Faded Opulence. Perspective. Siddhartha.

My favorite part about the History Channel’s “Life After People” is when they visit already abandoned locations. I love old things that are falling apart. I always pick out the oldest most falling apart house in the neighborhood that becomes my favorite. I call it “Faded Opulence.” Think the houses in “Sunset Boulevard” , “The Munsters“, “The Adams Family“, “Psycho“, and Miss Havisham‘s house in the Paltrow-Hawke version of “Great Expectations.” Oh, that last one is the most beautiful, a house frozen in time, all decorated for a wedding reception, beautiful.

I think that my time away as well as just time in general has given me a better perspective in regards to my previous work situation. I was really annoyed with most everyone there. There were aspects that were not going to ever be able to be changed and the only solution was to remove myself from them. I can recognize that I was much more unhappy than I had realized, I was sort of just in function mode, going through the day without much reflection or inspection. So, in that way, this is a good thing, being away from that environment. I miss the people (well, one person), but I do not miss the work or the feelings or person I was. I can honestly wish them and the business well.

Additionally, I know that stewing about such things gets one no where, it stagnates growth and progress. So, onward and upward.

Today is the birthday of Nobel Prize-winning author Hermann Hesse, born in Calw, a village in the Black Forest of Germany (1877). He’s the author of the novels Siddhartha (1922), Steppenwolf (1929), and The Glass Bead Game (1943), as well as a large body of poetry.

His family moved to Switzerland, and then back to Germany, and Hesse enrolled in a Protestant seminary there. But he was miserable and would run away from school and hide out overnight in nearby fields. He tried to commit suicide, and was transferred from one psychiatric ward to another. Eventually, he got a job at a bookshop, where he spent 12 hours a day sorting through volumes of philosophy and theology, shipping some out and putting others in archives. At night, he went home and wrote poetry. He got his first collection of poems, Romantic Songs, published in 1898, but it was a dismal failure, selling only 54 copies over two years. But the publisher saw potential in the 22-year-old Hesse and encouraged him to keep writing.

At 27, he published his first novel, Peter Camenzind, and from then on, he was able to earn a living entirely from writing. He took a trip to India and started studying Eastern religions, and ancient Hindu and Chinese cultures. This knowledge and interest are evident in his novel Siddhartha (1922), a story about Buddha’s rebellion against tradition and his quest for enlightenment. The novel was translated into English and published in the United States in 1951, and it soon was incredibly popular among beatniks and others who subscribed to the American counterculture of the decades that followed. In Siddhartha, Hesse writes:

And he found: “It was the self, the purpose and essence of which I sought to learn. It was the self, I wanted to free myself from, which I sought to overcome. But I was not able to overcome it, could only deceive it, could only flee from it, only hide from it. Truly, no thing in this world has kept my thoughts thus busy, as this my very own self, this mystery of me being alive, of me being one and being separated and isolated from all others, of me being Siddhartha! And there is no thing in this world I know less about than about me, about Siddhartha!”

During World War I, Hesse’s life was in constant turmoil. He had written an essay urging German intellectuals to not succumb to the propaganda of patriotism, and now found himself the target of hate mail. Friends denounced him, his wife became schizophrenic, his father died, his son became seriously ill, and his marriage dissolved, all within the span of a few years. Hesse started going to psychotherapy sessions with one of Carl Jung’s assistants, and Hesse became acquainted with Carl Jung himself.

After the War, Hesse remarried and wrote Steppenwolf (1927). The current pope once listed Steppenwolf as one of his favorite books, saying it “exposes the problem of modernity’s isolated and self-isolating man.” Hesse became a Swiss citizen, and in 1931 he got married to a woman who had first written him a letter 20 years before, when she was only 14. They’d kept in touch and met by coincidence several years later. She was an art historian, and 23 years younger than he, and after they married and moved in together, he led a peaceful and happy life, although he was placed on the Nazi blacklist for helping political refugees during World War II. He won the Nobel Prize in 1946 and quit writing novels. But he did continue to write poems and newspaper articles until he died in his sleep at the age of 85 from leukemia, which he did not know he had.

Hesse said: “There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.”

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