Courage in Life

I feel as if I keep apologising for not writing, which is when the oddities of writing a blog such as this come to light.  Am I apologising to you, dear readers?   Am I also apologising to myself?

The answer is, of course, yes to both.  The apologies to you are because I presume you read this blog occasionally out of interest in my writing, as that seems more likely than interest in my life — which at the moment is externally rather boring, though inwardly it is full of great melodramatic advances and retreats, of intellectual heights scaled and emotional depths plumbed, of moral questions deliberated and puzzles created or solved.  But on the outside all I am doing is going to work and coming home, cooking, reading, sleeping, writing, talking about the Odyssey and the nature of Renaissance art and Elizabethan poetry.

No wonder we find blogs or memoirs where people speak out what they really think so very interesting.  Our inward life, says G.K. Chesterton, is not drama but melodrama — and this I really do think is true.  The content of that melodrama is sometimes a little strange — the nightmare when I couldn’t remember my students’ names (not something I actually worry about overmuch) — the incredible debates with myself as to whether I should put another reading on my syllabus or not — but nevertheless, inside, there are these weather fronts going on.

And that’s just my day-to-day life.  The real storms in the teacups of my soul come about when I think about the bigger picture of my life, the questions of where I am going and whither I am tending at present.  This requires intense deliberation — I have read too much philosophy for it not, and too much theology for the decision that the end of human life is the good as displayed in virtuous action not to mean a whole lot of things Aristotle gave short shrift too — and also a steady series of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual commitments, or moments of courage, that are all the harder for them being internal, so apparently unconnected with the outside world, and so small and self-determined.

Yet I debate them.  I debate my worthiness.  I debate the difference between the virtue of prudence and the vice of cowardice.  I work on my novel and try to disentangle for the main character challenges of emotional, moral, physical, intellectual, spiritual courage — he’s good at the middle three, and continually fails when it comes to emotional and spiritual courage — I think about what the differences may be between artistic and intellectual courage.

I read the Odyssey and think about what it says about courage, and virtue, and deliberation, and action.

I look at my students, those who speak and those who don’t, the questions they ask and the curiosity they show — or are afraid to show.

I look at my colleagues in what many of them think are boring committee meetings, and try to see where the lines are drawn for them.  Sometimes these are clear, where something brings up a question of moral or intellectual weight for them; more often I am just guessing, from what I know of them and from what I imagine from my attempts to get at the inner workings of characters as a novelist.

I go to work, I read, I talk, I listen, I come home, I write, I cook, I read some more, I walk, I think.  Quiet things, ordinary activities for a university student or teacher, familiar to me from many years of doing this.  Yet what I am starting to see more and more is that these are the stuff of drama, that though the questions and challenges and demands are not posed nearly so starkly as they are in fiction, nevertheless they are present, vital, real.

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