In the dark room a cloud of yellow dust flew from beneath the tool like a scatter of sparks from under the hooves of a galloping horse. The twin wheels turned and hummed. Binet was smiling, his chin down, his nostrils distended. He seemed lost in the kind of happiness which, as a rule, accompanies only those mediocre occupations that tickle the intelligence with easy difficulties, and satisfy it with a sense of achievement beyond which there is nothing left for dreams to feed on.
When you're socially awkward, you're isolated more than usual, and when you're isolated more than usual, your creativity is less compromised by what has already been said and done. All your hope in life starts to depend on your craft, so you try to perfect it. One reason I stay isolated more than the average person is to keep my creativity as fierce as possible. Being the odd one out may have its temporary disadvantages, but more importantly, it has its permanent advantages.
The world would hate His followers, not because of evil in their lives, but precisely because of the absence of evil or rather their goodness. Goodness does not cause hatred, but it gives occasion for hatred to manifest itself. The holier and purer a life, the more it would attract malignity and hate. Mediocrity alone survives.
Very often the test of one's allegiance to a cause or to a people is precisely the willingness to stay the course when things are boring, to run the risk of repeating an old argument just one more time, or of going one more round with a hostile or (much worse) indifferent audience. I first became involved with the Czech opposition in 1968 when it was an intoxicating and celebrated cause. Then, during the depressing 1970s and 1980s I was a member of a routine committee that tried with limited success to help the reduced forces of Czech dissent to stay nourished (and published). The most pregnant moment of that commitment was one that I managed to miss at the time: I passed an afternoon with Zdenek Mlynar, exiled former secretary of the Czech Communist Party, who in the bleak early 1950s in Moscow had formed a friendship with a young Russian militant with an evident sense of irony named Mikhail Sergeyevitch Gorbachev. In 1988 I was arrested in Prague for attending a meeting of one of Vaclav Havel's 'Charter 77' committees. That outwardly exciting experience was interesting precisely because of its almost Zen-like tedium. I had gone to Prague determined to be the first visiting writer not to make use of the name Franz Kafka, but the numbing bureaucracy got the better of me. When I asked why I was being detained, I was told that I had no need to know the reason! Totalitarianism is itself a cliché (as well as a of pulverizing boredom) and it forced the cliché upon me in turn. I did have to mention Kafka in my eventual story. The regime fell not very much later, as I had slightly foreseen in that same piece that it would. (I had happened to notice that the young Czechs arrested with us were not at all frightened by the police, as their older mentors had been and still were, and also that the police themselves were almost fatigued by their job. This was totalitarianism practically yawning itself to death.) A couple of years after that I was overcome to be invited to an official reception in Prague, to thank those who had been consistent friends through the stultifying years of what 'The Party' had so perfectly termed 'normalization.' As with my tiny moment with Nelson Mandela, a whole historic stretch of nothingness and depression, combined with the long and deep insult of having to be pushed around by boring and mediocre people, could be at least partially canceled and annealed by one flash of humor and charm and generosity.
We like to stress the commonness of heroes. Essences seem undemocratic. We feel oppressed by the call to greatness. We regard an interest in glory or perfection as a sign of mental unhealthiness, and have decided that high achievers, who are called overachievers, owe their surplus ambition to a defect in mothering (either too little or too much). We want to admire but think we have a right not to be intimidated. We dislike feeling inferior to an ideal. So away with ideals, with essences. The only ideals allowed are healthy ones -- those everyone may aspire to, or comfortably imagine oneself possessing.