I’ve been trying to post some ordinary wisdom each Wednesday on the Ordinary Legacy Facebook page and this week’s ordinary wisdom was from Susan Sontag:
“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
I was intrigued by the words “be clenched”. How does one do that? I get curious, I get paying attention, and I get eager. Couldn’t wrap my mind around being clenched. But I love the sound of it, I love the idea of it, I love the way it makes the right side of my brain spark. I began wondering where the quote came from, one of her books, some off handed remark, and so through the magic of Google I found this:
Susan Sontag, Vassar speech, 2003
Despise violence. Despise national vanity and self-love. Protect the territory of conscience.
Try to imagine at least once a day that you are not an American. Go even further: try to imagine at least once a day that you belong to the vast, the overwhelming majority of people on this planet who don’t have passports, don’t live in dwellings equipped with both refrigerators and telephones, who have never even once flown in a plane.
Be extremely skeptical of all claims made by your government. Remember, it may not be the best thing for America or for the world for the president of the United States to be the president of the planet. Be just as skeptical of other governments, too.
It’s hard not to be afraid. Be less afraid.
It’s good to laugh a lot, as long as it doesn’t mean you’re trying to kill your feelings.
Don’t allow yourself to be patronized, or condescended to – which if you are a woman, happens, and will continue to happen, all the time.
Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead… Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. It’s all about taking in as much of what’s out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you’ll be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.
You’ll notice that I haven’t talked about love. Or about happiness. I’ve talked about becoming – and remaining – the person who can be happy, a lot of the time, without thinking that being happy is what it’s all about. It’s not. It’s about becoming the largest, most inclusive, most responsive person you can be.
Oh this is rich. This short speech delivered to the graduates of Vassar in 2003 is full of wisdom. Sadly, she was fighting for her life at this very moment, only to lose that fight a year later. What a gift from such a renowned intellectual to put forth so succinctly a manifesto for life.
But I’m still drawn to the “be clenched”. I find it interesting that in all the versions I’ve seen of this quote the eluding to the “taking in as much of what’s out there, not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you’ll be incurring narrow your lives” part is always missing. What a mistake omitting the very thing that serves as the juxtaposition needed to “be clenched”. I think I get it.
To be clenched is never to put the blinders on, no matter what you’ve seen. To be clenched is to feel, the hair rising on the back of your neck. To be clenched is to savor food for thought and moments in time. To be clenched is to learn, differently than you’ve learned before from interesting and non- traditional teachers.
To be clenched is to know like you know that you don’t know what you don’t know.