Our own rejected thoughts

waterfront #072 (19 May 2011)

waterfront #072 (19 May 2011)

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In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. (Ralph Waldo Emerson

Genius often consists of looking at something differently. A true work of genius often reminds us of thoughts we’ve had, but not been able to follow through. Although these thoughts are familiar, the genius has turned them into something we could not manage; they are “alienated” by having been taken where we could not follow, and have the “majesty” of the completed achievement of the work. (Samwise, Yahoo Canada Answers)

A special kind of déjà vu can happen when we encounter a great work of art. It’s like looking in a mirror – we see some facet of ourselves, something we recognize and have seen before. But maybe what we see makes us rueful, envious, or just uneasy. So what’s going on there?

Wishful thinking? … or a crisis of confidence?

Why do we so often reject ideas that subsequently – in the hands of “someone cleverer, more talented, more creative” – turn out to be really powerful, useful, or inspiring?

Could it be that we reject the ideas that come to us because we are afraid that nothing we might do with that idea could ever be “good enough”? (Whatever that means.)

Anxieties take many forms, but they seem always to get in the way, blocking us from doing what we really want to do. Emerson urged his readers, “Always do what you are afraid to do.” John Cage went so far as to suggest that “There is nothing we need to do that isn’t dangerous.”

In Rule 6 of his 8 Rules of Writing, Neil Gaiman says: “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

American baseball star Yogi Berra offers intriguing advice: “When you come to a fork in the road … take it.” (I don’t think he was talking about collecting cutlery.) Emerson, on the other hand, urges: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

There’s a lot to be said for simply giving oneself wholeheartedly to life, without fear and without stint.

With the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes in mind, St Paul encouraged the Colossian Christians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart …” (Colossians 3:23-25) Ecclesiastes continues: “for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.”

What is more mortifying than to feel that you have missed the plum for want of courage to shake the tree?  (Logan Pearsall Smith)

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