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A Party of One

I often wish to be excused from the human race. I hear the news, but cannot identify with those events. In my world, people would live in peace and harmony. Children would be well fed, educated, and polite. Life would be simple, balanced, and graceful – like poetry. When aliens arrive here, I will say (indicating you) ‘I’m not with them.’ Those aliens might be extremely advanced, yet we humans will look all the same to them. Therefore, I cannot count on privileged treatment. Despite my obvious innocence, I am in the same boat with the rest of you chumps. You are the only family I have, even if you disappoint me, so I must try to get along. Humans are social beings. Hermits who retreat from society discover, intensely, their dependence on others. My material needs and immaterial pursuits are inextricably bound up together. In real life, things spill over into one another. And if I am, relatively speaking, shy of company, my private thoughts magnify those few important relationships. I can count my friends on my fingers; but then, they are very good friends. And the better I know them, the more unique my friends appear. That is their attraction. The books and music I treasure, too, never get old, because what they say is always true, even though nothing lasts forever. They smell and taste of life. I cannot define this fragile quality, or prove it exists. I only feel it in certain individuals, more than others, or sometimes at rare moments or places. We prize that which is one of a kind. That explains the constant value of antiques, and why certain books never go out of print. Greeks and Romans imagined that a guardian, genius, or conscience, guided our lives. This genius was a law unto itself, even a madness or possession. Sometimes the genius manifested in animal form, emphasizing that it will never be domesticated or respectable. This explains, in a nutshell, why artists tend to be loners. They need solitude, because genius must run free in the unspoiled paradise of contemplation. I long for scenes where man has never trod, A place where woman never smiled nor wept … –John Clare Genius, I think, is suddenly to know something in one’s bones. Certain individuals have a knack for this sureness. Trivial actions become powerful symbols in their hands: as when Gandhi terrified the British Empire by making his own salt, or when Martin Luther King, Jr. decided to go on a long walk. Pretend, for an instant, that you are just such an enlightened person, provided with your very own guiding genius. Hold that thought. Picture how you would act if you were that person. Now then, by the authority vested in me by the editor and publisher of this newspaper, I hereby set you free, and declare you, my readers, to be enlightened. Muslim folklore says only 4,000 genuine human beings exist at any moment, regardless the ‘actual’ population – the rest are like sleepwalkers. I believe, however, that anybody may be one of those elect. There is no special formula. Of what does life consist? My minimum needs are coffee, rice and water. Beyond that, be happy, and live by faith. (I estimate, by the way, that at least 2,666 of those enlightened persons live in Riverwest. And after this column is published, we ought to be near 3,000.) Ask me what I am, though, and I am stumped. My life is a work in progress. I will be as surprised as you whatever happens next. Not everywhere is conducive to study and writing. I will always find a way, of course, but certain places are easier on my constitution. Riverwest is such a place. Geography created Riverwest, because the Milwaukee River defines about half our boundaries. Diverse people also influence the atmosphere. If Riverwesterners indulge one another’s eccentricities, no doubt many of us remember being strangers, too. Along with those ingredients is another quality – an instinct that I belong here, that I am among kindred spirits. What, precisely, are Riverwest values? And how do we preserve our way of life? Sometimes, when sitting at my desk, I hear perfect stillness. That mysterious moment is broken by the jingling of the ice cream truck and children’s voices. Characters out of adventure stories parade past outside. Or, I am privy to late-night drunken conversations beneath my window. Yes, that is Riverwest: just right. Personally, I have no tolerance for politics. I am a party of one. I shun labels, categories and schedules, even the heading of this column – because honestly, I hate Beat poetry. What ‘I am’ is different one moment to the next. Even these words were written at least two weeks ago. I have changed a lot since then. In this vast shifting Unknown, I walk a tightrope fine as silk. I try to be aware, every moment, to study my actions, to take responsibility. Thus, incidentally, I own no car, seldom watch television or read newspapers (except this column), and consciously avoid anything that feels wrong. I also walk everywhere, and wash my own clothes by hand. By sacrificing some things, I found leisure enough to study music and languages, to write books, and to pursue countless other interests. Only 4,000 genuine human beings, more or less, can change the world. To live simply is for ever a radical, subversive idea – more so than activism, peace rallies, or those letters you keep meaning to write your congressman. Comments or ideas for this column? Write to
By William Morder