Suppose you knew, before you began reading this sentence, that all material in this post will be the subject of an upcoming multiple choice test, on which, if you do well, you will be entitled to free tea for a month and whatever book selections might strike your fancy, but if you do poorly, you will be permitted, for the same duration, neither to read whatever you please nor to drink your daily Earl Grey, forced instead to memorise the phone book line by line while drinking three full cups of mystery tea, a horrifically pungent concoction of all the most repulsive herbs and leafs that can be found on God’s green earth. With so much at stake, you will, of course, read what I have written a lot more carefully than you otherwise would, picking up nearly every subtle detail and turn of phrase with just as much attention and reverence as you would ordinarily extend to those pleasures I have wagered; indeed, your passion for understanding this piece will, by virtue of the agreement, immediately equal, and perhaps even surpass, the immeasurable zeal you already hold for choice literature and for those beverages that are somewhat less mysterious to you. In short, you will subject yourself to so much psychological pressure, out of both a fear of consequences and faith in the prospective reward, that you will leave your mind with almost no degree of malleability, holding it instead to an absolutist regime of strict focus, discipline, and a refined sense of purpose.
In your last letter: “And what should we fear? Perhaps passivity of mind, for only dead fish swim with the stream.”
By agreeing to my wager, you will force yourself to do something that you already intended to do: to think. But strangely, you will not accomplish this through any lofty intellectual exercise, but by a very simple, earthy means—a means by which we often tame animals—that is, by controlling what prospects lie directly ahead of you. If you and I have both decided that we want to dedicate our lives to God, then at least in theory, we have a clear purpose in mind behind every thing we do—we always act purely out of love for Him—however, as we wander this little planet of ours, miles below the heavens, such a purpose can often seem very far away from us, and pursuing it from where we stand at present can be like trying to follow, from the first letter to some distant period, one of my savagely magniloquent turns of phrase. When reading a long sentence, we need to recognise smaller goals, such as parenthetical clauses, which are closer to the present word than is that long hoped for period at the end. In the same way, when living life, we need to develop a hierarchy of purposes, where riding God’s grace to heaven is the ultimate end, within which, we include smaller, simpler things, like writing a blog, studying for a multiple choice exam, and reading a sentence for the sake of that very same exam. If we want to achieve some lofty end with our writing—perhaps, to escape from the school of dead fish—then maybe we should begin with more obvious motivations, like entering an imaginary school of bloggers.
Ernest, I’ll be grading your letter on Tuesday.