Posted in Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse Month, Part IX (What Hermann Hesse means to me)

In loving memory of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachëv, 2 March 1931–30 August 2022, one of my heroes. May his beautiful, courageous memory be for an eternal blessing.

Since 9 August 2022 is the 60th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) of my second-favourite writer, Hermann Hesse, I’ve been spotlighting him this month. Let’s wrap up the celebration with a paean to what he means to me.

Like it says in the first line and chorus of Pete Townshend’s song “Now and Then” on Psychoderelict, “Now and then you see a soul and you fall in love/You can’t do a thing about it.” That was exactly my experience with discovering Hermann Hesse back in July of ’94, and it increased with each new novel or story I read.

Some of my favourite writers are also my heroes, like Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn and Bertolt Brecht. Others are literary idols, like Aleksandr Isayevich and Dante. But Hermann Hesse is one of those writers who’s always felt like a dear personal friend as well.

The more I learn about Hesse’s personal life, the more deeply connected to him I feel. Our lives don’t follow the same specific path, but there are so many commonalities among our journeys through life:

Searching for our own religious truth. Though he was given a religion and raised in it from birth, while I was tasked with choosing my own religion when I was eighteen, we each began our spiritual search in adolescence. His parents’ Christianity didn’t personally speak to him, so he explored other paths. I reclaimed my Jewish birthright as soon as I was eighteen, after longing for it from a young age and being spiritual long before I was religious. Along the way, I researched many world religions, a passion which remains to this day.

Being very advanced academically but not always so attuned to the fine art of making friends. When you have such a one-tracked interior life of the mind and are intellectually precocious, you inevitably feel alienated from your peers, and have a hard time figuring out how to form relationships with them.

Feeling keenly different from the crowd and gradually growing to embrace this instead of trying to conform. In sixth grade, I tried and failed to fit in with the other girls in my class, but they knew as well as I did deep down that I was much different than they were. I’d rather be one in a million than one of a million. I proudly wear my Mark of Cain.

Loving the wisdom of the East. Ever since the unit on the Indian subcontinent in my Global Studies class my freshwoman year of high school, I’ve drunk deeply from this wellspring of wisdom just as Hesse did. The religions I feel closest to after my own are Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Jainism, and I incorporate many non-conflicting beliefs and practices from these faiths into my spiritual life.

Enjoying drawing and painting. Most people obviously know Hesse first and best as a brilliant writer, but he also did hundreds of paintings. He began seriously painting at age 40, and initially did it as art therapy. As time went by, he developed a true passion. Art isn’t my primary calling either, but I truly enjoy it, and I focus on my strengths and interests (geometric and abstract art, very colourful animals like parrots and tropical fish).

Having no love lost for dull cookie-cutter bourgeois society. I’ve genuinely never seen the appeal of that kind of lifestyle, nor have I aspired to it. I’m quite happy with a down-to-earth proletarian or lower-middle-class life, though I admit my intellectualism and many of my tastes are much more in line with higher classes of society. If I achieve that income level, I’d never combine it with pretentiousness, mindless conformity, and keeping up with the Joneses.

Struggling with depression. I’ve had cyclical depression for much of my life.

Struggling with our inner wolf. We all have primal urges from the id and reptilian brain, even when our highest self, the superego, compels us to behave and think in a more refined, controlled manner.

Chronic headaches. They were triggered by the stressful, depressing experience I endured my junior year of high school, and never went away after the trigger was removed. I don’t want to know how many naproxen sodium and other pills I’ve taken over the last 25+ years. At least I only get a migraine about once every 4-5 years, sometimes longer. My last migraine was January 2016, which means I’m overdue.

Poor eyesight. Hesse was released from military service in 1900 because of his bad lazy eye, a condition which not only continued throughout his life, but worsened as he got older. I began wearing glasses in first grade (quite a humiliation for me for years), and finally switched to contacts at age seventeen. I now wear scleral contacts, which are nothing short of miraculous. Without them, I have very fuzzy vision in my right eye.

Pacifism. I’m not anti-military, and I do feel some wars, like WWII and the Six-Day War, are morally justified. However, I personally couldn’t put myself in a position where I might take a life. I don’t even kill insects when I can help it, but rather set them free outside. Ahimsa is extremely important to me. If I were a man and I were drafted despite being a conscientious objector, I’d demand alternative service or a noncombatant position.

Hermann Hesse is truly one of my kindred spirits, whom I’ve found I have more and more in common with as I learn more about him. Reading his books, stories, and essays feels like being with an old friend.

Author:

Writer of historical fiction sagas and series, with elements of women's fiction, romance, and Bildungsroman. Born in the wrong generation on several fronts.

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