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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 05/09/2005
Vol. 2, #164

Three weeks since my last column because taking care of getting four books all set up with one new publisher and one new literary manager involves more work and detail than I've experienced in a long time. But all along, I'd been thinking of those words of Sam's on the Round Table. Here's just a sample:
Even within myself, I feel a powerful glow, it is quite intoxicating, I find myself laughing at times, for no apparent reason. Just filled with joy and happiness, laughing with a smile on my face so big it hurts, almost as if I had just realized that I could fly all along.
You can go to the Round Table and look it up, but this sample is all I need. Sam is a frequent contributor and flying like Superman seems to be his way of expressing the highest of life's joys. In a sense, in one of Chris Reeves' last Superman movies, there was that great scene in which he and Lois are floating high above Metropolis, staying aloft in a state of sheer delight in themselves and each other, certainly that particular film's best expression of what it must feel like to be Superman for readers like Sam. And that's what I mean to question today and put into perspective.

That joy you express in your Round Table comments, Sam, is not exactly the pure unsullied feeling many people think they're searching for. Because when you find it, you discover that it can't even be experienced without your having also experienced its opposite. As Nietzsche said: "Your heights lean upon your depths." Otherwise, you're only a one-dimensional being. Constant joy doesn't exist because it only knows itself through the pains, frustrations and struggles of daily life. Of course, most lives never attain that apex of ultimate joy at all. Some have glimmers of it. And some get a full measure, but only according to the agonies from which they've risen. There's no such thing as a self-generating joy that once achieved is always yours. And that's really not the problem you should be dealing with either.

Just as the sages tell you not to seek happiness but let it find you, there are even wiser men, like Goethe, like Kierkegaard, like Socrates, all of whom in one way or another constantly point out: "The problem is to bring the opposites together." Otherwise, as the Odyssey demonstrates, one is forever caught between the clashing rocks of Scylla and Charybdis. Or more simply, life is a yo-yo, up and down, up and down, and never a real rest from the endless shifting of position.

How do you do it then, how do you pass that point where it all comes together, where pain and pleasure are cancelled out and you suddenly reach---what?

The answer to that is embodied in the purpose of your life. The real joy is in the embracing of the pain. That's what I've discovered over a long lifetime of searching. I've stood in Sam's shoes, and I've sunk to depths so dark that, on one occasion I realized that even doing away with myself would be sheer waste since I no longer had anything to lose. (Hey, sometimes I used to feel a little like that trying to write scripts for Mort Weisinger). So I didn't give up. And in that particular moment (which I'll never forget) I had an intimation, a glimpse, of a joy beyond anything I'd ever known, when I was at so low a point that even suicide wasn't worth the trouble. What for? What difference would it have made? Why even bother? And with that thought, I was suddenly and marvelously free. For a short while, of course. I didn't stay like that very long. But I never forgot it either.

So for Sam, and everyone in his shoes, let me first offer my congratulations. You've gone halfway up the ladder, or walked halfway to your goal. You smile, you feel sheer delight in your own being, you're effectively flying. Very good. Now, you have to take care of the other half. The pain. Because you didn't escape from it. No, in fact, your present joy is riding on your pain. Don't think so? You'll change your mind. But because you read it here, perhaps you won't be so surprised, and you'll be more ready to go on and do the other half. And I'm sure you will, Sam.

--Alvin

<< 04/18/2005 | 05/09/2005 | 05/16/2005 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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