Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Montaigne on How to Toughen Your Skin

Dear Friend,

It's 2:20AM. There's a splendid thunderstorm going on. Inside, my house is deliciously silent. We're tucked into the side of a hill, like a ship run ashore. I'm enjoying the view from my husband's office. His large bay window is the prow.

School starts tomorrow for my oldest three kids. The last several days have been noisy and exciting -- Go! Go! Go! -- back to school preparations and a birthday party to boot. The wonderful pulse of life that comes with a large family has lately felt like a marathon for my nerves.

Waking during the night can be blissful, though I'll likely suffer for it tomorrow, especially if the baby won't take a nap. For now though I feel too refreshed and focused to sleep. Maybe insomnia is not something I should battle. Maybe -- like my unusual heart beat -- it's just me.

If your night's sleep is often broken into segments with a mid-night interval, you will appreciate this article. Some of us heed the sound of an ancient ancestral chime. Or something.

Anyway, when I woke up tonight I decided not to be frustrated with myself.

Carpe noctem!

I recently picked up Montaigne's Essays again. Click here to read a short post I wrote two years ago in which I compare reading Essays to paying a visit to my rich, quirky uncle (who happens to live in a chateau).

File:St Michel de Montaigne Château01.jpg
Château de Montaigne via Wikipedia 
Montaigne is considered the Father of the Essay, so I suppose this also makes him Patron Saint of Bloggers. He's quite an engaging person to know. No topic is off limits.
Our life is part folly, part wisdom. Whoever writes about it only reverently and according to the rules leaves out more than half of it. 
But fair warning: rarely does Montaigne stick to his point. He's all over the place! Reading him feels like partaking in a conversation full of delightful rabbit trails. I love him for this. He likes to go deep, but we can also talk candidly about stuff like bodily functions. We can ramble a bit, then go on with what we were first discussing. Or not.

I'm sure I'd grow weary of other writers for using his method, but it works for him. I expect this randomness out of him, I suppose. And because he's the first true essayist, I feel like this gives me permission to loosen up a little and just blog what's on my mind. As I've mentioned before, I've found if I wait until I have time to make my posts tidy I end up going long stretches without blogging anything.

I also believe reading Essays is good for my depression. Montaigne is so much more rational than me! I tend to experience an exhausting array of peaks and valleys of emotion. In "On Sadness,"  he gives examples of people who are seized by a sadness in a "deaf, speechless stupor." Others "languish for love" or even "die of happiness." As for Montaigne --
Violent emotions . . . have little hold on me. By nature my sense of feeling has a hard skin, which I daily toughen and thicken by arguments. 
In one segment of "On Sadness" I wrote a question mark in the margin:
We cannot display our grief or our convictions during the living searing heat of the attack; the soul is then burdened by deep thought and the body is cast down, languishing for love. That is the source of the occasional impotence which sometimes comes so unseasonably upon men when making love, and of that chill produced, in the very lap of delight by excessive ardour. 
Just a question mark. Because this was new information for me. (No one need comment with personal examples of experiencing untimely impotence due to excessive ardor! But see what I mean?This is one example of territory that is fair game for our host to discuss.) He wraps up his comment on impotence with some level-headed advice for life in general:
For pleasures to be tasted and then digested they must remain moderate: Curae leves lonquuntur, ingentes stupent. [Light cares can talk: huge ones are struck dumb.]

I depart from this visit to the chateau , feeling a little calmer, more steady, and rational. I'm smiling, actually. When calling on Montaigne, I must leave my hysterics at the door.

Moderately yours,

Adriana :-)


  1. Your night time thoughts make for excellent day time companions, Adriana. While I don't think all pleasures require moderation to be enjoyed, as Montaigne suggests, it's true that excessive ardor can render some without power entirely. What a heavy thought you've made me think today!

    1. Tim, When I reread my post during the day yesterday, I thought "Did I really write that?" -- Sailing on a ship, visiting Montaigne, imagining that he and I converse -- all in an attempt to become more rational! Oh my!

  2. Very interesting thoughts, Adriana. I like the part about life being part folly, part wisdom. As for your blog posts, I appreciate that you just share what's happening in your life without trying to be "tidy." I always love your posts!

    1. Dear Jeannie, your comments are like warm tea at the end of a tiresome day. So comforting and fortifying! Thank you, as always, my friend.

      P.S. It's the middle of the night again -- about 24hrs since I wrote this post. Only this time I don't feel blissful. I'm restless. Fatigued. One of my little ones wet the bed. I didn't get the nap I had hoped for yesterday. :-( Maybe I'll go back up now and count by sevens to seven thousand or something. Er. :-)

    2. We're at my parents' right now and the neighbour who is renting the land has 60+ sheep & 4 goats in the field right in front of the house. You could count those. Jonathan will look out the window and cry, "Sixty-eight sheeps!" :-) I never realized what individual voices sheep have: when they are all baa-ing it is quite a chorus. Hope you are feeling better and get some rest. xo

    3. How neat! I'm so glad you painted that scene for me. Yes, counting sheep is a much better/time tested method! Plus they make a landscape look so lovely and serene. My parents used to have goats. (I fed two baby goats with a bottle for a while.) But we never had sheep. How interesting that they have different voices. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." (The Good Shepherd knows each of their voices, too.) There is a painting of sheep at the Cincinnati Art Museum that I love. It's quite large and it's an optical illusion (Kind of like the Jesus eyes that follow you around the room.) If you stand on one the right side, the sheep are moving to the left; if you stand on the left, they are moving to the right. That's my idea of fun. ;-)'Shepherd_and_Sheep'_by_Anton_Mauve,_Cincinnati_Art_Museum.JPG

    4. And here's a picture I pinned to Pinterest:

    5. Both of those pictures are beautiful! I would love to see that one at the museum.

  3. I'm looking forward to reading Montaigne properly, especially after this post :)

    1. Always good to hear from you, o! Thanks for reading. :-)

  4. You have me intrigued now, lovely. :-) I've not read Montaigne. :-) XO Wishing you continued healing and peace.

    1. Montaigne is as charming as a 500 yr old French man can be. I think you'd enjoy him, Krista. I hope you're feeling stronger as well, dear.

  5. Hi, Adriana, I just had to revisit all of your Montaigne posts again; I am reading through Essays right now and not caring very much about it. I needed a little encouragement and thought I could find some here, at your blog - which I did, thank you!

    I especially enjoyed your older posts where you describe Montaigne as I have been experiencing him. So now I hope to return to his work with new vigor.

  6. I'll be interested to know if your opinion changes as you go along, Ruth. Glad you found this post helpful!


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