Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Idea of "Burdens of a Bachelor"

"Burdens of a Bachelor" is the flip side of Reveries of a Bachelor, a tiny volume written by Donald Grant Mitchell under the pseudonym Ik Marvel in 1850; my sister sent me a beautiful 1893 Charles Scribner's Sons edition after I had returned to New York City in a failed attempt to repair my marriage. Upon arriving back in the metropolis my wife had quickly discarded me in favor of an English traveling salesman of pewter animal lapel pins. I think my sister was worried about me and sending me an old book called Reveries of a Bachelor was her way of saying, "Buck up, kid."

Twenty years later I finally read it, or at least the first fifty pages. I turned to it when I realized after nearly four years that my girlfriend was a predator and I was her prey. I was looking for a little guidance. I was in a sticky situation. I wanted out but couldn't break free. I was enmeshed, entangled, "pussy whipped."

I only got fifty pages into Reveries of a Bachelor because it wasn't the medicine I needed. The writing itself is pretty amazing. Very brisk, seemingly spontaneous, with a lot of interesting punctuation that isn't used anymore -- m-dashes after semicolons and commas, for instance. But what Ik Marvel is writing about is the opposite of what I was looking for. Reveries of a Bachelor is about a young single man of means who fantasizes, while attended by a servant, about hooking up with women.

The idea of "Burdens of a Bachelor" is to fantasize not about hooking up but steering clear; that a prime source of reverie is actually being alone. Yes, being alone is burdensome. There are no servants, as in Reveries of a Bachelor, to build one's fire. One has to do everything for himself: grocery shopping, dishes, laundry, ironing, cleaning, cooking. One has to go to work and pay the bills and exercise and be kind and practice filial piety and find time to volunteer. Most importantly one has to carry all of one's own emotional baggage. There is no one onto whom one may offload his suffering and insecurity. But out of these burdens blossoms autonomy, "one who gives oneself his own law" -- the foundation of peace, productivity and rationality.

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