Sometimes Questionable Literary Life Lessons

Oscar Wilde: on the merits of being a bit of an ass

There is probably a reason why history's best artists and writers have never tended to cross over into politics.  To succeed creatively means to succeed on one's own terms, and the desire to do so often goes hand in hand with the fact that said creative may not actually be able to hold down that steady desk job.  We're talking both physically and psychologically here; often the individual who excels at thinking outside the box simply wasn't blessed with the gifts necessary to fit the mold deemed most valuable by his or her society.  Overt case in point: Marcel Proust, who famously languished in bed all day nibbling stewed fruit and croissants while swaddled in coverlets.  Creative types are often fueled by their own belief systems and in many cases have developed rather lengthy and/or bizarre methodologies, or interesting quirks in their working process, to cultivate creative productivity.  Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on lined index cards so that he could easily rearrange the writing piece by piece.  When feeling uninspired, Thomas Wolfe has admitted to holding his genitalia; to each his own.  Even the most bizarre choices made by authors seeking inspiration, such as Wolfe's, show a remarkable sense of self-awareness.

These bold personalities who have managed to be themselves fully in spite of their own oddities offer a wealth of advice for the modern individual.  The caveat, and of course there is one, is that many of the best gems of wisdom proffered by these geniuses must also be taken while ignoring certain eccentricities.  Things that come to mind include James Joyce's scatological fetish (to which I'd simply say, "who's to judge?"), or Edgar Allen Poe's disturbingly young cousin-bride (this can't be spun positively, however the fact that he was dark and weird should come as no surprise).  For the sake of this column, we will simply push these facts aside, instead choosing to focus on the gems of wisdom most beneficially applicable to our modern conundrums.  Our first subject, the venerable Oscar Wilde, comes as a bit of an exception to the above; he is the rare literary hero who might inspire one to live by his example.  

Life Lessons from Oscar Wilde:

1. Wear your velvet suit (or Technicolor Dreamcoat, Stevie Nicks caftan, Star Wars costume, etc. etc.) with pride.

2. If people don't like who you are, remind yourself that you are ahead of your time and that those silly fools are bastions of ignorance who will certainly fade into history forgotten. 

3. Decide what you think about things. Say it. 

This is the essence of Wilde's legacy.  Some gems: 

"You can never be overdressed or overeducated."

"I don't want to go to heaven, none of my friends are there."

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

"I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying"

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple."

"Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."

"A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world."