So You Say You Want A Resolution
Two recent events in my life. The first, I'm beginning to realize how grumpy I've been. Maybe it was leaving Japan to come back here to work. Maybe it's the tension of balancing law review and my workload and interviewing and... and... and... (okay, deep breaths). Or maybe it's the screeches of both sides in the presidential election, and the almost physical psychic tension of the Republican Convention in New York. But whatever, the more cheerful, humorous character who used to write things like the case brief to Freddy v. Jason hasn't been heard from recently.
Secondly, I've been reading Chesterton's classic Orthodoxy, just a little each night. Some of it is joyful, while other parts make me want to scream with frustration. Chesterton never met a paradox he didn't like or a contradiction he couldn't reconcile. In an aphorism this is admirable, but it can make for quite a heavy writing style when it extends across a book. Sometimes I want to shake my fists at the heavens and yell, "G.K., if life were really such a paradox, no man could ever boil an egg. He'd get stuck wondering whether he was letting the yolk from the shell into the universe, or whether the universe was in some perverse sense actually inside the egg breaking out into the yolk. He'd never just crack the damn thing."
Nonetheless, there's such a good-spiritedness to his apology for Christianity that I can't stop reading it. Some of this just boils down to the kind of man he was, as described in the introduction by Philip Yancey:
Chesterton cheerfully engaged in public debates with agnostics and skeptics of the day, most botably George Bernard Shaw--this at a time when a debate on faith could fill a lecture hall. Chesterton usually arrived late, peered through his pince-nez at his disorderly scraps of paper, and proceeded to entertain the crowd, making nervous gestures, fumbling through his pockets, leaughing heartily in a falsetto voice at his own jokes. Typically he would charm the audience over to his side, then celebrate by hosting his chastened opponent at the nearest pub. "Shaw is like the Venus de Milo; all there is of him is admirable," he toasted his friend affectionately.
Cosmo Hamilton, one of his debating opponents, described the experience,To hear Chesterton's howl of joy...to see him double himself up in an agony of laughter at my personal insults, to watch the effect of his sportsmanship on a shocked audience who were won to mirth by his intense and peahen-like quarks of joy was a sight and a sound for the gods...and I carried away from that room a respect and admiration for this tomboy among dictionaries, this philosophical Peter Pan....It was monstrous, gigantic, amazing, deadly, delicious.
When I turned thirty this weekend, this was the passage I read and re-read in the morning: the laughing patriot and the joyful footsoldier. That spirit ran through everything the man wrote, and has probably done more to win me towards his views than any particular argument he ever mustered. And yet looking back on what I've scribbled down here and elsewhere recently, my own ability to access that sort of style and to see the world through mirthful eyes has diminished precipitously.
It's too tempting to get annoyed at some ill-made political argument or to curse an IT system when it falls flat and refuses to send my email. It's too easy to get aggrieved when some non-torrential rain shuts down the 1/9 train downtown and makes me late for a major interview. Sometimes when I'm shaking my fist at the heavens, it's not to issue mild rebukes to dead poets.
And that's a shame. One of Chesterton's best maxims, that "An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered," used to grace my wall. A lot of this initial 2L year has been wrongly-considered recently: not that I've done anything spectacularly wrong as such, but I've certainly not looked at it with the spirit it deserves.
Anyway, let's see if we can change that. This is the beginning of my thirties, and as good a time for a change as any other. Maybe I won't have a pair of pince-nez and a huge belly to match my literary mentor. (Then again, there's a new freshman in the building who does wear pince-nez, and the sedentary lawyer lifestyle makes girth an easy option.) But I can at least borrow his rose-tinted spectacles every once in a while. Life all too often seems too short not to do so.
In the meantime, there's a few people I'd like to thank belatedly for their contributions over the last few days:
- Thank you to all my friends who, in some way or another, helped me celebrate my thirtieth last weekend, in the midst of callbacks and classes and starting reviews.
- Thank you to PG and Chris, who sent good wishes from afar.
- And thank you to my family. I couldn't make it back this year over the Labor Day weekend, but I've been told my brother (a bartender par excellence, besides his other business skills) mixed drinks for a toast. Hope you had a Manhattan for me, brother o' mine.