DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
“Right now I am really mad,” Tracey Flagler, the nice girl next door, scribbled furiously in her diary. “I want a million dollars right away. I want to be independently wealthy so that I do not have to do anything. My life just seems to be so stupid sometimes that I no longer want eternity. Who wants eternal stupidity? Eternity sounds so exhausting! I want amazing things to happen. I want to see myself as amazing. I am angry that I have to work tonight. I am mad that I have to support myself. I just don’t want to do anything anymore. I wish I were DEAD. I want to be free right now, and I mean right NOW, or DEAD.”
Give me liberty or give me death – perhaps the two are one and the same. Tracey finally freed herself from going to work. I noticed that she had not fed the dozen or so alley cats that showed up at her door regularly. I glanced discreetly into her window from my bathroom window next door, saw her nude form on the bed, and surmised that she was sleeping. The next day I looked again; her body was in exactly the same position, and likewise the day after. Something was wrong with that picture. I went across the way, up the flight of stairs to her apartment, knocked on her door and looked into her window. Her body did not move. I tried the door; it was open; her prized cats, the fluffy ones she kept inside, did not race around as usual, but put their heads down and growled sorrowfully.
The odor was ghastly. It was a good thing she had put out plenty of food for her cats, I thought, or they would have eaten her according to the rule, Food eats food. A note to our landlord was pinned on the wall, asking him to get rid of whatever he found in the apartment. After official inquiries were completed and the apartment unsealed, he told Tracey’s fellow tenants to take whatever they wanted before the Salvation Army truck arrived. I was the last to take my pick, but I found a fortune that had been neglected and tossed into garbage bags, namely her literary remains, along with several charming items that have occult properties, and other things I have described elsewhere. I found a book outline that she had penned on 35 pages of an Eden Roc Hotel note pad. The book would include a chapter on reincarnation, but she had written “DELETE” beside ‘Ch.7 – Reincarnation’. Who knows where Tracey is now, or whether she exists at all?
The answer to that question was imagined in my dream last night. I saw her reflection in a bubble that popped up on an ocean of milk. She had resurfaced in a motel room – San Diego Motor Inn, read the neon sign flashing just outside the window, casting an eerie red light across the room. Her lithe, alabaster form was stark naked except for a big black cat she held across her chest as she stood by the bed. Music from Madonna’s latest album was playing on the clock radio. An elegant leather briefcase was on the stand at the foot of the bed. She put the cat down, exposing her enchanting bosom, bent over and opened the briefcase. It was full of money – exactly one million dollars, I instantly calculated in my dream. I was both aroused and amazed by the spectacle. She looked up at me and smiled. Somehow I knew that I could have anything I wanted if I would squeeze her marvelous breasts at the same time, one in each hand, and make a wish. She glided towards me, hips swaying with the music, fulsome lips slightly parted. Now if someone comes at you with their lips slightly parted, you have to kiss them, so I intended to do just that, and to fondle her breasts as well, and of course to enjoy the joy within her at the same time, but as she came near and I eagerly looked at her flat tummy, I awoke with a start – she had no navel! What did it mean?
Unless our lives are dreams we have wished upon ourselves, dreams rarely come true. If only I had kissed her lips and squeezed her magic breasts and wished that I would never wake up to this reality, I might have forgotten the difference between dreams and reality, and enjoyed an orgasmic life with the woman of my dreams – the existential ace cannot exist alone: there must always be another for number one to be. But one must be careful what one wishes for, and it might be best not to wish for anything at all lest the source completely dries up.
Tracey’s breasts might have shrunk with my every wish, just as did the skin of the wild ass in Balzac’s instructive story, Le Peau de Chagrin – The Skin of Chagrin. Raphael of Valentine, the impoverished young protagonist of Balzac’s story, had discovered the secret of success in the human will, and he had in fact drafted a seminal work on the subject. In sum, he believed in the power of passionate thinking to achieve anything one wants. But his grinding poverty belied his theory, or rather some obscure fault in him rendered him unable to prove it true in his case, so one day he resolved to drown himself in the river Seine, after losing his last gold piece at the gambling parlor. As disaffected youth knows very well, suicide is the most obvious solution to life’s problems, but most of us survive the troubling years.
“There is something great and terrible about suicide,” observed Balzac in Chagrin. “Most people’s downfalls are not dangerous; they are like children who have not far to fall, and cannot injure themselves; but when a great nature is dashed down, he is bound to fall from a height. He must have been raised almost to the skies; he has caught glimpses of some heaven beyond his rich. Vehement must be the storms by which compel a soul to seek for peace from the trigger of a pistol.”
Now the late Tracey Flagler, who was an aspiring author among other things, certainly would have appreciated Raphael’s predicament as much as I do: “How much young power starves and pines away in a garret for want of a friend, for lack of a woman’s consolation, in the midst of millions of fellow-creatures, in the presence of a listless crowd that is burdened by its wealth! When one remembers all this, suicide looms large. Between a self-sought death and the abundant hopes which call a man to Paris, God only knows what may intervene; what contending ideas have striven within the soul; what poems have been set aside; what moans and what despair have been repressed; what abortive masterpieces and vain endeavors! Every suicide is an awful poem of sorrow. Where will you find a work of genius floating above the seas of literature that one can compare with this paragraph: Yesterday, at four o’clock, a young woman threw herself into the Seine from the Pont des Arts.”
As Raphael treads his melancholic path to the river, he encounters two beggars along the way, on old man and a child; they pled for his charity, he flings his remaining small change at them, and continues towards his fate. But he decides to wait until dark to forever extinguish his passionate will, lest he be seen and fished out of the water alive by the suicide-prevention institution, ‘THE ROYAL HUMANE SOCIETY’S APPARATUS’, which has a shed nearby. Much to his posthumous dishonor, the record of his attempt would then be published in the paper.
Wherefore Raphael entered an antique store to pass the time, and there he eventually encounters the proprietor, a centenarian, one of those types that serve artists so well as models for Moses:
“The craftiness of an inquisitor, revealed in those curving wrinkles and creases that wound about his temples, indicated a profound knowledge of life. There was no deceiving this man, who seemed to possess a power of detecting the secrets of the wariest hearth. The wisdom and the moral codes of every people seemed gathered up in his passive face, just as all the productions of the globe had been heaped up in his dusty showrooms. He seemed to possess a power of detecting the secrets of the wariest heart.”
The wise old Jew was iconoclast who wanted nothing, therefore he wound up with it all, including an antique shop full of curious from his carefree travels all over the world. We venture to invent a maxim here – if it has already been penned by another, our plagiary is pardonable: He who wants for nothing has everything.
“I have attained everything,” uttered the old man, “because I have known how to despise all things. My one ambition has been to see. Is not Sight in a manner Insight? And to have knowledge or insight, is not that to have instinctive possession? To be able to discover the very substances of fact and to unite its essence to our essence? Of material possession what abides with you but an idea? Think, then, how glorious must be the life of a man who can stamp all realities upon his thought, place the springs of happiness within himself, and draw thence uncounted pleasures in idea, unsoiled by earthly stains. Thought is the key to all treasures; the miser’s gains are ours without his cares…. The true millions lie here,” he said, striking his forehead.
The wizened wise merchant had something in store, a curio that he felt would be most suitable for Raphael’s distraught state: “Without compelling you to entreat me, without making you blush for it…I will make you richer, more powerful, and of more consequence than a constitutional king…. Turn round, look at that leather skin,” he went on, using his lamp to illuminate the talisman, a portion skin from a wild ass, stamped with the Seal of Solomon, no bigger than a fox’s skin, gleaming on the opposite wall, upon which something was inscribed in Sanskrit. Raphael, highly educated as he was, translated the exotic script into English:
POSESSING ME THOU SHALT POSSESS ALL THINGS, BUT THY LIFE IS MINE, FOR GOD HAS SO WILLED IT. WISH, AND THY WISHES SHALL BE FULFILLED; BUT MEASURE THY DESIRES, ACCORDING TO THE LIFE THAT IS IN THEE. THIS IS THY LIFE, WITH EACH WISH I MUST SHRINK EVEN AS THY OWN DAYS. WILT THY HAVE ME? TAKE ME. GOD WILL HARKEN UNTO THEE. SO BE IT!
Raphael asked the merchant if it was some sort of joke, or, then again, was it an enigma? The old coot responded, in part, “Before you came here, you made up your mind to kill yourself, but all at once a mystery fills your mind, and you think no more about death. You child!” And, “I am a centenarian with a couple of years to spare, and a millionaire to boot. Misery was the making of me, ignorance had made me learned. I will tell you in a few words the great secret of human life. By two instinctive processes man exhausts the springs of life within him. Two verbs cover all the forms which these two causes of death may take – To Will and To have your Will…. To Will consumes us, and To have our Will destroys us, but To Know steeps our feeble organisms in perpetual calm. In me Thought has destroyed Will, so that Power is relegated to the ordinary functions of my economy. In a word, it is not in the heart which can be broken, nor in the senses that become deadened, but it is in the brain that cannot waste away and survives everything else, that I have set my life.” Moreover, “Is not the utmost brightness of the ideal world soothing to us, while the lightest shadows of the physical world annoy? Is not knowledge the secret of wisdom? And what is folly but a riotous expenditure of Will or Power?”
“Very good then, a life of riotous expense for me!” Raphael rebelliously exclaimed. I had resolved my existence into thought and study, and yet they have not even supported me. I am not gulled by a speech worthy of Swedenborg, nor by your Oriental amulet….” Raphael then proceeded to wish upon the Skin of Chagrin for, in short, a life of boon companions for the riotous enjoyment of fine wine, passionate women, and, it goes without saying, song, culminating in no less than orgasmic joy: “I bid this enigmatic power to concentrate all delights for me in one single joy. Yes, I must comprehend every pleasure of earth and heaven in the final embrace that is to kill me.”
“Joy, joy, joy, joy, joy…!” Tracey Flagler had reiterated longingly during the lonely lucubration before her disappointing demise. The wishes Raphael made came true, and each truth shrank the magic skin along with his life, for that skin of a wild ass was his own ass, so to speak. But Tracey’s wishes did not come true. Her heart shriveled in despair, and she overdosed herself with the drugs her psychiatrist had prescribed to relieve her melancholy, having saved up several prescriptions for a dire emergency.
If only she had met Raphael, and he had become her Balzac, they might have lived a longer life on the average, and had a great deal of fun in the meantime. No doubt the bejeweled Madame Tracey of Valentine would have hosted a most charming Parisian salon. She would not have the billions of an Oprah, but powerful gentlemen would marvel at her breathtaking beauty, as if she were Madame Recamier herself, and, like Madame Recamier’s great friend Madame de Staël, Madame Tracey would probably enchant the likes of Napoleon with her popular gift of gab. Madame de Staël’s books are rarely read today, and are roundly criticized as mediocre, but none other summed up the society of her time so well. Madame de Staël and Napoleon were unwilling to share power over the minds of influential men, so he exiled her – Madame Recamier was charged with the crime of visiting her. Her exile gave her cause to contemplate suicide in her tome, Reflections on Suicide.
“Inordinate misery makes people think about suicide,” wrote Baronne Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holsten (nëe Necker). “We need not be afraid of devoting too much time to this subject –it is at the heart of mankind’s whole moral organization. I flatter myself that I can offer a few new insights into the motives that lead us to suicide, and those that should turn us away from it.”
Like every one else, I have considered suicide. First of all, I desperately opined, it is impossible for god to kill himself. But what could god do with eternity but to create something to break the boredom? I was moved to become the greatest author the world would ever or never know, the author who managed to cremate himself with his own works. At present I am writing the second draft of the seventh volume of my planned fifty-volume suicide note. To whom am I writing? Unhappy people.
“Unhappy people are the ones to write for,” wrote Madame de Staël. “People who have the good things of the world learn only from their experience, and consider abstract ideas on any topic nothing but wasted time. Sufferers are different: reflection is their safest refuge. Isolated from the distractions of society by misfortune, they examine themselves like an invalid tossing on his bed of pain, seeking the least agonizing position they can find.”
“It would be so nice if I had enough reasons to want to be here,” reads an entry in Tracey’s diary. “The idea that there are an infinite number of reasons to live thrilled me at first, but I don’t have one of them for myself. Right now I HATE, HATE, HATE – I HATE being alive – I want to be alive but it sucks to be alive –I HATE this culture based on the fun I don’t have – I HATE drugs and alcohol – I HATE Abraham – I HATE myself for not taking responsibility for him – I HATE being sad all the time – I wish I were dead and I wish Abraham were dead so I could stop loving him – I HATE thinking that I will not love someone so much again – I’m trying to tap into true love and the humans like Oprah Winfrey and Madonna and Jerry and Esther Hicks and Neale Donald Walsch and Jane Roberts and Robert Butts and Pat Rodegast and Judith Stanton and Napoleon Hill, people who have found true love – I know in my heart I’m so good but I HATE myself for not having their fun. Have I had fun here? That is the question. No, I am not having fun now. That is what all the reasons to live are really for, to have FUN! Do I want to be here? No, I wish I were dead, dead, DEAD! But my book makes me feel better. I have fun when writing it. I would have fun teaching people JOY. I know Oprah would love my book, and she would have me on her show, and I would have plenty of money and be secure, and I could finally relax, take a permanent vacation from all these stupid people who don’t have any imagination, who don’t know they can create their own planets and live on them with their own lovers, like my Abraham, and then I would have fun all the time. Joy, joy, joy, JOY would be forever mine! ”
If only Tracey could be around to see Honoré de Balzac appear on the Oprah Winfrey show: Oh what wisdom he would impart to our bourgeois world! It is a world that was already well on its way in Balzac’s day. Balzac cut his literary teeth anonymously, as a potboiler formula writer. The formulas are rather simple, rooted in the motivational principles of human nature, but they are better kept a trade secret, for an audience loves to be deceived, and a disillusioned audience will not maintain the trade. Love does not abhor a secret, and, neither does Oprah, but she would not have to be embarrassed with the revelation that our masterful novelist was a profligate fraud burdened by insurmountable debts due to his spendthrift ways. She would no doubt appreciate a confident man who was able to exchange novels for his staggering debts even before the novels were conceived let alone written.
Nonfiction authors lie a lot to tell a little truth. Great novelists lie a little to tell great truths. In any event, if it were not for the human imagination, next to nothing would get said or done. Honoré de Balzac, like his bureaucratic father before him, fancied himself as entitled to a title, but also the fun life that goes with it. He naturally fell in love with a fabulously wealthy Russian countess, who was so kind as to provide funds from time to time, and to finally marry him after putting her fortune in a trust he could not get at, but who in the end was more interested in shopping for jewelry than in his deteriorating health, as that was his problem, not hers. Oprah Winfrey would probably be much to his liking, and even the more so given their mutual interest in the occult. He wanted millions and lost a great deal of other people’s money trying to get them, but money was not the cause of the monomania he attributed to his characters; rather, there was some sort of energy, an essential force or elemental power underlying reality, and, despite his business failures, he thought that thought concentrated by that force was bound to succeed for good or ill. Yes, the occult power of thinking could be misdirected to negative as well as positive ends hence could be an enormously destructive power – monists speak enthusiastically of the creative-destructive power.
Balzac’s own life was a grandiose wish for love, fame and fortune. His pursuit of happiness despite every failure unto his premature end, has blessed our self-loving, money-grubbing culture with an everlasting self-portrait of great beauty. At the end of the day, human history seems to be a mistake for which we have due cause for chagrin. On the other hand, since this is the best of all possible worlds because it is the only one immediately available, we have cause for joy as well, for without the great expectations that lead to so many disappointments, life would not be worth living.
Tracey Flagler misunderstood eternity, I opined today as I relished some of the chocolate I retrieved from her apartment. Eternity is exhausting, but only in the sense that it relieves us of time altogether, hence we are relieved therewith of our anxiety over the future. Eternity is not time, it has no moments. Eternity does not go on forever and ever: Eternity is immovable. Eternity is that Better Place funereal preachers refer to in order to console the living. There is no stuff to want or to worry about in that placeless place. There is neither North nor South, nor East nor West, in eternity: The rivers of milk and honey in the East and the emerald trees laden with precious gems in the West are exotic fictions piously designed to lure the vulgar onto the exoteric paths that converge at the occluded centre of the universe, the centre that is and is not, the centre that is at once everywhere and nowhere, the pointless point of it all. May we enjoy everything besides the point.
“Take me, and God will harken unto thee!” If the Skin of Chagrin has been wizened by desire down to nothing, then may we have faith in Nothing, the Negatively Existent One. Only Nothing is perfect. The rest is for naught, so let us have as much fun as we can, even though we might suffer for it. Perhaps if we cared less about fun, and stopped making ourselves miserable for the want of it, we would have a lot more of it.
TO BE CONTINUED