Check out my thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:
“I would prefer not to.”
The famous words of the resistant Bartleby Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” are a quiet rebellion against society. It is not an outright refusal, it’s a preference. His words mark Bartleby as an individual who has his own ideas, exactly the sort of person the capitalist lawyer cannot understand nor control.
Bartleby is a scrivener—a low-tech copy machine. He does nothing all day except copy papers, until he chooses to do nothing at all. He even refuses to quit, or leave the building.
I take this as an Office Space lesson in what the workforce does to people. When there’s no outlet for individuality or creativity, it bursts out of the seams in a destructive mess. If people can’t use their minds, their minds will use them.
If there’s no way to do anything fun, or engaging, or individual, one will eventually “prefer” not to do anything at all.
Bartleby’s job could be done by a 6 year old with good penmanship. A lot of jobs could be done with 6 year olds with good penmanship, or 6 year olds who can use a phone, or 6 year olds who can figure out a cash register. No wonder a lot of us feel useless.
Perhaps if Bartleby went for a nature walk after work, or took up playing guitar, or tried art lessons, or cooking, he would not have felt the need to rebel. Maybe if he unleashed his creative individuality in a healthy way it would not be fighting him from the inside for release. If Bartleby felt respected and important and alive, perhaps he actually would have preferred to work during work time as long as he could be himself during his off time.
Perhaps not. Perhaps I am looking at an old story with new values, with the knowledge of the severity of mental illness and a 21st century appreciation for creativity. But I do know that if Bartleby were alive today, the lawyer would have more tools at his disposal for dealing with who is likely a man dealing with depression. Then again, Bartleby would have more tools to express himself with. So if today’s world is easier for both parties…why do I and many like me relate to Bartleby?
Is it because we all feel useless and unappreciated? Is it because we are all individuals, ready to burst out of our skins? Is it because no one is ever satisfied, and everyone would prefer to just sit on a couch doing nothing? Is it because we’re all depressed? All caught under the thumb of a unforgiving world?
I suppose I understand Bartleby’s preference not to. I understand, but do not agree.
I prefer not to be like Bartleby. I prefer not to prefer not to.
I prefer to live.
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Henry David Thoreau.
My friends tend to be a bit cynical. Nothing is sacred—when I brought up that I was reading Thoreau in class, they immediately took to calling him nothing but an over-read hippie living in his parent’s backyard, who didn’t even live off the land like people think he did. He was a Ralph Waldo Emerson-wannabe whose 200-page-long rambling was somehow called a masterpiece.
Well…sure, yeah. But the thing to remember with Thoreau was that while he appreciated nature deeply, it was never his mantra to leave civilization altogether. After all, a lot of his work is quite political. He did love Emerson, and actually lived on land owned by Emerson (not his parents). However, beyond the cynical retaliation my generation sometimes tends to have, Thoreau is a pioneer of minimalism and the positives of solitude.
My grandfather once gave me a shirt two sizes too big with that quote on it. He’s also given me about three different copies of Walden, and once mailed me a copy of Civil Disobedience, with his own highlights and notes in the margins. He’d often sketch trees, birds, lakes and mountains in the corners of the pages before giving them to me.
I think he saw introversion in me from a very young age. He too is an introvert, and spends quite a lot of time walking alone in the woods, fishing, reading, and sketching. He once sent me a letter with the only “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” written in it, another Thoreau quote.
It’s nice to have someone like that to look up to. Someone who won’t call you anti-social for wanting to be alone, but who will actually encourage it—in healthy doses, of course. I do think he was smart to tie nature to my ideas of solitude, though. Being alone in nature allows for all the positives of being alone without any of the negatives. You don’t feel lonely or unproductive when in nature.
While I think I have the “solitude” part down, I still have to work on “simplifying” things. That’s alright. Perhaps this summer I’ll go back to Walden Pond. Maybe being in that sacred place will help me understand, just as it helped Thoreau so long ago, and my Grandfather when he was my age. Perhaps this is our version of a pilgrimage.
Mmmm…I love smelling new books almost as much as I love smelling old books. Ink and paper, binding glue…it’s relaxing. I love feeling the paper in my fingers, the thickness of the paper, the color of the page from bright white to aged yellow, orange, gold. The font, the size, the page numbers. Water damage. Ripped and dog-eared pages. Coffee stains, forgotten bookmarks, underlined phrases and paperback covers that stick up in the air like a half pipe.
I love new chapters, tables of contents, logues of the pro- and epi- variety. I even love author dedications, bios, praises from prestigious magazines.
I also love notebooks. The width of margins, the color blue and red outlining where to write, the thickness of the page. And pens, how gracefully they slide, how rich their color, how thick their lines, how deeply they seep into the page, how firm they feel in your hand.
I love typing, but it will never feel as good as writing, as reading. It’s not tangible. I can’t press a wet thumb to my computer screen and make the ink bleed. I can’t dog ear a Kindle. I’m not a purist, I’m just in love with paper.
I’ve been feeling really sad lately, but these are the things that are making me feel better.
I love Kurt Vonnegut. I just bought Breakfast of Champions today, and it’s all I can do to stop myself from diving into it right now. The most recent of his books I’ve read was Cats Cradle, which is a fantastic book I think you should all read. This will contain spoilers, minor spoilers, so if that bugs you, skip this one. Or skip down two paragraphs, when I start to get all philosophical about it.
The most interesting part of Cats Cradle for me is how people are, according to Bokonism, connected in otherworldly ways. I like the diplomat and his wife, who were a group of two and died within the same second. I love that they have that sort of love, that ties them tightly together.
I like that the main character falls in love with the young princess, after having been married a few times, and yet she dies and he’s left with no women of child-bearing age left on Earth. He can eat, and talk with his friends, and live until he dies, but he can’t have a lover. And he doesn’t feel like he misses sex at all.
Here’s where the philosophy comes in. Get ready. Buckle your seat belts.
We both portray romantic relationships as too important and not important enough in our stories.
Let me explain.
Romance is either the plot of the story, such as in romcoms, or something tacked on to make the women in the audience smile, such as in action movies. It’s rarely portrayed realistically.
Also recently I watched Pulp Fiction for the first time–if this post seems disjointed, bear with me, I’ve had a lot of thoughts running through my head–and they portray all three, overemotional, underemotional, and realistic.
The over-emotional is with Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace in the restaurant. They’re over-sexualized, speaking in riddles and winks. The under-emotional is with Mia Wallace and Marcellus Wallace. They barely speak, they’re tacked together as a plot point. The couple right on point? Pumpkin and Honeybunny.
I mean, of course the names are silly, but couples do that. I love the first scene, where you’re not sure if they’re even a couple at all. They’re bickering, then talking about various things, then kiss over the table and work as partners in a big crime. I love it. THAT’S a good couple…minus the crime. They leave hugging each other, they protect and love each other, and work together as a team.
They are like the diplomat and his wife in Cat’s Cradle, and they are what every couple should aspire to be. Not roses and dances, or sidelong glances, but a partnership. A kiss over the table before going off and being badasses together.
Please don’t rob restaurants after reading this. But please do watch Pulp Fiction and Cat’s Cradle, and pay attention in life to how love is seen. It’s interesting, inspiring, thought provoking.
So is everything, if you take long enough to think about it.