Putting Contempt To Good Use

Nothing Will Satisfy You

He was the emperor of Rome, one of the most powerful people on Earth during his time. He had an empire in his hand, but that wasn’t his greatest accomplishment. He was great because it was himself that he had conquered.

Marcus Aurelius wrote in his diary, “Just as when meat or other foods are set before us we think, this is a dead fish, a dead bird, and also, this fine wine is only the juice of a bunch of grapes, this purple-edged robe just sheep’s wool dyed in a bit of blood from a shellfish (Only the royal class were allowed to wear purple); or of sex, that it is only rubbing private parts together followed by a spasmic discharge — in the same way our impressions grab actual events and permeate them, so we see them as they really are”.

He wasn’t adopting a melancholic or cynical view of the world. He reminded himself that, for instance, the delicious meal he had was just a dead animal, because he was making sure that he wasn’t carried away by the ephemeral pleasures in life. They were not in his control, and in just one moment, they could be taken away from him, if God willed so.

The attainment of the coolest or biggest anything will not make us happy — We know that as-a-matter-of-factly. But as human beings, we’re driven by our emotions (more than we are by our intellect) — Hence why we need to constantly remind ourselves as we look for ways to be fulfilled.

You’ve heard it plenty of times, but really, the happiest people are those who give the most. Anthony Kiedis wrote in his memoir, which is more of a drug book, chronicling his past struggle to overcome his drug addictions — That the reason why he lived in such a dark place is because he lived in the world of the self — “Why did this happen to me? Why did I have a horrible childhood?”

That changed once he opened himself up to a concept of a higher power, that everything happens under God’s wisdom — While something may not be good for us, it may be good for others. He said, “The minute you get out of your self-centered mindset, you’re instantly freed of your own pain. The trick to staying sober is to constantly be of service to another alcoholic”.

He learned that because he had went through such troubling experiences in his past, he was now in a better position to serve others in their similar troubles.

“If you have a closet full of clothes, and you try to keep them all, your life will get very small. But if you have a full closet and someone sees something they like, if you give it to them, the world is a better place,” he said.

He doesn’t do something with the expectation of getting anything out of it, but as a by-product, he is.


Every Great Work Was Once Bad

“It took me 10 minutes to write Blowin’ In The Wind,” said Bob Dylan. But the thing is, it’s hard to believe anything said in his early days.

I love reading biographies, the same reason why I enjoy listening to demos or early versions of songs. It reminds me that a person didn’t get to where she is because of her genes. When you know the behind-the-scenes stories, that artist becomes less of a legend and more of a person that you could learn from.

Studying Dylan, you’d know that he’s a relentless craftsman. Just listen to the many outtakes of his songs. He’d alter the lyrics even when it was recording time because he  felt that they weren’t good enough.

Listening to the demo of Ballad of Hollis Brown, for example, it showed that a powerful song as that was once a work in construction too — The guitar didn’t sound dark enough in tune, the tempo was a little fast, the lyrics needed better words to conjure a haunting vibe.

William Butler Yeats wrote in his poem Adam’s Curse,

“A line (of poetry) will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.”

He meant that a great work of art — Once you know how hard the artist worked to create it, it doesn’t seem so magical anymore. It’s the 30th Law in the 48 Laws of Power — “Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless”. A magician never reveals his secrets. An artist never reveals how hard he worked.

We don’t always hear detailed stories about how a great work is done, because that would take some of its magic away — But as students of our craft, that’s what we have to dive into.

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