Goethe’s got it goin’ on

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”— Goethe

I’ve always liked this philosophy, and what better day than a snow day to heed his words?

Well, let’s see: it’s a snow day without snow (gotta love Houston), so the kids are home but not playing outside. No snowmen or women, no snowball fights, no sledding or tubing or ancillary snow-related activities. No giant snowbank on which Harry could leave his yellow mark, and certainly no homemade snow ice cream.

Instead, it’s 10:30 a.m. and the kids are immersed in video games and iTouch pursuits. When they become bored from those, they will likely move on to Nickelodeon.  The washing machine is humming, the dishwasher is doing its thing, there’s a long list of things to do, and none of them coincide with Goethe’s missive.

Ok, wait, I will turn on my iTunes while I type this, so I am hearing “a little song” (some Jack Johnson to drown out the hum & clank of the labor-saving devices). I will attempt to speak a few reasonable words, but suspect the result will more likely be a rambling blabbityblah instead.

With the humming & clanking sufficiently quieted, I got to thinking about Goethe and who he was and what kind of a person he must have been to utter the above suggestion, which is so simple yet deep. He’s basically giving me a recipe to daily happiness. I like that. I need that. I’m digging Goethe.

If I stretch back into the deep recesses of my grey matter, I recall that he was a German writer in the 1800s from a good family. After some trouble in school, he was home-schooled, and his mama encouraged his love of the written word, just like my mama did. He’s described as a polymath, a word that’s always intrigued me. Of course the Greeks defined it best and used it to describe someone as “having learned much. ” While Goethe is perhaps best known for his written word (he was called the supreme genius of modern German literature, after all), he also was into nature, politics, and painting. A real Renaissance Man.

Goethe’s insights on plants & animals paved the way for naturalists like Charles Darwin, and I like to think that Goethe opened the door to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Our modern-day jokes about the shallow end of the gene pool wouldn’t be nearly as funny–or true–without either of these guys. Don’t know why, but I find that interesting.

Politically, he was conservative and thought the revolutionaries in France were wasting their time because people couldn’t possibly govern themselves. He was a fan of small principalities ruled by benevolent despots. Which is all fine & good as long as the principalities want to be ruled and the despots are indeed benevolent. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

Seems Goethe anticipated being remembered for as a painter, but he gained his fame as a writer. He did study colors extensively, and considered his Theory of Colors to be his most important work. He believed that colors developed from “the dynamic interplay of darkness and light.” I’d venture to suggest that this concept does not apply strictly to art. If I were a better student with more patience and time, I’d love to investigate this concept and expand on it. But alas, the laundry calls and the dog-hair tumbleweeds grow. Goethe probably didn’t do his own laundry, and I bet he wasn’t troubled by the accumulation of dog hair on a tile floor. He was busy pioneering the idea of physiological effects of color, which is intriguing because he lived in a rather black & white world. Imagine how he’d react to our technicolor lifestyle.

Since he was famous for his writing, I thought I’d break out my copy of his most well-known poem, Faust, (anything to avoid tacking the to-do list) but then I remembered that it’s really, really long. I remember it being billed in one of college courses as relevant and timely for our modern world, but I don’t have that kind of time to sit and read it.

A little Carl Sandburg, perhaps. His stuff is easy to bite off into manageable chunks. Fog is my favorite. I’m not a cat person (d0n’t flame me, cat lovers, I don’t not like them I’m just more canine-inclined). I do like the image that Sandburg paints of “little cat feet.” If you don’t know this poem or are a little rusty on its simplicity, allow me:

“The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.”

Simple, beautiful and I can read it in about 10 seconds. Yet the imagery will resonate with me long after. I think Goethe would approve.



The most beautiful struggle

I came across this quote from Sigmund Freud and have been thinking about it for days:

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

Hmmmmm.

Gonna need to ponder that one a while longer

Of course this made me think of the cancer “journey.” At first blush, my instinct was to think, “If Freud said it, it must be true.” I’ve always equated Freud with absolutes, and if the granddaddy of psychotherapy believes it, so do I. Nothing like putting blind faith in a long-dead, much-maligned, and perhaps slightly insane Austrian guy, right?

I’m still on the fence about whether the “years of struggle” will become the most beautiful. I’m inclined to think not, but am reserving judgment.

My blind faith in all things Freud did get me to thinking, though, so I consulted the all-mighty Google to learn a little more about him. On a side note, I laughed out loud at one of the hits that turned up in my search of Freud: “Why Men Pull Away — 10 Ugly Mistakes Women Make That Ruin Their Chance at Relationships” by http://www.catchHimAndKeepHim.com. What in the world would Freud think of that??

Back to Freud.

Born in 1856 to poor Jewish parents in Pribor, Czechoslovakia, Freud was an outstanding student and graduated with honors. He originally planned to study philosophy but was drawn to med school after reading Goethe’s poem, “Hymn to Nature.” I shudder to think how different our world would be if Freud had not read that poem and gone on to study neurology and, more importantly, anesthesia. Freud was instrumental in using cocaine as an anesthesia, and while many patients died and providers became addicted, the way was paved for modern medicine to employ drugs during surgery. As one who has endured multiple procedures, with perhaps more to come, I’m grateful to Freud for his pioneering spirit. A world without Versed is one in which I do not wish to live.

Freud has many famous quotes, besides the one about the struggle being fondly remembered. This one caught my eye: “Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.” Anytime a psychiatrist talks about crazy dreams, I’ll listen. You know there’s a great story waiting to happen.

And this: “I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. That is something that you cannot say aloud, or perhaps even think.”

Whoa. So the master of psychoanalysis, the guru of getting inside your head, thought that most people are trash. That is heavy stuff. Makes me rethink my instinct to believe all things Freud to be true. And makes me think that perhaps he was wrong about the years of struggle seeming the most beautiful. While there are many things to be gained from a struggle, and I myself have indeed learned a lot from my cancer “journey,” I think I would have been just fine without it, Dr Freud, thankyouverymuch.