotle that ‘No great intellect has been without a touch of madness,’ only a mind that is deeply stirred can utter something that is beyond the power of others.” ~ Seneca