January 28, 2023

Q. How to live? A. Shut up, he explained



I began to really hate my reliance on Google Maps after getting lost for the umpteenth time. It might work great where there’s actually a reason to have traffic, but in northern Michigan Google Maps had so many errors, I felt as if this area of civilization was still in beta and the true modern explorer was a Walmart truck, not Silicon Valley.

In the overnight bag was a paperback of Sarah Bakewell’s National Book Critics award winner How to Live or A Life of Montaigne. The subject of “imperturbability” and “freedom from anxiety” were dealt with in Chapter Six, Q. How to Live? A. Use little tricks. Montaigne apparently was jealous of lunatics living in the world of their imagination, allowing escape from the pain and drudgery of the real world. Montaigne’s favorite story was about Lycas who went about the dull routines of his daily life with the belief that everything was theater. When the doctor cured Lycas of his delusion, he sued the doctor for taking away his source of pleasure. I ran out of tricks when cut off by the Walmart truck and the slow driver in front of me. Montaigne also valued being slow, forgetful, and other values undermining Dean Wormer’s lecture to Flounder in the movie Animal House that fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life. I thought for certain the girl in front of me was going to bring upon me severe whiplash and paralysis from the Walmart truck fast approaching in the rearview mirror if she didn’t get off the damn cell phone and hit the gas. She was slouched over, and not in a Montaigne life is cooler in the slow lane way, and I thought aha, she’s yapping away on her cell phone. I swerved to avoid the truck and blasted the car horn and she looked over at me, crying with an I’m doing the best I can look because look you blind bastard I’m in a big cast for my broken body.

Which leads to Chapter 19 Q. How to Live? A. Be ordinary and imperfect. Now this I can do. I read the self help books with ten point plans and a more positive attitude for climbing mountains, running with the bulls, knocking ’em dead on Broadway, the boardroom, and in combat with the bad guys. Brand Me, like a washing machine, or cattle. One good list with clear goals for the day, week, month, quarterly, yearly, and Brand Me gets the upgrade. According to the algorithms,  people similar to me on Twitter have been Abdul from Malaysia “who tweets a lot,” a girl with a heavily painted face specializing in urban paranormal which I have no clue what that means, and a guy who claims to be the coolest dork you’ll ever meet.

Montaigne says, don’t suffer from Facebook depression. Be ordinary and embrace your inner Abdul from Malaysia. So what if none of the VIPs follow you back, and instead you must suffer through 150,000 tweets from a writer of self published romance novels to get beyond the Unabomber stage of social media.

Montaigne’s death came in 1592 at the age of 59. The cause of death was an infected kidney stone and slow suffocation. His demise was painful, and ordinary. He reportedly suffered through the last act of his theater with stoicism. His body was moved during the French Revolution as a precautionary measure against the mob.  A few years later, they discovered that the wrong body was moved. Montaigne’s burial survived the French Revolution but a fire destroyed the church and his tomb had fallen apart. Chapter One, Q. How to live? A. Don’t worry about death. Montaigne didn’t.

Google Maps does a better job with the towns in the southern part of the state. Niles, Michigan is a small town full of ordinary life. Niles is where one of my favorite writers, Ring Lardner, was born. Q. How to live? A. Shut up, Ring Lardner would undoubtedly explain.


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