Including Your Own
Outrage is easy to muster for it lies close to the surface with a sure-grip handle. But does the world need another outraged commentator? My writing leans toward criticism with filters set to “define the irritant and write about it”. But the poster in my office expresses the opposite (and my aspiration). It’s a picture I took of William Faulkner’s typewriter captioned with a snippet from his Nobel acceptance speech: “It is the writer’s privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.” Bile never lifted any hearts.
Let’s talk bile. The second definition of bile is “anger, irritability” which is the natural trajectory of humans over 30 years old. Some start earlier, some later. Losses fill up reservoirs of resentment and joy dies. For the artist, bile degrades the work and lets the bad guys win. Anyone can punch the air but only the artist can create a heart-lifting breeze. Doing so requires the discipline of keeping the bile dump valve open. And it’s spring-loaded shut.
The first definition of bile — “a bitter greenish-brown alkaline fluid that aids digestion and is secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder” — is also what I mean. If outrage had a color it would be greenish-brown. The color of nausea and excrement combined. And both stink. Sour meets foul to make one dour.
The alkalinity of bile dissolves things (like your insides). A disquieting internet reference says hot lye (hugely alkaline) will dissolve an animal in a couple of hours. It eats things. But for the grace of compensating systems our bile would kill us all.
Mark Twain is my go-to when I need to feel better about life. With a cock-eyed view of serious matters he left us the gift of smart humor. In his work Chapters from my Autobiography, Twain uses entries from his deceased daughter’s diary to re-tell episodes from the past. And it’s funny. The skill, the humanity, the love to cause a reader to laugh while crying is rare and one of literature’s great treasures. The world knows Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and the Jumping Frog, but I love almost anything Twain wrote.
Even Twain’s bile showed through the cracks at times. When he got riled about some deception or maladministration he could eviscerate an opponent by his written words. These examples are de-emphasized in his oeuvre and would not have been the basis for success. People don’t hang around downers and they don’t buy books of stinging criticism. So here’s encouragement: Let go of the losses, leave the bile dump valve open, fill up the joy reservoir and lift the heart of others whenever possible.