Having had my very first dose of Saul Bellow with his exquisitely affectionate, painfully tender yet deliciously ironic novella,”Seize the Day” (and oh, what a dose of conscience nagging it was!), I decided to compose a five-verse “make good” blues that characterizes a single day of my own (in keeping with the Joycean motif of twenty four hours) and addresses the most important business of life which is living – even in the face of potent adversaries such as shame, embarrassment and remorse. The novel’s chiding yet serious tone still rings a bell today as a sort of segue between the modern and our “post-modern” world: hyper self-consciousness, warped up in a world of ideas where we are pre-disposed to compose all kinds of narrations in our heads, most of which bear no fruit and disappear and make no good. The corollary to this is the simplicity and near “faith” based solutions we seek from others who may have a cure to our ails (the spinster Tamkin is one such example from the novel) when really, the information consuming monsters that we’ve become seeks to address precisely this predicament. Instead, this ends up as our vanity in a world spoilt with too much stuff. Just read this passage and try not to laugh and weep! It concerns asking for a glass of water in a New York hotel and the troubles one must go to for such a simple request:
Every other man spoke a language entirely his own, which he had figured out by private thinking; he had his own ideas and peculiar ways. If you wanted to talk about a glass of water, you had to start back with God creating the heavens and earth; the apple; Abraham; Moses and Jesus; Rome; the Middle Ages; gunpowder; the Revolution; back to Newton; up to Einstein; then war and Lenin and Hitler. After reviewing this and getting it all strait again you could proceed to talk about a glass of water.
And yet, although slightly exaggerated for effect, don’t we do this all the time? I know I do, and I hate myself for it (there, another Bellowian theme: self-loathing.) With this in mind, here’s my five-verse blues that makes a day good by describing it in “did nots” and “have nots.” I say blues as really, it isn’t some optimistic cinderella of the mind but instead highlights those elements which we tend to repeat ad hominem.
You know you’ve Done Good when you do not hyper anathematize yourself when ruminating on the conversations you’ve had with the people you met on the day. To ruminate excessively is one thing, and to have little to no self-awareness of what you’re saying is totally another beast altogether. But there’s nothing more annoying and disarming than the recollections occurring to you at random later in the day. Pricking conscience over petty trivialities? You bet!
You know you’ve Done Good when you did not take that phone of yours out of your pockets whilst having your evening stroll. Unless it’s something very urgent or important, there’s nothing that screams insecurity more than fidgeting with your phone all the time when the silence and solitude is upon you. Plus I find that it disrupts our powers of observation in the here and now.
You know you’ve Done Good when you have not the urge to check your internet social status immediately upon awakening. Just get up and get on with it instead. I myself have been practicing this useful skill, and my written output has ever since increased tremendously. Put your laptop away from your bedside, and your phone far enough that you’ll have to get up to turn that alarm off.
You know you’ve Done Good when you didn’t browse all the possible news with your morning coffee, nodding or shaking your head depending on the headlines. This I confess is an habit of mine which I don’t see the end of in the immediate future. There are terrible things happening in the world, and one may feel powerless to act in the face of it. But know this: the predicament doesn’t change by watching the news. Read a good poem instead, or some Saul Bellow.
You know you’ve Done Good when the animosity or distrust or thoughts from the squabble you had with your partner/roommate/friend/whoever doesn’t occur to you throughout the day? Yeah, forget about it. Our memories might be a muse, but it must be trained just as much to forget as it must to remember. It may seem slightly contradictory, but one must strive to discriminate in their recollection of things by discarding those that are our ardent antagonist.
I’ll leave you, dear reader, with this slightly lofty thought by Ernest Renan from his celebrated essay, “What is a nation?”:
Forgetting, I would even say historical error, is an essential factor in the creation of a nation and it is for this reason that the progress of historical studies often poses a threat to nationality. Historical inquiry, in effect, throws light on the violent acts that have taken place at the origin of every political formation, even those that have been the most benevolent in their consequence. Unity is always brutally established.
Grander in geographic area it might be, but we all can transpose and transform this to fit our own realities. And who said that old and deadly adage, that the personal is political? Seize the day and make good. Let us constrict our daily excessive meditations.