SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Every Flavor of Alone
Whether it's existential or elected, Alone is here to stay.
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, no hermeticism required (though encouraged).
Beyonce and Tao Yuanming agree on at least one thing — sometimes all you have is Me, Myself, and I.
Xiang Shengmo. Self-Portrait in Red Landscape (detail), 1644.
隐士 (yinshi), Chinese recluses — The temptation of canceling plans to stay home in sweatpants doing whatever brings you a simple kind of happiness. If you’ve ever felt this, you’ve felt a hint of what compelled a number of Chinese officials in the 4th century to rescind their positions in search of that same simple happiness in rural life. It soon became so trendy to reject political office in favor of (suspiciously planned and short) reclusion that distinction was made between true, noble recluses and those others guys, the fake recluses; think of them as that person who tirelessly lets the entire party know they never go to parties.
A few great poets and artists were born of this period’s embrace of reclusion, notably Tao Yuanming, who was something of a 4th century Chinese Jon Krakauer. He faced that familiar call away from networking and ladder climbing towards backyard farming and making your own kombucha (really — kombucha goes back to 220 B.C. China). Tao loved wine, staying home on Friday (and every) night, and writing poems about wine, being poor, and the meaning of life. The next time you cancel plans for no other reason than the joys of peaceful solitude, release your guilt, drink some wine, and write a poem in the spirit of the yinshi.
By nature he is fond of wine, but his family is poor and he cannot usually get it. His relatives and friends know this, and sometimes set out wine and invite him. — Tao Yuanming from his autobiography, Biography of the Gentleman of the Five Willows.
You can read about his life and more of his poems on this real website completely dedicated to hermeticism.
The inescapable end we must all meet, pawn-less and queen-less.
Ingmar Bergman’s Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal, 1957) — If you wanted existential rumination in film form, Bergman did that for you. This is the type of movie that makes you remember what movies can do when treated as art vs. entertainment. The Seventh Seal boils to the surface emotions you have no name for — the strange relief in knowing death gives life meaning, the pang of existential isolation that comes when the world fails to distract us from ourselves, the bittersweet feeling of savoring a moment in time that reminds you of both life’s beauty and fragility. That last sentiment is beautifully shown by Bergman in a scene where the knight playing chess with Death in hopes of buying himself time to find meaning in life finally begins to see it’s not any great event or effort, but the time we spend in life itself that gives us the meaning we crave.
As he sits with a family of impoverished but happy performers and their young child, sharing in their simple food of strawberries and milk, the knight experiences that sense of contentedness and peace that relishing the present can give:
"I will remember this moment: the stillness, the dusk, these wild strawberries, this bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. I'll carry this memory between my hands as if it were a bowl filled to the brim with fresh milk. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I’ll try to remember what we spoke of. And it will be an adequate sign — it will be enough for me."
It’s the kind of scene that shakes you out of regret and fantasy, reminding us that we make our meaning, we make our lives, and waking within us the power and terror of the choice to do so.
The Seventh Seal was shot in thirty-five days with a budget of $150,000 — $207,227.02 today as adjusted for Sweden’s inflation rate. It’s movies like this that remind us to pause and wipe away the stars in our eyes when every new popular film flaunts a 7 million-dollar (Five Feet Apart, 2019), $20 million-dollar (Girls Trip, 2017), $26 million-dollar (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, 2009), $40 million-dollar (Lucy, 2014) budget, yet leaves us asleep and unchallenged — a high price paid for bread and circuses alone.
Reclusion gone wrong — without creating meaning for our lives, existential isolation makes sad, fake-recluses of us all.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.