I am of late but too reserved, too heavy, and too mature. My body avoids disorder and fears it. Day and night it preaches death, patience and repentance. As I used to from pleasure, now I defend myself from temperance, which keeps me too much at bay and stupid even. Wisdom has its excesses and, no less than folly, needs moderation.
Compressed from Montaigne, « Sur des vers de Virgile » (On Some Verses of Virgil)
We would not have our predicament be as overwhelming as it really is. We would have it be a problem with wheat or plantar fasciitis, macular degeneration, migraines, insomnia. And we would not simply accept these lesser problems, as perhaps some learn to accept that one of their legs is shorter than another, or that they are indeed completely blind. There must be something that we must do, a special diet or set of exercises. Pills are good, but pills are not enough, pills are not what we are looking for. We want to be inconvenienced, seriously inconvenienced, so that our life has to be restricted and reorganized in some way. My first wife, raised Catholic, used to say, “We all have our cross to bear.” This was good, but it did not really take in the many people—is it particularly people in middle-age, people heading into old age?—people looking for a cross to bear. As if to say, “It hasn’t been easy, but I have learned that I can’t do it all, I have my limits, I have to be careful, I have to restrict myself.” Or else? Or else what?
Sex is in here somewhere; sex in the sense of sexual pleasure, of unbridled pleasure, of letting go. Would it help us if we could? If we could dance like we used to when we were young—until we were drenched in sweat and strutted off the dance floor, chests held high, the kings and queens of dancing.
Perhaps what we are on the verge of saying, but cannot quite, is that we would like— What we would really like is to dance and fuck and eat. And, if it is not too much to ask, we would also like to see the world clearly and smell flowers and people and garbage and ourselves, and to run and sleep naked at night under the stars and laugh and cry until we can no longer tell anything from anything else. But we cannot, or is it that we can?
Here, in any case, is what life has taught us: We have to be careful. More careful. More and more careful. Or else.
Montaigne, and Links
Epigraph is my translation of the following lines from Montaigne’s essaie, « Sur des vers de Virgile »:
Je ne suis meshuy que trop rassis, trop poisant, et trop meur. . . . Ce corps fuyt le desreiglement, et le craint . . . Il ne me laisse pas une heure, ny dormant ny veillant, chaumer d’instruction, de mort, de patience, et de poenitence. Je me deffens de la temperance, comme j’ay faict autresfois de la volupté : elle me tire trop arriere, et jusques à la stupidité. . . . La sagesse a ses excez, et n’a pas moins besoing de moderation que la folie.