Under the Sofa

“Poems have a way of getting lost under sofas—it is one of their charms, and one of the reasons they endure.” —Stephen King, “The Breathing Method” (Different Seasons)

“The Breathing Method” was my least favorite story in Different Seasons, but it had the best quote. Sometimes you don’t find the perfect poem until exactly the moment when you need it the most. You could read the same poem millions of times and find that it never holds any meaning until that one moment when you need the poem… and there it is. The diamond of meaning you had been searching for, that small shimmer of truth you desperately needed to hear. Under the sofa all along.

The quote reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which has a strange way of reappearing in my head at odd times.

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

In a sense, this particular poem could never get lost under anyone’s sofa because it is so well known and often taught in English classes, but to me losing a poem under the sofa (or anywhere) just means that it’s buried in your subconscious mind and will resurface whenever it darn well pleases.

The same is true if you write poems. They appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. You can find them while searching under the sofa for that elusive quarter you could’ve sworn was there. You can find them while standing at the bus stop and breathing in the scent of another person’s cologne as he walks by.

But the poem will not endure unless you write it down.

Esse Quam Videri

Esse quam videri is North Carolina’s state motto, translated as “To be, rather than to seem.” (I guess the translation of the motto into “Southern-speak” would be something along the lines of, “Don’t y’all be two-faced now, ya hear!”) I never really knew what it meant when I was learning about the state’s history in school, and I never bothered to seriously think about it until just recently, when it popped into my head for no apparent reason.

I was also thinking of utility, and how in today’s society, people are often valued for what they can do rather than for who they are (e.g., elderly people no longer being valued because they can no longer “do” anything of value to society). At the same time, the world admires people who are “themselves” and countless self-help books encourage people to be the “best version of themselves.” It is about being rather than doing or seeming.

One can do every great thing in the world and still not know how to just be or to appreciate himself for who he is rather than for what he has done. One can seem to be a good person, but his being or doing may show a different side of him that he may not wish others to see. Or one can just be and not worry about how one’s being may be interpreted.

Necessary, Possible, Impossible

Start by doing what is necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. —St. Francis of Assisi

This reminds me of a quote by Woody Allen: “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” It also reminds me of part of the code of conduct at my high school, which was drilled so deeply in my head that I still remember it to this day: “Be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there.”

In other words… do the minimum and the necessary. Eat, sleep, breathe, get up, go to work, git ‘er dun, go home, relax, then get up and do it all again the next day. Then you get settled in your routine, and once you’re settled, you can begin to think outside the box and see what you can create within your routine. What is possible to achieve within the constraints of your life, your personality, your talents, and the people with whom you surround yourself?

Then once you achieve the possible, you get used to operating at that level, and you begin to think of what else you can do. You think of all the things you considered impossible and how they could realistically be achieved. You set a goal. You figure out the steps. You aim high but not so high that you’ll overshoot your mark. Then slowly, by degrees, what you previously thought impossible becomes possible.

And that, my friends, is how self-esteem is built.