Notes on Revisiting a Novel – On The Shortness of Life

The Sage and the Scarecrow by Daniel Clausen

I went back to my first novel “The Sage and the Scarecrow” because I felt like I had unfinished business. I felt like I could write it again. I felt like I could do it better this time around. My skills were improved, my sense of myself as a person more complete.

This led me to think of influences, what books I should read, and what books the main character would be dwelling on as he searched out a life of wisdom and knowledge.

Lucius Anneaus Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life” seemed one of the most appropriate books I could go back to. One, because the book was in some ways a meditation on writing itself — why should I rewrite this book if life is so short? Why not do other things? Why not spend time with family or go for a long walk?

As Seneca himself says, “It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

The novel itself is about a very young man dealing with his own mortality, struggling with questions of morality and immorality, and trying to find his place in the world. As I was re-writing the book, it occurred to me how timeless these themes are and how much they could make me reflect on my own life.

“We must go for walks out of doors, so that the mind can be strengthened and invigorated by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air. At times it will acquire fresh energy from a journey by carriage and a change of scene, or from socializing and drinking freely. Occasionally we should even come to the point of intoxication, sinking into drink but not being totally flooded by it; for it does wash away cares, and stirs the mind to its depths, and heals sorrow just as it heals certain diseases.” ― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

In sense, I wasn’t choosing between writing this book and taking a long walk. Writing this book was taking a long walk. Somehow, as I wrote this, my feet and body understood that I was also going on a physical journey. I didn’t need to choose between writing this book and intoxication. To write this book at times was to make my soul intoxicated. I was visiting with an old friend, one I thought I had outgrown but had actually grown into.

“The best compromise between love and good sense is both to feel longing and to conquer it.” ― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

I’m not sure exactly what this passage means. Perhaps it means that we have to find a balance between boldness and prudence. In my experience, the balance is never perfect. For a long time, I put off re-writing “Sage and the Scarecrow” because of my love for it. I’ve known from an early age the all intense loves carry the power to destroy a person. And so, for many years, I found it best to leave it alone — knowing that anything less than my most mature self would face destruction. Am I finally ready to take up this challenge once again? I will soon find out.

If you are interested in reading the revised version of “The Sage and the Scarecrow”, you can email directly at ghostsofnagasaki (at) gmail (dot) com. We’ll talk it over, and then decide if it’s the right book for you.

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