I’ve logged more experience than most with simplicity and the complexity you discover inside simplicity, minimalism and asocial behavior, endurance and landscape.
Here is the truth: I think some deep wisdom inside me (a) sensed the stress, (b) was terrified for me, and (c) gave me something new and hard to focus on in order to prevent me from lapsing into a despair coma — and also to keep me from having a jelly jar of wine in my hand.
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A friend insists I need a word processor. “I am one,” I tell him. He laughs, encourages me to find out about them anyway.
Looking through the sales literature, I want to laugh, but the messianic ardor discourages all but the darkest humor. The idea that word processors will make us better writers, or that faster access to information is going to save us — now that’s a joke. Remember “the promise of television”? How about “atoms for peace”? Back in the Fifties, the vision of cheap, clean nuclear energy was a progressive cause. Now, the micro-chip is being pimped on every corner as the answer to our needs — needs we didn’t even know we had.
Need, after all, is relative. The President needs more weapons; the hungry need food; people who never learned to add need a computer to balance their checkbook. As a nation, and individually, what we need keeps changing — and, paradoxically, as more needs are met, the more unmet needs are discovered.
This is hardly an American phenomenon, or the fault of Madison Avenue. Blame it on the nature of ego, if there’s a need to blame. But why bother? Fish swim, birds fly, the ego hungers: for food, for shelter, for the penthouse suite. Perhaps for understanding. Those who make little distinction between knowledge and wisdom make the computer their guru; others make their flesh-and-blood guru a god. Which is more foolish, or less human?
The other night, I sat on the porch with my wife and a friend; he spoke passionately of his need for companionship, for family. If only he’d meet the right woman, he said, he’d be happy. Well, said my wife, being happily married has shown her how much of her own unhappiness comes from inside her.
I didn’t have much to say, but it got me to thinking about my needs: which ones I learn to satisfy simply, by straightforwardly acknowledging they exist; which ones I still deny, or distort into monster shapes, or advertise — as luridly as the computer salesmen — as the answer to my longings. I thought about how I still sometimes confuse getting my needs met with happiness, and happiness with peace.
Willa Koretz’s letter, below, refers to this paragraph in my Editor’s Note, Issue 97: “The other night, I sat on the porch with my wife and a friend; he spoke passionately of his need for companionship, for family. If only he’d meet the right woman, he said, he’d be happy. Well, said my wife, being happily married has shown her how much of her own unhappiness comes from inside her.”
Where are they? These men who speak “passionately of the need for companionship, for family”? The rare birds who say, “If only I’d meet the right woman.” I have not seen any fly by. And I’ve been watching.
Why are they always on someone else’s porch? Why are they never at Pyewacket, at International Folk Dancing, in The Little Professor Bookshop when I am? Have I been on the wrong porches all my life? Should I place an ad in THE SUN: “Wanted to Rent: appealing and available porches for chance encounters with the right man. Porch must be in the right place at the right time.”
I go to dances, concerts, gallery openings, and meet men who: want their space, have a fear of commitment, are just tenderly post-divorce, or, leaving for Albuquerque. All those years dancing backwards, only to find they are not dancing at all; they’re on someone’s porch.
Believe me, I could enliven a porch. I can cook; I can sew; I’m Phi Beta Kappa material, but too smart to be caught by a university; I’m brilliant in my field; I can dance in six different languages; I can even repair a porch when the boards go. . . .
Which brings me to: the death of the new age. I too am ready to let the new age pass gracefully into its old age. I won’t hold onto its fraying sleeve and plead for one more esoteric, blissful, unreal year. . . . So, Sy, I ask you, when your friend there on your porch talks “passionately” of his need for a woman, don’t respond by plumbing the depths for the real meaning of happiness. Tell him you know this wonderful girl who. . . .
The questions these days are of the heart, not of the mind. And the answers need to come from the closet Pisces in all of us. Be the first, as you so often are, to answer with the balm of the pragmatic. It never hurt inside anyone’s head; that’s only where it registers.
In the meantime, since reading your Editor’s Note, I have looked at the world in a whole new way. Everywhere, I see porches. As I drive by people’s houses I slow down; I squint to see who might be on those porches; I strain to hear what they might be talking about. Someday, I might have a porch of my own.