When Karl, who has seen many villages, nations, and continents, was asked by the neighbor boy Marcus what common attribute he had found everywhere existing among so-called human beings, he answered, "They have a tendency to sloth. Some eventually lie down on the pavement and never get up again in their lives. They have to be dragged away by the authorities. They have very little get-up-and-go, I'm afraid.” “Gosh, I hope I don’t turn out that way!” young Marcus responded. “Well then, go home this instant and take up your pencil and paper and start making a very long list of activities. That way, if one doesn’t work out, you still have many, many more possibilities to choose from, young fellow. And if you ever become a skilled multi-tasker like me, you can pursue several or even many at once!” “Three cheers for activity!” Marcus shouted, and immediately went home and started his list.
Many may think that the fuller truth would have been, "They are all timid." They hide themselves behind "manners" and "opinions" and "masks." At bottom every person knows well enough that she is a semi-unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvellously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as she is, ever be put together a second time. Never. She knows this, she likes this, she writes about this in her diary, but from the rest of society she hides it like a strange, evil secret. Why? From fear of her neighbour, who looks for the latest conventionalities in her, and is almost certainly totally wrapped up in them himself! But what is it that forces the person to fear this bizarre neighbour of his, to think and act with the herd, like a gorilla, and not seek his own joy? So what if his life has been unsuccessful thus far, uninspired, uninteresting, cleaving to one conventional thing after the next? Cannot people evolve? Shyness is another possible reason, but in the majority of cases it idleness, pure and simple, the "taking things rather easily," this accursed "tendency to sloth" of which Karl warned young Marcus about.
He was right; people are more slothful than timid, and their greatest fear is of the burdens that an uncompromising honesty and nakedness of speech and action would lay on their souls. It is usually the difficult and temperamental 'artistic-types' who hate this lazy wandering in borrowed manners and ill-fitting opinions, and who attempt, often unsuccessfully, to discover the secret of the strange, unparalleled conscience, the truth that each human being is a unique disaster and marvel. They show us, how in every little movement of body and spirit that the so-called human person is in fact an individual nothingness, and further- as an analytical deduction from his individuality- a beautiful and miraculous object, a new and incredible phenomenon (as is every work of nature) that can never become weary or tedious. Think of the woodworkers you know, how they are always hammering away down in the basement, very late into the night, deeply confused as to their overall purpose in life but highly intent on the project at hand, and the sawing, planing, sanding, and near-endless chiseling that it seems to always require if it is to be even the slightest bit functional! If the carpenter's apprentice despises humankind on occasion, methinks it is for these infernal habits of laziness; they seem mere shavings, mere splinters, sawdust, scraps and dust swept into corners, not worth any serious attention or attempt towards improvement. The person who will not belong to the general mass, has only to stop "taking things so effing easily"; to follow his conscience, which cries out to him, "Be thyself! All that thou presently doest and thinkest and desirest, is not thyself, but a bunch of toys and battered items picked up at a rummage sale!”
Every youthful soul hears this cry day and night, and quivers to hear it: for she divines the sum of happiness that has been from eternity destined for her, if she think of her true deliverance; and towards this happiness she can in no wise be helped, so long as she lies in the chains of Opinion and of Fear. And how comfortless and unmeaning may life become without this deliverance! There is no more desolate and forsaken creature in nature than the person who has broken away from her true genius, and does nothing but wander listlessly among the tables and displays of a rummage sale. Should he chance to engage in conversation, it will most likely be second-hand conversation. Should he engage in activity, it will probably be pointless activity, and after a few hours, the poor soul will want to lie down on the earth, depressed and weary, and be tempted to stay down there, nevermore to assist with the improvements he so wanted to see in society. He will in fact become a liability to that very society, and have to be dragged off by authorities, and warehoused in some sort of long term facility for the confused, old, and feeble.
Even so, there is no reason to attack such a person so callously, for he is a mere husk without a kernel, a painted cloth, tattered and sagging, a scarecrow, a sad ghost, that can rouse no fear, and most likely no pity. And though one be right in saying of such a sluggard that he is "slaughtering time" yet in respect of an age that rests its salvation on widespread public opinion- that is, on personal laziness- one must be quite determined that such a time shall be "slaughtered" once and for all: I mean that it shall be blotted from life's true History of Liberty, Color, and Energy. Does this have anything to do with conversation? Why, it most certainly does. Later generations will be greatly disgusted, when they come to treat the movements of a period in which no living human beings ruled, but shadow-puppets on the screen of public opinion; and to some far posterity our age may well be the darkest chapter of history, the most unknown because the least authentically human.
For what it’s worth, I actually worked for a small puppet theater troupe in Chicago. I was very confused at the time, barely even able to finish my sentences. My words would invariably trail off into nothingness, and the people around me would just shake their heads sadly, some of them making the hushed observation in a tone of voice that I could very easily hear: “That poor fellow probably has some psychological problems.” Afterwards we all went out to Perkin’s Family Restaurant, where I ordered a Denver omelette with home fries and a short stack of blueberry pancakes. I drank coffee in those days for the energy boost it provided, and I enjoyed nothing more than just sitting there munching away on my food and listening to the other people engage in lively discussion. It just made sense, somehow.
I have walked through the new streets of our cities, and thought how of all the dreadful houses that these avatars with their ‘public opinion’ have built for themselves, not a stone will remain in a hundred years, and that the opinions of these busy masons may well have collapsed along with them. But how full of hope should they all be who feel that they are no citizens of this weary age! If they were, they would have to help with the daily task of "killing their time," and of most likely perishing along with it, to boot! I had a brief love affair with Kristy, a brilliant dancer by night and an extremely attractive hostess at Perkin’s by day It started out in the days when I would often go in to dine there by my lonesome, and request a certain corner table overlooking the south end of the parking lot, which was adjacent to a huge empty field over which people and animals occasionally wandered hollow-eyed and confused. Kristy thought I was weird at first for always wanting this view, but she eventually started to ask a few questions, and I was gradually able to explain my philosophy, such as it was. After several weeks she invited me back to her home for sexual intercourse, which was very enjoyable even though it required almost every ounce of my energy. Afterwards I would drink more coffee, we might talk or watch dance performances for awhile, and then invariably she suggested a round two or even round three. She claimed that Denver omelettes, home fries, and blueberry pancakes were pretty good fuel for activities like talking, watching TV, and sexual intercourse. “Well, you work in the food industry, babe... you would probably know better than I” I responded. ‘That’s exactly right, Snug... I do in fact know better than you.’ In October we started going on long walks thru the wastelands at the edges of town, and I almost convinced her to quit her job and live with me in my van for awhile, saying words to this effect: “But Kristy, think about it- even if the future leaves us nothing to hope for, the wonderful fact of our existing at this present moment of time gives us the greatest encouragement to live after our own rule and measure, right? So inexplicable is it, that we should be living just today, for no reason, though there have been an infinity of time wherein we might have arisen; that we own nothing but a span's length of it, this "today", and must show in it wherefore and whereunto we have arisen. We have to answer for our existence to somebody, right? Shall we not therefore be our own true pilots, sort of like Captain Ahab or Ishamel? One must take a rather impudent and reckless way with the riddle; especially as the key is apt to be lost, however things turn out. Why cling to your bit of earth, or your little business, or listen to what your ridiculous neighbour believes? It is so provincial to bind oneself to views which are no longer binding a couple of hundred miles away! East and West are but crude signs that somebody chalks up in front of us to fool such cowards as we are, my love! ‘I will make the attempt to gain freedom’ says the youthful soul; and will be hindered, just because two nations happen to hate each other and go to war, or because there is a sea between two parts of the earth, or a doctrine is taught in the vicinity, which did not exist even two hours earlier. ‘And this is not... thyself’, the soul whispers. No one can build thee the bridge, over which thou must cross the river of life, save thyself alone. There are paths and bridges and demi-gods without number, that will gladly carry thee over, but only at the price of thine own ridiculous self: thy self wouldst thou have to give in pawn, and then LOSE it! There is in the world one road whereon none may go, except thou: ask not whither it lead, but go forward. Who was it that spake that true word- ‘A person has never risen higher than when she knoweth not whither her road may yet lead her?’ Was it Oprah, maybe? She has her own style of wisdom, you realize. But how can we ‘find ourselves’ again, honey, and how can a human being actually ‘know’ herself? By working 50 hours a week at Perkin’s Family Restaurant? Perhaps. Even so, you have an amazing life underway. You're super cool, super talented, gorgeous, super smart, tons of energy. You’ve taught me a lot about healthy diets and dance and vigorous sexual intercourse and somehow have even been able to put up with my bouts of suicidal depression, when I just lie down on the floor in my own filth and drool and refuse to get up for days and sometimes weeks at a time, a human worm, barely breathing, just lying there in the mud of my sloth and my third-degree misery. You’ve also taught me something about this idea of digging or tunnelling into one's self, this straight, violent descent into the pit of one's being, and how it is such a difficult and dangerous business to start. Maybe you noticed me, sitting there at my corner table for hours, completely motionless, staring off into the desolate fields. A fellow may easily take such hurt, that no physician can heal him. And again, what were the use, since everything bears witness to our primordial essence- our friendships and enmities, our looks and greetings, our memories, oblivion, our books and our writing, our exercise regimens, diets, support or indifference to various charities, our tree forts, our vans and our jobs and our injuries, our police records, all the terrible mistakes we made in our 20’s, compounded by the even more terrible mistakes of our 30’s and 40’s... This is the most effective way, I think, baby, of avoiding the occasional temptation to throw oneself into the path of an oncoming train: to let the youthful soul look back on life with the question, ‘What hast thou up to now truly loved, what has drawn thy soul upward, mastered it and blessed it and set it at liberty?’ Set up these things that thou hast honoured before thee, and, maybe, just maybe, they will show thee, in their being and inscrutable order, a law which is the fundamental law of thine own ridiculous self. Compare these objects, consider how they complete and broaden and transcend and explain one another, how they form a ladder on which thou hast all the time been climbing to thy mysterious destiny: for thy true being lies not deeply hidden in thee, but an infinite height above thee, or at least above that which thou dost commonly take to be thy ridiculous self. The true educators and sages reveal to thee the real groundwork and import of thy being, something that in itself cannot be molded or educated, but is anyhow difficult of approach, bound and crippled: thy educators can be nothing but thy deliverers. And that is the secret of all culture: it does not give artificial limbs, wax noses, or rose-colored spectacles- a thing that could buy such gifts is but the basest coin in existence. But it is rather a liberation, a removal of all the weeds and rubbish and vermin that attack the delicate shoots, the streaming forth of light and warmth, the pitter-patter of the gentle night rain; it is the following and the adoring of Nature when she is as tender-hearted as a mother- her completion, when it bends before her fierce and ruthless blasts and turns them to good, and draws a veil over all expression of her tragic unreason- for she is a step-mother too, sometimes.” “I agree, Snug. She is. But that doesn’t mean she wants me to live with you in your van.” “Why not, my love?” “Well, for one, I’ve only known you a couple of weeks. For two, winter will soon be upon us, and I can’t help but remember that haunting poem by Rilke.” “Which one?” “Autumn Day.” ‘Oh yeah... that one is pretty intense.” “Would you like me to recite it?” “Sure.” “Ok... let me gather my thoughts for a moment... ok... Valley Goddess: it is time. The huge summer has gone by. Now overlap the sundials with your shadows, and on the meadows let the wind go free. Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine; grant them a few more warm transparent days, urge them on to fulfillment then, and press the final sweetness into the sweet heavy wine, which should quickly be followed with cocaine or super strong coffee by a person like Snug, who doesn’t have too much energy and needs to watch his chemical intake very carefully. Whoever has no house now, will never have one. Whoever is alone will stay alone, will sit, read, write long letters through the evening, and wander along the boulevards, up and down, restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.” “Hey! Did you add that line about coffee?” “No, Rilke also had a good friend named Snug with energy issues.” “Wow. Life’s a mystery. You sure you don’t want to live with me in the van?” “I’m sure, sweetheart. And on that note, I need to start getting ready for work. You wanna stay here, or go hang out in your van somewhere?”
It was at that moment I realized Kristy was totally right, that it would be a huge mistake for her to quit her job and her apartment and live with me in my van. It would be extremely crowded. It was already pretty crowded. I had just enough room for my bed, a box of clothes, some food, and a bookshelf. If I incorporated Kristy and all of her stuff as well there would hardly be any room to move around. She was a dancer, for fuck's sake! We would be like worms, encased in black and extremely dense earth. She was clearly the brighter bulb of the two of us. Looking back, I’m kind of surprised she was even into me at all.