Room Confinement to the Enemy
an essay by D. F. Wharton.
People always have something to say, and most of the time, it’s annoying. It could just as easily be applied to what I’m saying right now, so no hard feelings if you stop reading. That’s a good thing about reading—you can shut the book. Not so easy in person. Most people I know are far quicker to run their mouth than their pen. Which is odd, seeing the number of books there are. I mean, there are certainly a lot of people running their pens. I’m always having to put up another shelf for the books I’m acquiring. But even the books that are more or less foolishness sit patiently and quietly, waiting for me to make the first move. I respect that. It’s a suitable medium of communication for me. You want to tell me something? Write it down and give it to me and I’ll get around to reading it when I feel like it.
It’s good to live your life according to reason but when the masses forsake reason you’re better off going with the winds. I’m like a leaf at rest and in leisure within myself while getting swept up, down, and around throughout the city. As soon as I get my sights in one direction, the wind carries me off in another. I hear people talk about purpose and focus and setting goals, and I don’t like it. They go on about never quitting and fighting to the end, and something about it rubs me wrong. But I’m not here to argue with anybody—especially ambitious goal setters, purpose-driven, all that—so I take their preaching and alter it to where it suits me.
Ambition? I shall fight it to the end, wanting no part of it. If I am ambitious, I am ambitious toward having no ambition other than that. Goals? I shall rest, even at work, even when the boss is annoying, I shall rest. But what if I get fired? So what. Stress? Anxiety? No. In fending off those, I will never quit.
The common thing is for people to take hold of ambitions and goals that are outside of their reach, or at the least force them to get out of their chair for just the possibility of attaining. I have heard time and time again about the necessity of getting out of my comfort zone. About pushing myself. This is prattle because if a person gets it in his heart and mind to do something, to go after something, he will not need to be prodded, he will push himself and most likely more than is necessary, even to the point of danger, the coach having to slow him down for risk of injury.
The talkers preaching the purpose driven, setting goals sermon are usually trying to prick the backside of any member of the common herd that is listening. Buy this book, join this club, become a member of this organization, bla bla bla. Rhetorical ponies who are their own fundraisers and would have you feel guilty because you relax and enjoy yourself in your time off with what little money you have left after paying the bills. God knows we eat enough crow from the people above us within the structure of our employment. A sometimes necessary evil where ends can justify means… to an extent.
Let my writing reflect my true state of mind—all over the place. Sometimes here, sometimes there. I make no effort to change that in my writing; I’d rather display it. Forget about a theme or a topic. It is enough for me to place my words in good enough order to make a sentence. We don’t live long enough to haggle over lofty rules and procedures by which we hang ourselves. If they must be there, let me walk around them. Have your rules, your standards, and any other means of separating yourselves from the common herd; I’d rather disappear in the crowd.
I’ll take my time. A word here, a word there; a step here, a step there. I’ll slip into a role that is convenient for me and matter-of-factly not care what anybody else thinks about it. My hands are already at the plow, and a lash from the whip is going to do nothing but slow me down. The more I am left alone, the more I can do. The prying eyes of others do nothing but vex me. Either get in the yoke with me or keep it moving.
I get a lot out of television—movies, shows, sports programs. But to me, there is nothing like reading. It’s a preference I wouldn’t necessarily push on somebody else because even I will look up after reading after twenty or thirty minutes and not know what I just read. This bothers me not at all because sometimes, often even, it comes to me later when doing something completely unrelated. Another part of the story just emerging in my head as I’m working on the house or driving somewhere, and there I am with this understanding springing up out of some mysterious reservoir in my subconscious. The words had been planted and needed some time to take root.
The words we use are just the face of our thoughts, the surface, and we get them wrong all the time. Even when we get them right, the other person still takes them wrong. So I don’t bother with trying to get them right. I just get on the court and play. People are close-minded and insecure. I know this. I have the tendency to be the same way. I like to combat it through reading, but only in myself. That’s a big enough fight to tie up my hands. I don’t work on other people I work on myself.
I’ve heard it called take it with a grain of salt since I was a little fellow and that’s a proverb that I’ve kept alive with me throughout the years. It means that you acknowledge something but maintain a degree of skepticism. A large degree. That’s how I hear other people no matter what the medium—face to face, on paper, or through some kind of electronic device. Jesus himself said that it wasn’t what goes in a man’s mouth that defiles him, it’s what comes out. To hear a man talk is to hear a man defile himself. The religious and political fanatics would have us believe that it’s gay supporters marching in a pride parade or NRA members at a rally. No, it’s simpler than that—it’s just a man talking.
When I hear somebody talking, I’m already on the alert. There is nothing more dangerous than a good talker with good ideas. Rhetoric is a most deceptive craft, and there is nothing more alluring than sweet words mingled by an able orator. Pied pipers leading listeners away from the comfort and leisure of their own thoughts, or even homes, and out to some destruction. You can take the pioneers approach and talk about noble sacrifice and all of that, and I won’t be mad at you for it, but go knock on somebody else’s door. I’m fine, right where I am, not interested in Manifest Destiny in a different outfit and new makeup. She’s not my type nor I hers. My destiny is to die, and I’m okay with just that. Any lasting impressions I am interested in making is that I kept out of all progress and that I maintained myself marvelously in the unknown space that I carved out for myself by ways not worth mentioning.
The essay is a platform I enjoy to walk across at times. Not the essay in the context of American education, or anything remotely academic according to my experience in school, say, the five-paragraph essay or some other restrained method, lorded over with stifling rules. What is the theme!? What is the topic!? What evidence do you cite!? How do you support it!? I am talking about essays in the style of Montaigne, a technique I study daily to help me get away from the thought patterns that haunt us. I hear people talk about getting away, taking a vacation, somehow removing themselves from their problems. But the problem is that wherever you go, you have to take yourself with you. And why should I run? I’d rather send whatever’s bothering me away. That way I don’t have to pack and gas up the car. Send the manner of thinking away that’s bothering me and then have a rest.
I find in books a lengthier departure from this present world. I have had a movie that I was completely immersed in to end, and my sorrow at leaving the theater and going back out into the world weighed more heavily on my spirit than the joy I got from the picture. A book I carry around with me wherever I go, and the knowledge that my escape is resting in the grip of my hand gives me pleasure even when I am not reading. Availability is sometimes enough. It’s a twenty-four-hour theater that follows me around and goes on continuously. I have finished a book only to resume on page one, getting deeper into the story this time, the maddening world around me dissipating into the midst. I have been in wretched meetings having to listen to suits making foolish prattle and had only to look at the cover of my novel to be drawn away from the utter nonsense of man pretending to make a better world—a better product, better education, better anything—and keep out of the conversation. Their end goal is always the same: grandstanding.
If I am to grandstand, let me grandstand here where I am by myself and not competing with anybody or subjecting myself to the rules of some other game. I’m not interested in their rewards, and I do not fear their punishments. Whether they—that means everybody—approve or disapprove of my actions—or non-actions—I could not care less. I am already at the bottom of that barrel, and it’s a great spot. This state of mind was not given to me; I had to work for it, develop it, cultivated it through paying attention to the teachers of such doctrines. I had to seek them out and read their materials. The result is not only attaining a state of mind that works great for me throughout the day, home or work or travel, but there are even leftovers that drip on the page in the form of stories and essays that others can read if they so desire.
My writing is not work, it is leisure. That’s why it is broken up and distracted and disjointed at every turn. Like life, like me. If there were more polish in me, then there would be more polish in my writing, which there is not, and I’m not about to borrow polish from somebody else for the sake of display. That would defeat the purpose. I hear people talk about being different and being themselves in a way that makes them similar to everybody else that is saying the same thing. Being different is not joining a crowd, even if that crowd is different or distinguished from another crowd. Show me a man who is not talking and not looking for a crowd to join and has nothing to say, and you’ll have shown me a different man.
Lately, I enjoy listening to comedians, but they are too given to the winds of culture to be my main course. I don’t blame them. They have to be. Comedians have the same problem that movies have, and that is the imposition of structure, mainly time limits and audience engagement. I can’t flourish on that platform, even as a member of the audience, and I’d rather it be that way. My thoughts run too hard around the track, and because it’s not a race for me, I stop whenever I want and dart off in a different direction. If I am being engaged, I like to stop every once in a while, and look around and think about what I have just heard. What is as easy as looking up from a book requires a pause button or a commercial break elsewhere. I have conversations with the souls that I read. I might stop reading and take up the pen and write a response and then go back to reading. There is a conversation taking place, and it’s not even between the author and me, it’s between two souls in the spirit world, both separated from themselves when communicating. I’ve never seen that author, never talked to him. I don’t know what he looks like or anything about him. For the act of reading and writing—especially reading because you are allowing another to run words through your mind, thereby giving over your thoughts to another—requires you to disengage from yourself, taking a back seat and let your understanding to be developed.
At one time or another, I figured out that I was my own worst enemy. After a long enough time of knowing myself as my worst enemy, I realized that if I could be my worst enemy, why couldn’t I be my best friend? I could, of course, so I switched sides for my benefit and life has been a little more comfortable with me on my side. People are naturally against themselves, hard on themselves, overly concerned about what other people think, their own worst critic. I’m done with that, and I plan to beat it back to wherever it came from. If I can’t get rid of it all together let me at least keep it on room confinement.