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There are thousands of them and each has his battle to fight alone. Some of them are artists without an art-a most ludicrous spectacle. Some of them are spoiled children, a few are dilettantes. But most of them are very sincere. They have no aptitudes that can readily be converted into cash, or if they have they do not know it. They have glimpsed the futility of devoting one's life to getting rich and at the same time seen the nobility of a lifetime given to some serious purpose that is pursued for its own sake, not money. If only they could find some work worth doing and incidentally make a living at it. They are not lazy; they would rather be ditch diggers than salesmen. They do not think themselves any better than the millions who toil in the cities. They merely think it wrong that they should add their mite to the overwhelming power of the system that rules us; that to make a living should work for something in which they do not believe. They speak haltingly of "Truth" and "Beauty" and "Nature," but soon learn that to speak thus is to be ridiculous or ridiculed, it matters not which.
Over them towers the inevitable necessity to earn their bread. Almost to a man they go into business. It is all they are fitted for, though they have spent four years getting themselves unfitted for it. In the struggle to reconcile their own prostitution with their own aspirations they are tired. Their yearnings are crushed or crystallized.
I happen to have been one of them, after two years of outwardly conforming, possessed of a good job and excellent prospects, the internal struggle still raged.
Every morning I raced for the train and my breakfast rose in my throat. Past all thegreen grass and the flower gardens of the suburb, hurrying, hardening my mind to forget them, not to see them. The morning breeze whispered in the leaves and the sky was blue and dotted with fleece.
Why should a person leave all this all day, month after month, for the roaring city? Why should it be considered lazy-man's dilettantism to work in the sunshine all day long, digging, building a house, fishing, or sailing a boat? And to labor in the frenzied city of stupid ants at a task patently not worth doing- oh, that was praiseworthy and natural. Who turned the world upside down anyway? Who, like an evil fairy in a book, switched all the values, calling the true values shams and the shams truth?
Every morning the fight began all over again. The first waking moments were like childhood, with a fresh mind that loves the bright, vivid earth simply because simply because it is beautiful. Sunshine or rain were all the same, each beautiful in its way, interesting, stimulating, intoxicating.
Each day the hours squeezed in like the side of a vise. The hostile men, the ugliness, the nervous weariness, the hypocrisy of business all hammering the refrain, "Nothing is beautiful for its own sake. The earth is to be squeezed for what can be got out of it." I used to think: this great stone desert, these mammoth buildings, the subways, the screaming ads, the glittering, slippery tumult of cars and buses and white faces, the Ritz, the Yale Club, the slums, the dirt and smell and ugliness, the water mains and lights the City Hall, the Mayor, the police, the street sweepers, the smoke-who wants them? Not I. How did they come to run us, to be so inevitable? Why do we stand for it, what is it doing to us? Why am I working for it, paying for it?
Going home on the train, thought whizzed much the same. Who want a little box of a house in a suburb, a little wife, a little car with a little garage to put it in, and little hope? Well, why am I working for all this? If I am finally beaten into believing that selling brass pipe for Bing and Bing, Inc., is of any vital importance to the universe, what honor is there in that? Shall I live enmeshed in such a hopelessly organized society that I am dependent upon and helpless before a butcher, a baker, a politician, a judge, a president, an industrial boom, an international trade arrangement, a European imperialist, and a wobbly foreign exchange? All this is not so much to me as the fall of one autumn leaf. Why should I be tossed around in the magicians' hats, talking politics, reading the paper, bewildered and lost in a maze of irreconcilable, incomprehensible, uncontrollable forces? It were better to be slightly more independent. Each man has only one lifetime, and in that space he gets what he wants most; not what he thinks he wants or would like to want, but what he really wants. Do I want a superfluity of material comforts and possessions, a dwelling loaded with conveniences, foods from all over the world, the power to ride and not walk, electric lights, good clothes, cement sidewalks, water out of a faucet, public parks and all that? Are they worth what they cost? Do I want to bend my whole life to a system of law, convention, taboo, evolved solely to enable millions of people to live packed together like sardines in a can? Hardly.
I prefer mud to cement sidewalks, and water out of a bucket to water out of a faucet. The breeze and the sunshine, a suit of rags, a vista that includes no house, no man; these are worth paying for.