‘It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows’ – Epictetus
One of the (many) disappointing things about getting older is realizing all the things that you used to believe are no longer true. Spoiler alert. There is no Santa Claus. I am also starting to doubt the authenticity of a mega-fauna Sylvilagus that has been perennially dispensing chocolate eggs since the dawn of time. I’m also convinced there are no real ‘adults’ either, just a lot of people playing pretend. The older I get the less I know, which makes me yearn for my youth where I knew everything. I also wish I could still hang upside down on the monkey bars without something snapping in my back.
Being a prisoner in my own life I try to use my hour of ‘free-time’ before I go to bed as efficiently as possible. In lieu of killing-stuff on PlayStation I now try and further myself by reading books that make me feel stupid. I’m desperately trying to emulate my heroes. Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite poem is the Nibelungenlied (the story of Siegfried the Dragon-slayer) which he read in the original German. Jan Smuts loved Prometheus Unbound by Shelly and read Greek Tragedies in their original format. Joey likes… Tintin. The Calculus Affair is my favorite.
Behold my Kryptonite *hits head on the edge of his desk* If ever there was something that can tear any remnants of ego from the dark recesses of my brain this is it. This book is making me feel more stupid than I ever thought possible.
I read it line by line and think, oh that’s a nice line or cool word combination. But by the end of the page (which takes me about five minutes) I can’t remember what happened at the top of the page. Let alone the previous page. I mean I have a general sense… that God was hanging out with his Arch Angles and Mephistopheles comes to visit and that God says ‘Want to bet you can’t tempt Faust?’ And Mephistopheles says ‘Hold my beer’. But the nuances are generally lost on me.
This book is kicking my butt. I can confidently attest to Epictetus that he shouldn’t worry, I don’t really know anything about anything.
I get the sense that I could read this entire book, spend all this time and only ever understand it from a Wikipedia summary point of view. I would never be able to have an intellectual conversation about it. I find that quite disheartening as it starkly illustrates my limitations.
‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’ -Theodore Roosevelt
To be fair I am at least trying. And that’s something. Even if it does feel like an exercise in futility. I just wish I was a bit smarter.