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My Philosophy of Life
John Ashbery

Just when I thought there wasn't room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great
call it a philosophy of life, if you will. Briefly,
it involved living the way philosophers live,
according to a set of principles. OK, but which

That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a
kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like.
Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the
or just standing on a subway platform, lost in
for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests,
would be affected, or more precisely, inflected
by my new attitude. I wouldn't be preachy,
or worry about children and old people, except
in the general way prescribed by our clockwork
Instead I'd sort of let things be what they are
while injecting them with the serum of the new moral
I thought I'd stumbled into, as a stranger
accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase
slides back,
revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
somewhere down below, and he automatically steps
and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on
such occasions.
At once a fragrance overwhelms him--not saffron, not
but something in between. He thinks of cushions,
like the one
his uncle's Boston bull terrier used to lie on
watching him
quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over. And then
the great rush
is on. Not a single idea emerges from it. It's
to disgust you with thought. But then you remember
William James
wrote in some book of his you never read--it was
fine, it had the
the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of
course, yet
still looking
for evidence of fingerprints. Someone had handled it
even before he formulated it, though the thought was
his and
his alone.

It's fine, in summer, to visit the seashore.
There are lots of little trips to be made.
A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler.
are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have
their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as
messages to the world, as they sat
and thought about what they'd do after using the
and washing their hands at the sink, prior to
stepping out
into the open again. Had they been coaxed in by
and were their words philosophy, of however crude a
I confess I can move no farther along this train of
something's blocking it. Something I'm
not big enough to see over. Or maybe I'm frankly
What was the matter with how I acted before?
But maybe I can come up with a compromise--I'll let
things be what they are, sort of. In the autumn
I'll put up jellies
and preserves, against the winter cold and futility,
and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as
I won't be embarrassed by my friends' dumb remarks,
or even my own, though admittedly that's the hardest
as when you are in a crowded theater and something
you say
riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn't
even like the idea
of two people near him talking together. Well he's
got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a
crack at him--
this thing works both ways, you know. You can't
be worrying about others and keeping track of
at the same time. That would be abusive, and about
as much fun
as attending the wedding of two people you don't
Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in the gaps
between ideas.
That's what they're made for! Now I want you to go
out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy
of life, too.
They don't come along every day. Look out! There's
a big one...

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