It is better to live and be done with it, than to die daily in the sick-room. By all means begin your folio; even if the doctor does not give you a year, even if he hesitates about a month, make one brave push and see what can be accomplished in a week.
- RL Stevenson, Aes Triplex
* * *
The slim, green book of Stevenson was bought several years ago at a junk shop in New Hampshire. Published in 1902, eight years after his death from an cerebral hemorrhage, it was, given its small production, a labor of love for the publisher. There could be no money in such a small volume; rather, it was the unique prerogative of publishers 100 years ago that they printed up what they wanted to see in print.
Aes triplex means "triple brass," a euphemism for a strong defense, the ability to withstand. He is talking about the inevitable tide of death (and his being so strange and apt). The solution to the riddle, by Stevenson's lights, was to live fully, feverishly, unbowed by frailty or circumstance.
If ever a man knew how to live unfucked, it was Robert Louis Stevenson.
* * *
Each of us has a book inside of us, a story only we can tell. This book, this work is not necessarily a book. It is simply the thing you must do in order to live unfucked: raise your kids, keep your job, sing, grow food, whatever it is that is solely for you to do. This idea of individual requirement, the absolute uniqueness of the individual grounds all of this. Without this assumption, the life each of us leads becomes anonymous, interchangeable. This is the realm of death.
Armies must strip out the individual in order to create the unit, and the parts of the unit are purposefully interchangeable because parts of that unit must, inevitably die. The concentration camps tattooed numbers onto their victims taking away their names, their identities because it made it easier to kill. Slaves had no name but their master's. Anywhere the uniqueness of the individual is degraded or stripped away death follows as sure as night follows day.
But these are the extreme examples, no? What about our prosaic, work-a-day lives? Are you ever overlooked, your contributions ignored, or demeaned, or worse (to the rest of the world) are you out of sync with the economic, social, or religious models?
We die slowly in these sick rooms, too.
I am emboldened by individuals, not masses. Voices crying in the wilderness are what I listen for. They comfort and challenge me to do more with what I already have.
Uniformity, conformity pale before the enormity of the individual who is fully alive, fully awake, fully on fire with the sheer pleasure of having a body to accompany their soul. Howl, rage, storm, insist on being heard, insist on the courage you need to begin your folio - whatever that may be in your case - and do it now. Our final fucking is a dirt nap and there is time enough for that. There is hardly a moment to live.
* * *
In 1890 Stevenson settled in Samoa. He was called "Tusitala" by the islanders. It means teller of tales. On December 3, 1894, after a good day's work writing, he was struggling to pull a cork out of a wine bottle and looked up suddenly and said, "What was that?" He turned to his wife and said, "Does my face look strange?" and then collapsed and died. He was 44.
Stevenson worked through illness, poverty, depression, fear that he had no more to say, and had completed works that to this day resonate and thrum with life. He died with a desk full of unfinished manuscripts. He lived until he died. Listen, it isn't that you won't get stuck or lost from time to time, maybe even for great periods of time, what matters is that you take up arms against your circumstance and insist on the life that is inside you.
Don't be a fuckhead. Do not accept a number, someone else's name or their expectations.
Find your voice.
Grow a pair.