“Griefs, at the moment when they changed into ideas, lose some of their power to injure the heart.” Proust, from How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton
I am not really a fan of self help books. Most of them amount to exhortations to just think yourself right out of that ol’ problem of yours. Oh come on, I always want to say, I’ve actually got real problems, you know—house-over-the-head, gas-in-the-car, shoulder-to-cry-on sort of problems. Even still, I always say, it could be worse. Because it could.
So, feeling buoyed by the support of D.H. Lawrence, whom at least acknowledges that our emotional lives are what make us alive so that I don’t feel so bad for feeling it all, I read How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton. Botton writes that Proust understood there to be:
“two methods by which a person can acquire wisdom, painlessly via a teacher or painfully via life.”
Perhaps this is why I enjoy school so much, I’ve had enough of the “life learning” for now, thank you very much. Why I am not already a genius is beyond my comprehension, which may be why I’m not already a genius, but I digress…
“Happiness is good for the body, but it is grief which develops the strengths of the mind.” – Proust
mmmhmm. got it.
Proust is, of course, an extremely interesting man. I love that he himself was extremely kind, but also a complete weirdo of a wreck. In both his and my opinion, it makes him highly qualified to advise and instruct.
“It’s true that there are people who are superior to their books, but that’s because their books are not Books.” —Proust
The chapter entitled How To Be A Good Friend, was very illuminating. I share the proustian tendency towards effusive praise, I’m not a good liar, but if I can find a little thing- I run with it. Often this results in severe disappointment as regards the reality of…people. I had to write a “peer introduction” for an assigned partner in a class of mine last week, the speeches were to be in theme. We discovered a suitable theme to work off of and I wrote my half of the speech, she missed the class that we were to spend reading each other’s and preparing for the presentation, I felt bad for her that she used her only “allowable” absence so early in the term. Never the less, I practiced and practiced and looked like a mad woman waiting in the car for my son later in the week, practicing some more.
The heart of what I wrote was all about her lovely qualities, wrapped up around our theme of a mutual loathing for the restaurant business and her obvious! impressive! determination! and display of scholastic skill! that would assuredly get her out of the restaurant someday in her glorious future! And then- she didn’t show up. To school. That’s probably number one on the official list of “scholastic skills,” but, oh never mind….
I was abandoned at the lectern, nonplussed and alone, trying not to choke on the unrestrained babble that my speech had become in light of her pointedly un-scholastic behavior and rather shabby treatment of me. All the while thinking— why am I surprised? this is my life. I’m not even mad at her, perhaps she had some good reason, perhaps not, it doesn’t matter. I can only look to Proust and say, see, he is worse than me. His excessive praise and self deprecation were truly epic. Maybe that’s why he was a genius and I am not.