A Visit From the Philosopher Emperor

Marcus 1I find it hard to believe that it is almost March, and that this year I’ve only managed to get fingers to keys here in my small patch of cyberspace twice. I thought, when I began this post, that it was going to be about Virginia Woolf — but as you will see, it didn’t turn out that way at all.

Last year I threw myself into the effort of picking a Word of the Month each month and mulling it over, drawing out the meaning I found in it and making sense of how it fitted into my life. I considered doing something similar this year, but found myself unable to settle on a theme.

I did wonder, after watching Gladiator for the umpteenth time, whether I could focus on a list of lesser-sung qualities or pseduo-virtues, much like those offered in the film by Commodus to his dying father, Marcus Aurelius, but know myself well enough to realise I am not the sort of person to hold up ambition as something to aspire to. Ambition may have its purpose and its place, but I am much more likely to agree with Marcus Aurelius himself, the last of the Five Good Emperors, that wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance form the cornerstones of a good character. More to the point, I am also aware that many people have written about such ideals since…well, quite obviously, since Roman times.

I then began pondering whether I would write a series of monthly posts at all.  I don’t mind working under pressure and am generally unfazed by deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise), but with a new school and work year offering a far more complicated set of variables than I have had to deal with in recent times, the prospect of a more fluid approach than that I had in 2018 had real appeal. After all, these are meant to the musings — rather than the rantings — of the Daydream Believer, and the prospect of committing to a  monthly post seemed a little, as Commodus might have put it, ambitious.

Marcus 2So, having unfettered myself from all sorts of strictures, I gave myself permission to meander down some old Roman roads, following the trail of the Philosopher Emperor and his wayward son.  Commodus, according to Cassius Dio (who witnessed his actions and antics firsthand), was “not naturally wicked but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature.” Ouch.

On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius is generally well remembered: he was the last of the Roman Emperors to be associated with the Pax Romana — a period of relative peace and stability through the Roman Empire which, almost miraculously, lasted for more than two centuries. Our old friend Cassius Dio says that after Marcus Aurelius died, the Roman Empire turned “from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust”.

Before he departed this life, however, that old Stoic Marcus Aurelius had some things to say that are quite possibly as relevant today as when he wrote them, back in the second century.  “The soul,” he said, “becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”

These, history tells us, are some of the thoughts which coloured Marcus Aurelius’ soul:

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

You have power over your mind — not outside events.  Realise this, and you will find strength.

The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.

He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.

They’re not bad are they? It’s probably a shame that Commodus didn’t listen to his dear old Dad…but at least history has preserved Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Cassius Dio’s Roman History for us all to dip into whenever we wish to.

Marcus 3So that’s what I think I’ll be getting up to this year: delving into the thoughts of people who I happen to find interesting, diving into the depths and exploring topics and stories and ideas I find intriguing. I suspect that Virginia Woolf might get a look in somewhere — I know she tried to today, but Commodus must have had other ideas — and maybe Frida Kahlo, and Ursula Le Guin and goodness knows who else I happen to encounter.

It will be a twisting, turning, and somewhat eclectic journey, I’d imagine, but this — as always — is an open invitation to join me and whoever I visit along the way.

 

Tout Pret

write it out

The sanity-saving act of putting fingers to keys…

It feels like forever since I’ve posted here, and it’s such a relief to have my fingers back on the keys, tapping away so I can make sense of it all.

A fair bit has changed for me in the past six weeks or so: I’ve started a new job and taken on a volunteering role in addition to the work I already do. And although I’ve managed to keep my employment within school hours (which as any working mother will tell you is about the closest thing you’ll get to a modern day miracle), I have missed being here, in my small patch of cyberspace, and have found myself yearning for just five more minutes than I actually had so I could bash out a blogpost.

And because I didn’t have those extra five minutes, the school uniforms got hurriedly ironed instead. Or I threw together some lunch for the next day at the office. Or I quickly sipped a life-saving cup of tea before I jumped back into the car to pick up whichever child from whatever sporting practice/birthday party/school event/playdate they happened to be at.

But I still wanted to be here, sharing the musings of the Daydream Believer.

I’ve often joked with my mates that I’m not a very pleasant person to be around if I haven’t been writing something — writing anything. And the more time I spent attempting to adjust myself and my (occasionally uncooperative) family members to the new set of circumstances I had brought to bear on our world, the less time I spent putting words on a page.

Any words. On any page.

I could feel myself starting to unravel a bit. To come unstuck. Maybe even a little unhinged…

And I knew that meant I had to prepare.

Preparation works for me. It’s why I make lists — on the backs of envelopes, in notebooks, on my phone, even on the back of my hand. It’s why I have a bullet journal (and by this I mean a battered book I lug everywhere and in which I scrawl utterly irreverently, not some sort of pristine Pinterest-worthy portfolio with natty colour coded tabs). It’s why I menu plan. It’s why I write out timetables for my kids. It’s why I have a small filing system in my kitchen to keep track of everything from permission forms to potential holiday plans. It’s why I mentally review my to do list in bed each night. It’s why I allocate time to thinking things through and planning them out.

think

I reckon there’s one in every family…

Preparation is also, perhaps, in my blood. The motto of the clan into which I was born is “Tout Pret” — which means, of course, “all ready”. And while I do realise that our family words probably have more to do with a well-honed Highland propensity to fight off (just about any) invading force rather than a simple willingness to get the domestic drudgery done, recent family history does seem to indicate that we still possess a tendency towards preparedness and — consequently — to getting things done.

And so here I am: back on the page, still trying to making sense of it all, but knowing that I I made the plans and made the time to be here, now — with my words.

As always, it’s doing what you have to do before you do what you want to do.

what you wanna do

It’s doing what you really want to do…

It’s being true to my self and to what I believe.

It’s coming home.

It’s in my blood.

Tout Pret.