The nice thing about this phase of my project is that I’m freed from the daily grind of essays — and I’m also under no obligation to write about Montaigne pieces with no clear connection to Stoic thoughts. So I’m skipping essays 6 and 7 and moving straight to On Idleness.
Here, as I’ve noted before, Montaigne gives his mission statement. It’s worth quoting the last few paragraphs in full:
Recently I retired to my estates, determined to devote myself as far as I could to spending what little life I have left quietly and privately; it seemed to me then that the greatest favour I could do for my mind was to leave it in total idleness, caring for itself, concerned only with itself, calmly thinking of itself. I hoped it could do that more easily from then on, since with the passage of time it had grown mature and put on weight.
But I find – Idleness always produces fickle changes of mind (Lucan) – that on the contrary it bolted off like a runaway horse, taking far more trouble over itself than it ever did over anyone else; it gives birth to so many chimeras and fantastic monstrosities, one after another, without order or fitness, that, so as to contemplate at my ease their oddness and their strangeness, I began to keep a record of them, hoping in time to make my mind ashamed of itself.
That last line is one that I haven’t paid sufficient attention to through the years — “hoping in time to make my mind ashamed of itself.” Having run through the essays a couple times, I have seen that territory! The essays have a way of stirring the mind up, just like the idleness Montaigne mentions. And I have, indeed, become ashamed of the thoughts I expressed, leading me to rapidly self edit or even destroy chunks of my writing so I could hide away from myself.
Best I know, Montaigne never did this, he embraced all of the things that would elicit the shame. Perhaps he had a better sense of his feelings in the moment than I have.
As I’ve aged, my emotional reactions to events in my life have become increasingly delayed, to the point now that I fully expect the physical effects of a tough day to hit me in early evening. Part of it is that I’ve just become accustomed to powering through the difficult moments and behaving as if there’s nothing to be concerned about.
It all gives the impression of me being a slave to moods out of my control. But I don’t think that’s what is actually happening. It isn’t moods that are swaying me, it is the emotions on time release.
Perhaps I need to use my writing as a way of emotionally contextualizing my experience, in hope not of witnessing the oddness of my mind, but rationalizing and coming to peace with it, giving myself a break for the emotions I’m not letting myself feel in the moment.