Prices &c.

There is inter-media coverage of a heart-baring NYC story of making it as an uncompromising writer. Aside from some of its melodrama, and unabashed privilege (not all countries are meritocracies), parts of the article resonated with me.
To choose the road less travelled, as the author suggests she has done, was the platitude for many of the '70's generation - inscribed in as many yearbooks. Yet the road less travelled does not, to my mind, require maverick career leaps, rather, the biggest heroes can be people who, like Arnold writes (and I am currently under his sway), bring out the best of themselves and those around them. This could be a mother making space for inspiration among the quotidian.
And like Kurp reminds us, sometimes, these stories remained buried "unless some lucky compiler opens them by chance". Such an elusive road may be right in front of one, requiring but the immense strength of tiny changes: standing up for a weak person in one's midst; not laughing at inane jokes; doing the right thing, even if it has it a high price tag.
Because even the confessional NYC story painted a vision of the workings of society: "Meanwhile, most people who think they are practicing law are actually making binders, and my guess is that most people who think they are doing whatever important thing they are doing are making binders. The binders from law firms go to a locker in a warehouse..." How it reminded me of Arnold's plea in Culture and Anarchy: if we know it, we should be doing it.
It also reminded me of his dislike of machinery: the machinery not only of the railroad, but also of big organizations, which cannot be relied upon to provide man with the idea of perfection. I am reminded, too, of Ruskin, who writes of the madness of economists seeking land (on the other side of the river) instead of life (honest souls on the other side of the railroad). The answer to ourselves is so often in being mindful of others. If we have the privilege to write, I think we have a responsibility to remember as many people as we can.


The pen is to be used for ethics. This is why I value the NYC story. It reminds one of the cost of one's life, or the cost of machinery (read between the lines): "By never marrying, I ended up never divorcing, but I also failed to accumulate that brocade of civility and padlock of security—kids you do or don’t want, Tiffany silver you never use—that makes life complete. Convention serves a purpose: It gives life meaning, and without it, one is in a constant existential crisis." Through the article's confessional style, what I see is a glimpse into questionning even deeper values (a kind of dialogue missing from today's journalism): "Men cannot live on buttons, or velvet, or by going quickly from place to place," Ruskin writes.
And lest any readers think to themselves, well of course one shouldn't marry for money, let us remember Arnold's warning: aristocracy slips into "splendor, security, power and pleasure" not out of perversity but because it is only "too natural" - such are the "eternal seducers".
The NYC authoress rightly critiques the externals of materialism (few of us escape it), and questions the value of our conventions (albeit possibly only relevant to certain graduates of a certain age). However, she does not see that bravado is also an external. Arnold writes of such an exterior culture, consisting, "principally in outward gifts or graces, in looks, manners, accomplishments, prowess [and] those which come nearest to outward ones; in courage, high spirit, self-confidence".
Perhaps it is the outward gift that seeks the manifesto-type declaration, far from the Socratic realisation that despite our longings, our actions may disappoint us by working to the contrary. "I can only love with a pure heart and hope for the best," the authoress writes in an example of a manifesto. I often imagine Pasternak turning in his grave when I read sentences like that (though that's another story).
So while I saw part of my youth in the article, I realise that I have long since given myself over to bigger ideas, like the kind of introspection Arnold writes is no good for politics, or belief in culture, which I consider turns our eyes away from each others' faults, the faults of humanity.  Well, we may say, this writer was melodramatic, but at least she strove to say something of meaning. This country was militant, but in its songs is a subtle understanding of the human experience...
What I am talking about here is the difference between the binder or railroad and the promise of gnothi seauton. They both have their price - which are we paying for? The question is relevant even those who didn't choose Frost's road: there is no point in taking a distance from an "audience" - we are the audience to each other's lives.

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