I just finished reading “No longer human” by Osamu Dazai – the book is problematic because of its misogynistic themes but also representative of its times, published in 1948. I picked up the book because of a thread on reddit where people said it deeply disturbed and depressed them. I guess that says something of me.
The book did not disturb or depress me. I related to a lot of it (not the misogyny but the depressive themes), and because of the relatedness it was somewhat comforting. Most of us don’t want to be lonely and it was comforting to know of other humans who have similar disturbing thoughts. It also gives me a wider perspective when I am reading it from a third party point of view, whether these thoughts have any basis in reality or they are plain delusional – an outcome of an inability to rise above the mind’s narrow thinking. The truth is probably a mix of both: humans are neither only good or evil, they are a complex outcome of their complex circumstances. But it becomes a problem when we insist on only seeing things in black or white.
I appreciated the author’s mind, and it made me want to deliberately expand my reading repertoire. It wasn’t a book I would have come across if I did not discover it on reddit. I’m so used to looking for books in a very particular way, and because of time anxiety I am also caught in the trap of only wanting to read books that has a high rating (4.5+). Gone are the days when I’ll randomly read books based on their back covers. I am trying to correct my course though.
Concurrently I was also reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s “No time to spare“, and I learnt that she started blogging at age 81 because she saw how Jose Saramago started a blog at 85:
So though I have contributed a few bloglike objects to Book View Café, I never enjoyed them. After all, despite the new name, they were just opinion pieces or essays, and writing essays has always been tough work for me and only occasionally rewarding. But seeing what Saramago did with the form was a revelation.
Seeing her make the distinction between writing essays and blogging was thought-provoking. What exactly was the revelation to her? I mean writing a blog can be a lot more free and casual compared to writing an opinion piece on Washington Post, but is that what she had meant? Or did she mean that Saramago was able to express everything in his mind in a way that traditional publishing would never have allowed? Upon googling more:
I just have somehow always sort of hated writing essays. I could [laughing] just pretend that blogs weren’t essays, and so I could enjoy batting one out and then sortthe-notebook of polishing it, you know. Because the form is supposed to be short — I think I tend to approach an essay as if it ought to be 20 pages. I make too much of essays, before I write them. And talks. And so the blog — and you know, with Saramago — it was reading his blogs and thinking if he can do that, I wonder if I can? And just sort of write about what was on his mind. But thoughtfully. So — of course they are essays, aren’t they.– Three Conversations With Ursula Le Guin, Leaflemming
I guess it is about the idea that blogging doesn’t have to be so formal and hence the cognitive friction to write is less. That is why I made the notes section, I want a form that is even more casual than blog posts. But even then it is still difficult for me to casually write a post and click publish.
Reading a good book is like having your brain tickled, just like good music or any form of art. I appreciated how different the tickle felt reading Dazai versus Le Guin. It prompted me to tweet this:
…and I wanted to write a post about the importance of self-expression but I remembered that I have already written one. Obviously we are not Dazai or Le Guin, but there were countless times I’ve come across some random blog post and I was like, wow, what a mind.
Minds are fascinating: they just meld things together in unexpected ways and we can see them expressed in art.
And if you’re like my younger self, maybe you’re like who cares about art. Isn’t it more important to build visible world-changing things like non-profit organisations and businesses?
I am biased of course. My disability – no matter how mild compared to many others – has stripped away most of the utility of my life, the parts of me who used to be able to contribute things that society has traditionally valued. When nothing usable is left of me, when I can no longer meaningfully design things, write code, perform manual labour – is my life still worthwhile to society, to people whom I care about, to me?
Only my words are left. I could still write in between days I am not bedridden with pain. I don’t have capacity for much else, the capacity that every one else possesses, that most people take for granted. That is why I am still refusing to meet people and travel, because writing is the only thing I have left and I am not sure if I can still survive if (long) Covid takes that away from me. I won’t be able to survive. The migraines are already hard enough, and they are already making me contemplate my life more than a human is supposed to.
My migraines have defined my life and me profoundly. Because of them I had no choice to go deeper into myself – because when my external life is robbed from me, there is only an internal life left to look forward to. I would like to think of it as a blessing in disguise, but I wouldn’t have an alternative to compare to. I am a lot less unhappy than my past selves, aided by the introspection that can only come from the immobility of a disabled self. But who really knows how would I have unfolded had I stayed healthy?
Yet everything that have been written here can only be attributed to a person like this, like me. Just like only Dazai could have written “No longer human”, or only Le Guin could provoke people with her blogged words at age 81, the words that have flowed consistently and unabashedly here can only have come from me.
I don’t have much to give to this world, only my words are left. There are hundreds of people that arrive here every month – probably most bounce because in a lot of ways this is not attractive reading, but there are some who stay, and once they stay they really stay. There are some who leave after a while because they can no longer relate to my writing or I’ve changed. That is okay, because that is representative of reality. We can’t expect to like the same things forever. We can’t even like ourselves forever. This impermanence is what that drives that incessant creativity of human beings.
When I look back at my words, are they enough to sustain an existence, to make my life worth while? I have increasingly come to believe that this is not a question I can answer. I can only write them because I have to. I can’t do much about what people do with my words. Even if nobody reads them I will still write them, because this is the only way I know how to exist, and this is also the only way I truly get to know myself.
There are only words left, but these are words that can only come from me. That makes them precious, even if only to me, and for me.
This is why for me self-expression and art is precious. They gift a dimension of life that is utterly useless but yet perhaps it is the only thing that can capture the soul of human beings. I can’t know much about you from your wealth, status, career, possessions – even people who are supposed to know you may not really know who you are, but your art speaks a truth about you that doesn’t come from elsewhere. It comes from melding everything about you.
When everything is said and done, what is left? For some people it may be a building in their name, others may have patents, memories, loved ones. For me only words are left. They may not indicate whether a life was worthwhile, but they express a life that is lived, reflected upon, absorbed and felt. Maybe we can’t really control whether our lives are well-lived, but I can at the very least, attempt to feel it, process it, express it – thoroughly.