letter to a (young) friend

letter to LM, 28 June 2012

my dear friend,

Musing on the inspirations from our conversation the other night.

My thanks are in order for listening as I spouted on about my job prospect[s].  If there were more, maybe I'd talk less of each individual one.

Your mishap [accidentally insulting your current roommates] still gets me thinking about Hitchens; you would definitely love Letters To A Young Contrarian.  I think I read it at first because [our old counselor] said it reminded her of me -- no better compliment exists than to be compared to the inscrutable bastard that was "the Hitch," as he called himself and was called by others.

Another bit from the Letters is this: "The high ambition, therefore, seems to me to be this: That one should strive to combine the maximum of impatience with the maximum of skepticism, the maximum of hatred of injustice and irrationality with the maximum of ironic self-criticism."  I think Hitch was one of those people, like my brother and my uncle, and a few others I know, who is, as I have written in journals before, "obsessed with the fact of living" -- how to do it not even well, but just correctly & beneficially.  Hitch's longtime friend, the novelist Martin Amis, said that he agonized over the decisions he made and ideals he espoused; he knew that the things he said and thought mattered, at least to him, as well as to many others.  He cared enough about himself (many say too much) to know that each decision can and should be a difficult one if it leads to growth.  Reminds me of what Sam Harris, fellow atheist and anti-religionist, wrote: "Who said that being morally good, or even ethically consistent, must be easy?"

Hitch also wrote, "Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish."  I asked a friend long ago if I seemed arrogant to him, and he said yes, but in the best possible way, as though he were insulting me.  Good! I thought.  Better to be concerned, deeply concerned, with the way I conduct my life than to be concerned with the way others conduct theirs.  After all, I can't control anything but than myself.

These may be noble thoughts to mention because of the needless insults of your fellow boarders, but know that I see a relation strong enough to mention the two together.  At the same time that I gently remind you not to make hasty generalizations (certainly not in the presence of those being generalized), I beg (!) you not to be like them!  Never care what others say of you!  Believe instead in yourself, what you have to say.  Remember that words mean more or less nothing, and even less when they come from the mouths of the superficial or uninformed.  To your roommate who said something like, "I wouldn't want someone to make assumptions about me," I say, why not?  It happens every moment of every day, and yet we only fuss about the instances we can observe.  Know that, unlike many of them and many of the general populus, your identity does not rest upon its perception by others.  Go deep inside yourself, learn to love whatever you find there, and if you care about it (or anything else) enough, never be afraid to share it with others.

And finally, know that these words are not meant to be read as admonishment; my thoughts are only directed at you today because of the coincidences of this world.  And, of course, because we all feel the same ways.  In Letters To A Young Poet, the collection of Rainer Maria Rilke's letters that spawned a series of well-meaning imitations (like the Hitchens), he writes, "And if there is one thing more that I must say to you, it is this: Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find those words."  This young poet, also obsessed with the fact of living, sends a message to those in places quite familiar to hers.  We are in this one together.

your affectionate monster,

[R]