Thursday, June 16, 2011

The road of excess

If you've ever been hungover, you get William Blake. At least what he meant when he wrote, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." The morning after, when your head is pounding, your stomach wants to hurl and life cannot progress as it should, you experientially understand "excess," or too much, and why you should avoid it.

That doesn't mean you won't do it again, but you've learned where that behavior leads, in a way that you wouldn't by someone telling you.

I know the road of excess. And I hope I've been able to glean a couple of its palaces. I think it's as solid a piece of advice as you'll find scribbled out there, in memorable, bumper-sticker form. The way I see it, there are two problems we have as a culture with following Blake's adage:

1) We master "excess" and never get around to the wisdom part. For example: debt. obesity. pollution. All those ad nauseum buzz words that plaster newspapers and politispeak and talk shows. All things whose excess should be able to lead us directly the wisdom of how to let go, ease off, scale back, etc. We just keep plowing down the road of excess, probably until we run out of gas and never reach the palace.

2) We try to claim the palace without having tread the road. This seems especially problematic to me. Here's why. The teenage and early 20s especially should almost be known as the road to excess years. If we don't make mistakes by way of excess, trying shit, falling down, and storing away the lessons learned (a.k.a. "wisdom), we'll also call this "living life," then it seems to me that come 40s, 50s, whatever, we are walking mid-life crises waiting to happen.

And by the time that phase of life comes around, there are frequently those pesky things like families, kids, mortgages, etc., that get royally bent over when we go out to learn the excess road.

The equally interesting thing, to me, as a parent, and as someone who certainly used those years for excess (for better and worse), is how we try so hard to plop our kids directly into the palace of wisdom, without ever having them find it on their own via the road. We don't want them to fuck up or fall down or hurt or embarrass themselves. We put them in bubbles that don't allow them to glean wisdom or life lessons that might help or shape them.

I'm sure I'll be no different. I'm sizing the girls up for protective bubbles even now. But there is something to be said for Blake's advice. On a far-too-preachy Thursday morning.

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