Saturday, September 28, 2013

This Utter Rightness Burning Up In Me

Matt here.

Some of you are friends with me on Facebook, and you know that I've been extremely happy this past while. Every day—not right away because I'm bad at waking up, but within a few hours—I get this joyful bubbling in my chest and I can't help but smile. I'm not in love. I'm not rolling in dough. I'm just . . . happy.

My Facebookies also know that I recently finished reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged; I don't know if anyone has made the connection between these things.

The book wasn't easy, and it wasn't pretty, and it wasn't soothing. It took me two months to finish, and let me tell you, I am a talented reader. War and Peace took less time and was significantly more pleasurable. Nevertheless, I found Atlas Shrugged to be challenging and insightful, and I appreciate those qualities at least as much as gorgeous prose and engaging story. I'm still mulling over bits of philosophy and chunks of words, and I keep finding things that are true. I've been applying them to my life, and I think that that has a lot to do with my gradually rising and now stable-ish high spirits.

If your sum knowledge of Ayn Rand has come from Republican quotes or Comedy Central, you might think I'm being silly. I don't think I am, though. Huge swaths of the things she articulates (if not the accompanying story) seem like things people already get behind, and others are things that maybe they would get behind, if they ever spent any time thinking about it. The big thrusts of the novel were, briefly, that actions and results are irrevocably linked; that you are the only one responsible for yourself; and that another way of saying "good versus evil" is "thinking versus not thinking."

Before reading the novel, I had a certain sense of all these things, as I think most people do, but it was rather weak. Her arguments and declarations challenged me to really engage with the concepts and apply them in my life, and the results are already showing. For example, earlier today I played a piano piece I've been working on for some time better than I've ever played it before—nearly perfect. This is because (since reading Rand) I've sat down most every day to practice my way through a book of exercises for the first time since I was nine. Actions and results are linked.

For example, I began logging my overtime. I do quite a few things for my employer outside of work hours because they're very small and on a restricted budget and because I want them to succeed. At the end of the year I plan to argue for a raise and a promotion, and I want to be able to give an account of my own worth and what I've done to help us thrive. I'm the only one responsible for myself.

For example, I turned down a drag show outing with my roommates. Once upon a time I would go with anyone's plans, no matter what else I was doing. But this time, I thought about it: I hate being out late, I don't like bars, and I wasn't in the mood for a drag show; I wanted to keep practicing the piano, and then I wanted to go to bed. They went, and I stayed home and was happy. Thought is good; unthinking isn't.

These are true principles. These are having the sort of "by their fruits ye shall know them" effect that I always expected of living by the church's standards. I'm not discounting a possible divine calculus that I don't understand, but I can tell you this: I have kept neither the Word of Wisdom nor the Law of Chastity; I don't recognize the church as an authority in my life; and I am happier than I've ever been.

Not perpetually. Today, for example, I have been achy and cranky because it's been a busy week and the landlord woke me up with construction noise and Spanish radio and the movies I rented were nearly late and the houseguests who were here used all my shampoo and toilet paper and I haven't exercised since Tuesday. There are down days, because life is still life and while we're the only ones responsible for ourselves, we still often have to deal with the consequences of others' actions in addition to our own. (While reading Atlas Shrugged I was reminded of Ana Karenina, of Cosette, of the Joad family, of the women from Paradise, of everything Tillie Olsen ever wrote.) Yet, I believe that on the whole reality is as just as E=mc2; 2+2=4; A is A.

If you aren't happy, look at your actions; look at your attitude; look at your thought. It appears that for myself, at least, there were answers there. (Though whether they'll be lasting answers, I can't say. Check with me tomorrow. And tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow . . . ) Perhaps for you as well.


This feels like an appropriate place to tell you that I'll be finished writing for BtS in two weeks. It will have been one year.

If you have anything you would like me to write about over those two weeks, I would appreciate suggestions. If you have any burning questions, feel free to ask them in a comment or email or what have you.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date.

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha ha, "within a few hours" because of being "bad at waking up." Oh man, can I ever relate to that. At least you don't have your co-workers eating breakfast with you and wanting to talk!

    I love this post! It makes me happy to see you happy and productive, and you know I appreciate your "testimony" of _Atlas Shrugged_. That book gets such a bad rap and it's so unfair.

    It's funny the sense of wellbeing you identify with reading the book. I agree with the rightness of many of the simple principles in there that she tries to convey, but whenever I read that book it would always make me cranky and frustrated while I was reading it (focusing on the negative, I guess, and how so many people in life really do behave in the ways she shows as being so bad). I'll have to get it on my reading list for a reread; I wonder if I would have the same visceral response nowadays.