On the advice of a good friend, I read the book “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. And like, I should suspect, most people who read that book, it settled me into a rare sense of calm, humbleness, anger and contemplation.
For those who don’t know, “Ishmael” is a fictional philosophy book about a nameless American man who answers a newspaper ad which reads “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world.” He soon discovers that the teacher is, in fact, a gorilla who can, in fact, speak English, and has many wisdoms to impart about the state of the world. Essentially, it’s about how human kind A.) has aligned itself as the reason for all creation (as in ‘All evolution was pointing to this one spot — to homo sapiens — and there’s no reason to look any further’), and in doing so B.) has conspired against the planet to set itself apart from it, even though this is impossible and will certainly lead to the extinction of humanity, all other life, and possibly the Earth itself.
A reductive way to look at it is that it’s “The Circle of Life” explained farther, not sung.
Big stuff. Stuff that with a high potentiality to be pretentious and dull and ‘too weird.’ But not to me. Either the ideas were so radical or so well articulated (or both), but I found myself rolled up into it. I had it on audiobook, and when I finished (ironically, while doing my grocery shopping), I did something I feel I rarely do:
I sat in silence. I drove home without playing music or another podcast.
I wanted the thoughts of the book to linger with me.
The book is about the ways in which humanity convinces itself of a “One Right Way To Live” kind of mentality, and challenges that notion to its core. I can’t say I’m ready to jump into the world its proposing, but the book was so compelling that — in my silent ride home — I wondered why I wasn’t. Why am I so attached to things? And while the book does offer some theories to answer this question, I am thinking personally. It’s a time for introspection.
I’ve been trying to write for a while. For years. Sometimes, in the last couple years, I’ve done it by using pen and paper, typewriters, computers, bluetooth keyboards — all of it. I think something that has stopped me from going very far, lately at least, is the notion that I don’t have much to say.
Now, having read a book as ambitious as “Ishmael,” I realize this notion is a fact.
I don’t have any answers, or even much of a point to make. I’m probably more excited and energized after having finally read something that truly reached me. There is power in stories, in mythology and in the way we tell them. And when people agree about stories, that power seems to increase.
Find out more about the book here: https://www.ishmael.org