Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”
You all should read Emerson, first of all. I read his essays on nature while driving through the Tetons (PG translation: bosoms) (worth note: they look like no bosoms I’ve seen) and Yellowstone, which was ideal. He says sublime things like, “To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again. The heavens change every moment, and reflect their glory or gloom on the plains beneath.” My mom and I had to deal with clouds and rain and snow obscuring our views of distant mountains at times, but words like these from Emerson served as a reminder to me of the illusion of repetition. The mountains might be hidden, but we saw a herd of bison catching snow on their shaggy manes, haunted trees standing darkly in mist, and other innumerable things, like each other, and the strange feeling of perceiving all of these things, never to be seen again quite like this, beside one another.
But the bangers don’t really start flooding in until he gets to the sixth essay of the Nature series, “Idealism.” I’m talking Robinson-esque banger turns of phrase that you know I’d overquote in the extreme, finding inelegant ways to loop them into the nature of the egg you’re frying or something. Like this fatty:
The frivolous make themselves merry with the Ideal theory, as if its consequences were burlesque; as if it affected the stability of nature. It surely does not. God never jests with us, and will not compromise the end of nature, by permitting any inconsequence in its procession. Any distrust of the permanence of laws, would paralyze the faculties of man. Their permanence is sacredly respected, and his faith therein is perfect. The wheels and springs of man are all set to the hypothesis of the permanence of nature. We are not built like a ship to be tossed, but like a house to stand, it is a natural consequence of the structure, that, so long as the active powers predominate over the reflective, we resist with indignation any hint that nature is more short-lived or mutable than spirit.
The “Ideal theory,” so you know, because I didn’t, is that “what is is what is perceived to be,” and Emerson absolutely glorifies this idea beyond what so much of popular thought today keeps telling me to think. Perception being the beginning and end of all things doesn’t make things “burlesque” or reducible in meaning because God never jests with us. For example, the atom holds together. This bond, as he puts it, is sacred, which is another way of saying strange, and another way of imploring us to not take it for granted. Which is where we come to the part that every one of you is going to hear me casually toss over the phone here at some point: we are built “like a house to stand.” The phrase lends us dignity, something I think the current age needs more than almost anything else. I can’t get over how urgent this essay published in 1836 remains today. And I urgently, madly want to annoy you all with it.
I kept laboring over what to write. Josh wrote “F is for Fermata,” which I read at seven in the morning while alone in Rachelle and Josiah’s apartment and sobbed. Like, really ugly cried. I wet the bed (with my face), saying melodramatic things to myself like “I didn’t count the cost! I didn’t count the cost!” When I finally made the attempt to write, my words felt so intolerable that I frequently scratched them out with such vigor that whole lines of things I hadn’t yet written were already scribbled out on subsequent pages. Writing isn’t always a release, at least when trying to count the cost of an unquantifiable sensation.
It’s not just that I couldn’t write, either. I couldn’t even form new lyrics to my ever-expanding song universe within “The Ballad of Butthole Joe.” I know that song was typically reserved for the homies living in The Queen, but let’s not pretend like anyone’s surprised by its existence. It’s just not fun to sing anymore. There’s no shirtless Matthew frying eggs in the kitchen to look at me, aghast, imploring, “Why?! Why?!” Because, Matthew. Even Butthole Joe deserves the dignity of having his name spoken aloud. I did not sing of him like some ship to be tossed! He may have disappeared with the dissolution of The Queen, however. Never thought I’d be sad about ol’ Joe, but here we are.
Anyways. I’ve already made a passing reference to Marilynne Robinson, so I might as well talk about Bon Iver. We never did listen to the latest release on vinyl while lying on the ground with candles around us like the intolerable hipsters we are. You know how in the song “iMi,” there’s that sample that repeats in the background, “I am, I am, I am, I am,” sung lightly, floating upwards like revelation? Well, it’s how I feel about what things are like when we’re all together. This intense realization of being. I keep singing it around my parents’ house with an image in my mind of us puddled on couches and reading, or an image of Matthew’s aghast look, or a sound blip of David’s loud laugh getting in the way of him reading an Ex Libris answer, or Rachelle accidentally eating a peanut butter and borscht sandwich, or any of you, doing anything. I am, I am, I am, I am.
It reminds me of another Emerson quote from his essay “Friendship.” But before I get into this, something needs to be said. The transience of experience isn’t a curse, and I refuse to get too sappy about it, even as I’m about to get sappy. We were doomed to separate; just like we were blessed to experience each other so closely for such a long, sweet while; just like we can hope to be together again. We are the heavens to each other, and we reflected glory. It’s unbearably true. Sappy. Moving on. This is the quote: “We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken. Barring all the selfishness that chills like east winds the world, the whole human family is bathed with an element of love like a fine ether.”
To my Northwestern people, who instilled in me such fine ether,
Will Montei is currently in pursuit of a Masters in Teaching at Seattle Pacific University. He has been writing for the post calvin since it began in 2013.