Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I don't know the answer to this.

One of my favorite Dorothy Parker poems is "The Flaw in Paganism":

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)

...which in some ways sums up the daily dilemma of or lives, our lives in which we exhorted to "work like you don't need money, love like you've never been hurt, and dance like no one's watching." For if not now, when? Yes? No past, no future, only present, yes?

Yes, well, but, except.

Grasping is the wrong place to come from. How do you come from a place of Enough if you're reaching frantically for the thing you don't have? The person who always and forever describes how to do it best was Dorothy L. Sayers in Gaudy Night (this conversational passage ends with the lodestar line for my life of "You'd lie cheerfully, I expect, about anything except--what?"). I am still confused, of course, though, despite how well she puts it. But here you go.

“You can usually tell," said Miss DeVine, "by seeing what kind of mistakes you make. I’m quite sure that one never makes fundamental mistakes about the thing one really wants to do. Fundamental mistakes arise out of lack of genuine interest. In my opinion, that is.”

“I made a very big mistake once,” said Harriet, “as I expect you know. I don’t think that arose out of lack of interest. It seemed at the time the most important thing in the world.”

“And yet you made the mistake. Were you really giving your mind to it, do you think? Your mind? Were you really as cautious and exacting about it as you would be about writing a passage of fine prose?”

“That’s rather a difficult sort of comparison. One can’t, surely, deal with emotional excitements in that detached spirit.”

“Isn’t the writing of good prose an emotional excitement?”

“Yes, of course it is. At least, when you get the thing dead right and know it’s dead right, there’s no excitement like it. It’s marvellous. It makes you feel like God on the Seventh Day--for a bit, anyhow.”

“Well, that’s what I mean. You expend the trouble and you don’t make any mistake--and then
you experience the ecstasy. But if there’s any subject in which you’re content with the second-rate, then it isn’t really your subject.”

“You’re dead right,” said Harriet, after a pause. “If one’s genuinely interested one knows how to be patient, and let time pass, as Queen Elizabeth said. Perhaps that’s the meaning of the phrase about genius being eternal patience, which I always thought rather absurd. If you truly want a thing, you don’t snatch; if you snatch, you don’t really want it. Do you suppose that, if you find yourself taking pains about a thing, it’s a proof of its importance to you?”

“I think it is, to a large extent. But the big proof is that the thing comes right, without those fundamental errors. One always makes surface errors, of course. But a fundamental error is a sure sign of not caring. I wish one could teach people nowadays that the doctrine of snatching what one thinks one wants is unsound.”

“I saw six plays in London this winter,” said Harriet, “all preaching the doctrine of snatch. I agree that they left me with the feeling that none of the characters knew what they wanted.”

“No,” said Miss DeVine. “If you are once sure what you do want, you find that everything else goes down before it like grass under a roller–-all other interests, your own and other people’s.”

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