Friday, June 26, 2015

A pleasing confidence

Podcast. One of the wisest things young William James ever said, before age thirty and not long after hurdling the crisis of confidence that had him "about touch[ing] bottom" in his diary and contemplating suicide:
It is a pleasing confidence that... by working our stint day by day on the one line we have chosen, without looking ahead or thinking much of the final result, we are sure of waking some fine morning, experts in our particular branch, with a tact, so to speak for truth therein: a judgment, and ideas and intuitions of our own - all there without our knowing exactly how they came. (April 8, 1871, cited in Robert Richardson's bio)
Put in the hours and days, and the years and career will take care of themselves. Lay down the right habits of work and routine, and eventually you may expect to soar like those skimming Amazon gulls. Or at least you'll figure a few things out, maybe even publish a book or a few. As Annie Dillard said (and as Maria Popova never tires of repeating), how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. A step at a time.

Notice, James didn't claim to know this. It's a "pleasing confidence," an article of faith, a repository of hope, a bootstrap to pull up on. It worked for him.

Where was James's Thinking Place? In Cambridge, MA, there was Emerson Hall where he taught his classes.

There was his longtime home at 95 Irving St.

And there was the half-mile between them that he trod daily.

His favorite Thinking Place was surely in Chocorua, N.H., to which he escaped when classes ended each summer, and where he sat on a wall and chided his Cambridge colleague, metaphysical rival, and neighbor Josiah Royce. "Damn the Absolute!" (I sat on that wall myself, in 2010.)
Image result for william james chocorua

And his favorite spot in Chocorua had to be the mountain across the road. 

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Followed him there, too, a step at a time. Confidence rewarded.

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