Today I want to talk about the other half of my moniker. I discussed paladins a few days back, so now it’s time to go over bohemians.
The label “bohemian” first emerged in the early 19th century, as poor artists, musicians, and free-thinkers came to live in the impoverished Romani communities of Europe. As the Roma were known as “Bohémiens” in French, so did this label come to apply to this countercultural vanguard. This has persisted for two hundred years.
Wiktionary defines “bohemian” as “An unconventional or nonconformist artist or writer.” So it seems clear that creativity is a necessary condition for being bohemian. While I wouldn’t go so far as to assert this, I will offer that free-thinkers tend to gravitate towards the arts as a means of expression. This is unsurprising — to participate in the arts is to make your mark on the mythos of a culture, the very DNA of society. New ideas must be experimented with mythologically before they can become widespead, so it is in the arts that new ideas are most easily tolerated. (Surely the mercurial nature of audiences and critics has nothing to do with this.)
So, raid a thrift store, rent a fourth-floor walk-up, quit your corporate job and start writing poetry. Does that make you a bohemian? Well, probably. I’m not a gatekeeper of Bohemianism. The ideal has taken many forms throughout the years, from high-culture “haute bohémiennes” to beatniks to hippies and everything in between. Some have been artists, some have been poets, some have been musicians or writers or dancers. Some have been wealthy, some have been aggressively destitute. Like most labels, the borders of Bohemianism are fuzzy.
My own personal definition, which counts for absolutely nothing, is that a Bohemian exhibits two characteristics. First is a compulsion to create, to explore non-mainstream ideas and concepts; and second, with apologies to Moulin Rouge, is a devotion to the principles of beauty, truth, love, and freedom. It is by these characteristics that I mark myself a Bohemian.
Beauty is that which elevates us when we experience it. This is as good a definition as any. Anything that grabs you and makes you appreciate that you were alive to experience it can be said to be beautiful. Any experience that forces you to become a better person, at least for a moment, can be said to be beautiful. Beauty is pain and pleasure and longing and satisfaction, all delivered in one burst of transcendence. It is not a quality inherent in any material thing — beauty is in the experience.
I used to say that beauty is the word we use when we see the Light in something — a person, a song, an action. This, too, is a good definition, because experiencing the Light is inherently transformative. If we accept that we are God, ever growing in service to the Light within ourselves, then beauty serves as an acceptable standard. We should strive to bring about more beauty into the world, and more thoroughly appreciate it wherever we can find it. The more beauty we experience, the closer we come to the Light. The more beauty we create, the closer we may bring others to the Light. Both are worthy.
Truth? Truth is inherently beautiful. Truth and the Light are essentially synonymous. Truth is what’s left when all deception and delusion are stripped away. Truth is the only thing that is real. Some truths are knowable empirically; we call those “facts.” Other truths can be known only intuitively, or inferentially — these are personal truths, and we shouldn’t necessarily expect them to apply to everyone. This doesn’t give you leave to believe whatever you want, of course; a truth occluded by delusion is no truth at all.
Seeking truth is worthy because truth, like beauty, elevates us. Facts are useful for apprehending the world around us, and for interacting with each other. Facts allow us to create wondrous technological marvels and explore the darkest corners of the Cosmos, while our inner truths serve as a compass pointing us towards the Light. Both have their place. A true Bohemian must seek truth, both within and without.
I believe there are two kinds of love, and you must nurture them both. There’s the love I have for everyone — really, everyone, pensoviroj and gantoviroj alike. It’s hard, some days, and easy some others. But it’s not specific. You’ll feel bad for hearing about some kids starving in Africa or Detroit, but it doesn’t really bother you in the slightest that every second of every hour of every day, somebody on the Earth dies. It’s the feeling that fuels compassion, and is strengthened by practicing compassion. And this love is a powerful thing, oh yes — never underestimate it, for it is in this love that the Light lives.
And then there is the love you bear for those who are specifically important to you. People for whom you feel an emotional bond, people whom you would miss if they were gone. Your kin, your clan, your friends, your lovers. This love can be fleeting or it can be enduring, but when it ends it always leaves a mark. This is the love you crave, the love you cherish. It’s when another person’s happiness becomes a necessary component of your own.
I’m a big fan of the second kind of love. I fall in love with anyone I can spend more than half an hour talking, really talking, to. This isn’t necessarily sexual (though many times it is), but it’s intense and it’s sincere. Really. I’m a fan of reckless love, of impulsive love, love that trusts itself even if it shouldn’t and forges ahead, damn the torpedoes. And I’m a fan of stable, secure love, where two people can take each other for granted even though they really shouldn’t, because they both know that they’re never getting rid of the other. Both kinds are good, especially when mingled. But all love is precious. I’ll accept it from anywhere, and gladly return it.
I don’t believe there’s a limit on how much you can love. There’s a limit to your attention, certainly, but love, like the Light, is infinite. I think all that really matters in life is the connections you share with other people, and those connections should be developed as deep as they can go. It is a cruel thing to curtail one’s opportunity to develop those connections with whomever they choose with cages of jealousy — that’s not love, that’s ownership.
I’m polyamorous, in case the last paragraph didn’t make that plain. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t struggled with it, because I have; envy and fear are difficult things to get a handle on. But if my beloved is a flower, I would much rather water them than pluck them and put them in a vase. I can never again ask a lover to forsake other connections to placate my ego. It isn’t an act of love to ask that, and it also doesn’t respect their agency. They must do as they grok, and I must trust that they grok rightly. To do less would dishonor the bond between us.
This is but one of many kinds of freedom. I talked before about freedom being blessing and curse, because freedom brings with it responsibility in equal measure. But if you accept this in yourself, if you accept that thou art God and must therefore bear sole responsibility for your choices and the effects they have on the world, you must also accept that those you meet have the same freedom.
Every human must be afforded the right to self-ownership and self-expression; the freedom to be their authentic selves. The sole legitimate limitation on these freedoms is that they may not suppress the freedoms of others. Where two humans must interact, their rights must be held in balance to one another. This is delicate, but when handled with compassion, it shouldn’t be overly onerous. It’s really pretty easy not to trample on someone else’s freedoms — just treat them as they want to be treated. If you don’t know how they want to be treated, ask.
Be free. Do as you grok. Thou art God; revel in it even as you bear the responsibilities in mind. Love everyone. Enjoy the simple pleasures life has to offer. Sex is a great goodness; engage in it joyfully with anyone you wish to become a part of. Read a book that challenges your perceptions. Get drunk, get high, take a trip away from your senses. Explore yourself and our beautiful world, our beautiful prison. Do not sacrifice any part of yourself for the expectations of others, and ask nobody to sacrifice a part of themselves for you. This is the Bohemian way.
Thus, I am a Bohemian because I pursue beauty, truth, love, and freedom, and articulate these pursuits artistically. Like those brave cultural explorers who have come before me, I seek to make my mark on our mythos, that all thinking beings may be enriched. In this way do I serve the Light.