Neil Peart Holds Two Opposing Thoughts at the Same Time—and Functions
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald
On break from the Clockwork Angels tour, Neil has been doing a lot of writing. A couple of weeks ago he posted a review of 21 books he had read over the past year or so and yesterday he posted an essay on what you might call “Thoughts Thunk in a Stately Fashion.” These are the thoughts we have when we’re outside, walking or hiking or, in his case, cross-country skiing in the Southern Laurentians, where he has property.
There’s something about the way the physical activity combines with the setting that our thoughts are less hurried, perhaps more organized, and we’re able to make connections among ideas that we otherwise would miss. “My thoughts ranged from postmodernism to what I might eat for dinner,” he says. “As always, my mind gathered what I saw and felt and played the game of trying to put it into words, into sentences, that might be shared with others.”
Of course, it helps to have a warming fire and glass of whiskey to return to after your exertions to help you collect and record your thoughts.
One of Neil’s qualites as a writer is the way he makes space for you, as a reader, to tag along with him while he gathers up and shares his observations. You certainly find that quality in the lyrics to Rush’s songs, and that might be one of the ingredients to the band’s success over the years, one of the qualities of their music that make it age well.
In any case, Neil splits his essay into two perspectves, the first from a solitary retreat at his Southern Laurentian property, where the mercury drops to -18 Celsius and some of the most compelling stories are to be found not on the TV but outside, in the tracks left by a fox, or the signs that a moose spent the night in the shelter of evergreens.
The second perspective is from another wnter retreat, this one near his home in Southern California, where he gets in a few hikes to places you would never know could be found right there in the Los Angeles metro area, including the Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve.
From both perspectives, he shares his thoughts on what he calls “trailcraft” (much like his “roadcraft” idea he says he wants to work into a book). It’s all about rules for living, and he manages to find a way to quote with approval rules for living from both Jack London and Ernest Hemingway, even though they’re taking what amounts to completely opposite positions. Jack London says, “I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time,” and indeed London was dead by the time he was 40 after an event-filled life. Ernest Hemingway says, “First, one must last”—that is, live long enough to see your dreams fulfilled. And Hemingway lived to a much more ripe old age, 61, although in the end he shoots himself. (If Hemingway’s theme about the need to last over time sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the basis of Rush’s song “Marathon,” on Power Windows, from 1985.
In a way that’s worth pondering, Neil manages to live by both sets of rules, judging by what he says in his writings, and I guess that’s what the ideas of “trailcraft” and “roadcraft” are all about: get out there and live—go on that hike, ski up and down that mountain—but do it in a way that’s tactically smart so you can endure long enough to see your dreams fulfilled.
. . . and write about them, you might add. Its always enjoyable reading Neil’s essays, and this one is no exception. Read “Winter Latitudes” here.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault