I'm still out of images, so here's a rod we bought. Not to be confused with Exodus 4:20 ("...Moses took the rod of God in his hand.")
The idea of a family feud seems primitive to me. I picture it as something cartoonish, wacky: a pair of caricatures crouching behind boulders, each aiming an outdated rifle at the other. At the same time I'm attracted to the simplicity of this scene: You just yell at your kinsman and shoot when you see him, 'cause you hate him. It's so much more complicated in today's tame suburbia. Yestermorning my sweetheart and I were riding our bikes through the park, and we met unexpectedly her mother and her brother who were out on a walk. I began this entry with a wild-west clash because I wanted a severe contrast to present our own problem in the best of lights; I mean, I hope that we're comparatively civil: I want to look as decent as possible; and since we're not spitting and cursing and gunning each other down, I tell myself: perhaps our situation is salvageable. So what's our situation? My sweetheart and I don't talk much to her family. Was there ever a big fight or a declaration of war? No. And when we met her kinfolk out of the blue like that, instead of drawing their firearms, they simply smiled and waved, and we stopped and chatted with them politely. Even a little TOO politely. It felt like we were playing a scene in an unfunny sitcom: everything said was fake and measured, safe, calculated to be properly, respectably bland. We've been working on our house. Oh, so have we: father fell through the floor yesterday. By the way, how's your mom doing? My mom? Yes, since your father's funeral. Oh, I see your point; my mom's doing fine, I guess – honestly I don't talk to her much either.
I don't really get along with anyone, do I? But am I feuding? Not at all. It's just that I can't stand to pretend along with people's narrow religion. Both my sweetheart's family and my own, as I've repeated here boringly often, are strands of strict sects of so-called Christianity. I say so-called because I'm not sure that Christianity, as much as I find it distasteful, deserves THAT level of slander. Baptist fundamentalists; literal biblical creationists: these are descriptors that I've heard them style themselves proudly. On the contrary, I side with the likes of writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson – here's a stanza from one of his manuscript poems (1820-1829) which my sweetheart and I happened to read today:
I am not poor, but I am proud
Of one inalienable right,
Above the envy of the crowd—
Thought's holy light.
The imagination is my realm. To force me to pray with you, to accept your religious conceptions and use your church's words — I call that mental enslavement.
Am I being too stubborn? After writing that out, I'm ashamed of my attitude, for being unwilling to bend. This makes me just as bad as them! If I'm the stronger party, as I believe I am, then I should be able to bear their rudeness kindly. Love my enemies. Resist not evil.
Also: to kick against the pricks conveys a form of credence, wholly undue, in the party who's goading one. It's similar to that idea (I always forget who originally said it) that blasphemy is a proof of belief. How many families disband because of Huckleberry Finn? Then why should we let Jesus come between us? He's not of higher worth than Hamlet the Dane. These are all literary characters: names on pages — should they affect us living creatures so profoundly? I answer YES: it is good that we go mad for them. Yet, for my part, I want to be more forgiving.
Another problem I have is that I preemptively shut myself off from religious bigots, knowing that what I love is forbidden by them — the poetry, the art, the music, the tohu-bohu: all these, it is obvious, are, by them, verboten — but henceforth I want to begin the good habit of acting freely and on instinct, instead of self-censoring. As the Devil explains to the Angel, in Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell,
I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments; Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules.
As I was saying, I want to stop showing deference to others' faith tics (paying lip-service to what is ineffable while lacking any deep root) and start acting in accordance with my own heart, even though I am sure that they will take offence (I will never TRY to give them offence), for at least then THEY will wear the blame for having lashed out: let them actually demonstrate their disapproval, instead of my privately assuming that they'll disapprove and thereby saving them from descending into behavior that is erroneously judgmental; this way we will share a memory of the event as hard evidence to serve as the basis for our schism. As it is now, I can only say: "The reason we are estranged from this family is that they think bloodshed cleanses sin and I do not." But if you are going to enter a full state of Capulet-Montague, you should have a stronger excuse.
I didn't want to talk about this church trap the whole darn time. Let me try to wander a ways away, in the remaining fourteen words.
It's fun when, after reading a chapter per day in a book, you finally reach the end. Last week we finished a couple of the titles in our stack of daily devotions: Laurence Sterne's novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and selections from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's stupid-smart treatise on education: Emile. When you finish books from your stack, you get to choose new books to replace them. We chose Samuel Butler's novel The Way of All Flesh and John Ashbery's latest collection of poetry: Commotion of the Birds. We've already read both of these titles, but we want to read them again because we love them.
Now to get an even greater distance away from the ugliness of all of the above, I'll give one quote apiece from the end of each of the lately 'retired' titles. Here's a passage from Tristram Shandy – it's the first three paragraphs from the beginning of the last chapter in the final volume – and I choose it because I prefer lovemaking to warfare:
—That provision should be made for continuing the race of so great, so exalted and godlike a Being as man—I am far from denying—but philosophy speaks freely of every thing; and therefore I still think and do maintain it to be a pity, that it should be done by means of a passion which bends down the faculties, and turns all the wisdom, contemplations, and operations of the soul backwards—a passion, my dear, continued my father, addressing himself to my mother, which couples and equals wise men with fools, and makes us come out of our caverns and hiding-places more like satyrs and four-footed beasts than men.
I know it will be said, continued my father (availing himself of the Prolepsis), that in itself, and simply taken—like hunger, or thirst, or sleep—'tis an affair neither good or bad—or shameful or otherwise.—Why then did the delicacy of Diogenes and Plato so recalcitrate against it? and wherefore, when we go about to make and plant a man, do we put out the candle? and for what reason is it, that all the parts thereof—the congredients—the preparations—the instruments, and whatever serves thereto, are so held as to be conveyed to a cleanly mind by no language, translation, or periphrasis whatever?
—The act of killing and destroying a man, continued my father, raising his voice—and turning to my uncle Toby—you see, is glorious—and the weapons by which we do it are honourable—We march with them upon our shoulders—We strut with them by our sides—We gild them—We carve them—We in-lay them—We enrich them—Nay, if it be but a scoundril cannon, we cast an ornament upon the breach of it.—
And here's just one single sentence that I love from Rousseau's Emile (in William Boyd's translation):
It seems to me that the way to become free is just to do nothing, and give up trying to be free.