Confessions of an Idea Addict
On escaping the "house built on sand" of the philosophical mind
Dear Living Dark reader,
As someone who loves books and music and art, I have to perpetually remind myself how critically necessary it is for me to make a deliberate practice of touching the earth. I mean that both metaphorically and literally. And the fact that I’m noting it here a few days before the new year doesn’t mean I’m putting it forth as a resolution that I intend to adhere to through force of disciplined will in 2024. Rather, it’s an ongoing realization that has presented itself to me over a span of many decades, and that has become one of the central orienting points of my life.
For whatever reason, I am blessed or cursed with an insatiable relish for philosophical and spiritual ideas, for conversation and abstraction, for thought and reflection. This is all well and good, as far as it goes. But the inbuilt trouble, the worm in the apple, is that you cannot live an idea. Not directly, at least. You can only embody it.
Unless, that is, you want to lose yourself in an airy nothing, a hyperrealm of mental concepts and abstract aesthetic sentiment, cut off from the existential reality of the present moment and the real living identity of you who encompass it.
Walker Percy stated this point much more straightforwardly than I just did, and his words essentially stabbed me with their pointed truth when I first encountered them in the mid-1990s, during my first decade out of college. Those were my early years of marriage, family, and full-time professional adulthood, when I was feeling myself squeezed on all sides and afflicted by a fundamental sense of inadequacy to live up to literally anything and everything in my life except for my calling to read books, suck the marrow out of ideas, write in my journal, and surf the synergistic energy that arced perpetually among those three things. Percy interrupted my solipstistic cycle of alternating misery and exhilaration—in which the boundedness of the latter only emphasized the pervasiveness of the former—when I read his posthumous essay collection Signposts in a Strange Land and found him saying the following: