The Joy of Hubris

When I first read The Lord of the Rings as a kid, I was absolutely spellbound. Gandalf and the balrog! Frodo and Sam! Sauron and the Dark Tower and the Ring and the Mountain of Doom! And the Ents, man – the Ents!

Amidst all that excitement, I thought something else, too: I could do that.

I could write a novel. It’s only words on a page; I totally know how to write words. Besides, Tolkien had left plenty of room for improvement. Boromir? More like Boring-mir. And all those endless pages about Gondor or Rohan or Minas whatever when I was just going Come on, get back to Frodo and Sam, I would totally leave out all that stuff.

Some standup comedian (Seinfeld, maybe?) has a joke about the black box on a plane. It always survives, so why don’t they just make the whole plane out of that stuff? This was basically my feeling about LotR. If Tolkien can write scenes of pure awesomeness (like the Ents attacking Isengard), why doesn’t he just make the whole book like that?

I didn’t attempt my own novel until high school, and it turned out just as bad as you’d expect. Discouraged? Me? No way! For one thing, I didn’t realize right away that it was horrible. That realization was a very gradual process. By the time I did figure it out, I was already on to my next writing project, and that one was going to be totally awesome. I was always just on the brink of awesomeness, perpetually on that final effort that would push my work into something amazing.

By now, of course, the rational side of my brain has figured out my place in the universe; I don’t write as well as Tolkien, and if I ever want to get that good, it’ll take many more years of hard work. But the irrational (read: crazy) side of my brain is still gleefully convinced that this is easy, this is so easy, I’m so smart, I’m so close, I’ve just gotta get there!

I think this insanity is basically a good thing.

See, somebody could have told me early on that I was crazy. (Heck, maybe they did.) Perhaps, when I was young and impressionable, they could even have steered me away from writing entirely, just by making me understand how very difficult it is. But because I was (and still am) caught up in the joy of hubris, I just kept on going, and by now I’ve figured out that I’m never going to stop.

A year ago, I read two books about Zen Buddhism that gave me a great overview of the history, the philosophy, and most importantly, the practice of Zen. I was very curious about meditation, and absolutely fascinated by the concept of enlightenment. And I thought: I could do that.

Blah blah, decades of hard work, apex of spiritual awareness, almost everyone who tries it fails, blah blah blah. My rational brain knew that stuff, but whatever. Sit and stare at a wall for thirty minutes? Man, that’s easy. I am in. I am, like, all over this enlightenment stuff. And you know what? I’m still meditating, still hoping to achieve enlightenment someday. My quest to extinguish the ego is fueled by overwhelming ignorance and pride. I’m sure Siddhartha would have a good laugh over that one.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re training to run a marathon, maybe you don’t realize right away just how crazy hard it is to run twenty-six miles. And maybe that’s all right.

Okay, Reader: is there anything crazy you’ve been driven to attempt by your own blissful ignorance? Tell me in the comments!


16 responses to “The Joy of Hubris

  1. Physics! lol dude the ideas are sometimes so simple… so basic that 5 years can grasp them. But actually knowing them, showing them, using them! hahahahaha good luck

    Also art of any kind.

    • Oh, man, relativity. They explain gravity with that bowling-ball-on-a-rubber-sheet analogy, and you’re all like “Oh that’s pretty simple.” And you wonder why the professor sort of giggles a little when you say that.

      And that’s *before* they clobber you with the quantum physics two-by-four…

  2. Haha for reals, guess what my next year courses are. 3 straight quarters of advanced quantum theory, lol hell yeah. Can’t be as hard as electrodynamics.

  3. Trying to write songs.. I love writing poetry so much but never had much success in turning them into songs yet i always dreamed of winning a grammy for my lyrics.. lol.. I am pretty sure i am ignorant about the real quality of my poems… This is my first ever comment and i wanted to say your blog is amazing.. Have a lot of fun reading it.. Thank you for that..

  4. I used to (and admittedly still) try to write techno music on my laptop. I’ve come to realize how insanely difficult it is. To play special audio effects in your mind and attempt to bring those sounds to fruition are two completely different tasks. It’s not easy to build complex, layered sounds out of 1s and 0s. I’ve largely turned my focus to writing music for piano, a much less complicated realm of music, in the hopes of producing a quality song. Will I ever be able to play it on a real piano? Who knows, but it’s fun to write anyway.

  5. Lord of the Rings is whambamthankyoumam from the beginning, in my opinion ; I’ve read it out of the binding, in paper and hardback. I almost bought a special leather-bound edition (all 3 volumes in one!), with gold inlay for the title… almost, because I’ve always held Tolkien in high esteem as to how I’d like to write (mixed with Steinbeck, of all possible scenarios), but I’m as broke as Shakespeare or Poe (or Steinbeck).

    • Well, bear in mind I was pretty young the first time I read it. A lot of that “boring Rohan stuff” has gotten a lot more interesting in the last decade. 😉

      • Very much agreed, sir. I will concede that the film version, though wonderfully wrought by Mr. Jackson, is a bit on the long side for anyone not truly devoted to the printed text. But, in terms of epics, sagas, and myths, LOTR is one of a kind. I’ve yet to see a series come close to this — in scope, detail, and consistency — and it’s nearing a century (a generation at least) since the first edition.
        Also, if you’re “that big” of a Tolkien fan, I recommend The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (hard to find, but a great read), as well as The Silmarillion (which transforms the entirety of Middle Earth into a context that only NatGeo could cover). Many of Tolkien’s best works — and certainly the insight into how he created Middle Earth, Hobbits, and what is today considered the Elfin counterpart to Klingon — were published posthumously by his son, Chris.

      • Yep, I’ve read Silmarillion (though it took a few tries to get all the way through). Good stuff. 🙂

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  9. Mr Buckley,hubris iz da’ reason I didn’t read this post.

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