Finish each day

I’d read a lot of Emerson over the years and never come across this piece of practical wisdom in precisely this formulation, before Maria Popova passed it along from Jon Winokur’s Advice to Writers yesterday: “Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two.”

Here’s the more common version, brought nearly to life:

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Whichever way The Sage really said it, I do try always to rise fresh and ready. My sleep rarely interposes as solid or lasting a wall as I’d like, but the spirit of daily renewal in anticipation of another good day’s work is what the dawn’s all about for me too, and for melioristic pragmatists in general.

So, and despite a detour to the doc’s office with Younger Daughter yesterday, I’m back at it today with “new dawnings” for the impending American Philosophy conference. The symposiasts at my session won’t find me a hard sell, I was already sure there’s a pragmatic line running from Emerson and Thoreau through Rorty and Putnam and Cavell. And Lincoln. [“What Would Lincoln Do?”] And beyond.

Sometimes, when preparing to gather with colleagues in a professional setting, it’s tempting to think you must speak and communicate with such clarity as to remove all possibility of being misunderstood. But that, Emerson knew, is an impossible bar to clear.

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

And to be merely competent is also to be misunderstood. To be human is to make mistakes. Big deal.  I like to remind myself, before traveling to meet my peers, of what James said about our fallibility in Will to Believe:

Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf. At any rate, it seems the fittest thing for the empiricist philosopher.

So I’ll just keep on rising before the dawn of day, catching a few reflections, committing a few errors, and occasionally glancing out and up for inspiration. One more insight, Mr. Emerson? “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

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