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Moderation is for Monks


“Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.”
–Robert Heinlein, TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE

I read TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE when I was about 12 years old; which is, arguably, far too early to read such a book. But I was young and innocent and my parents were probably thrilled I was reading anything. At that tender age, I found Heinlein’s quote about excess both jarring and seductive–probably because it contrasted so starkly with the values my parents and teachers were trying so hard to instill in me.

I’ve since come to agree with Mr. Heinlein (and the character I always imagined as his fiction alter-ego, Lazarus Long.) Adopting this attitude in my life has wrought varying degrees of success and suffering, but I’m sticking with it and I’ll tell you why:

Moderation maintains the status quo, but cannot create the future. Moderation preserves what has been, but cannot explore what might be. Moderation is no path for an artist.

Does this mean I endorse going on four-day drug benders and driving 120 mph on the freeway at night with your eyes closed? Of course not. Forsaking moderation doesn’t require abandoning common sense–nor does it interfere with the concept of balance, which is something I strive for (though admittedly struggle with.)

Perhaps what I’m getting at is that moderation is reasonable. I endorse being unreasonable. Here are some reasons why:

It was unreasonable for an italian sculptor to take a 4-year job painting the ceiling of a church.
It was unreasonable for a German composer to write the best work of his life 10 years after going deaf.
It was unreasonable for Thomas Edison to keep testing filaments when that 1599th one wasn’t quite right.
It was unreasonable for Stephen King to write in the hall outside his laundry room while working two jobs and raising two kids.
It was unreasonable for J.K. Rowling to pursue an idea about kid wizards she jotted on a cocktail napkin.

When it comes to creativity, I find reason and moderation to be ineffective tools. I need something sharper, more dangerous. I balance excess with discipline and routine, but it’s a process like wrangling cats: the cats are really in charge, and I have the scratches to prove it.

creativity, Personal

Jeff Garvin

Author of SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN and THE LIGHTNESS OF HANDS. Cohost of THE HERO'S JOURNEY podcast. Rock musician, D&D geek, aspiring revolutionary.