Juan David Campolargo

The Steppenwolf's Guide to Laughing at Life's Distortions

I became interested in Steppenwolf because I found this random quote on the internet.

Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours.

From Steppenwolf

When I read that quote, I copied it immediately and told myself it would be the opening quote in my NPC book. The quote resonated with me deeply, its words ringing in my ears like a call to adventure to see what this book was about, so one day I went to the public library and borrowed it.

This week, I finished reading Steppenwolf, and this is my reflection.

Toward the end of the story, Mozart tells Harry (the main character) the following:

It is time to come to your senses. You are to live and to learn to laugh. You are to learn to listen to the cursed radio music of life and to reverence the spirit behind it and to laugh at its distortions.

From Steppenwolf

What a line. In a way, that’s what the book is about, and that’s the book’s message.

I read this, and it makes me want to reflect inward because that has been the story of my life since I started college.

Ever since I set foot on my college campus, I gradually transformed into a Steppenwolf-like figure, shunning the noise and chaos of college life for a deeper connection to art, creativity, and meaning. Just like the Steppenwolf preferred Mozart over the noise, you would hear at a random gathering. I was the same, I prefer thinking about more extraordinary ideas than just the everydayness of life. This Steppenwolf-like attitude is reflected in much of my writing about college.

But let’s go back to that quote because there is something profound and worth reflecting on. Learning to listen to the cursed radio music or, in my case, to see and venerate the everydayness of life on a college campus is a crucial takeaway from this book.

I found myself becoming more and more like the Steppenwolf, a lone wolf in a sea of noise, searching for the beauty and meaning in life.

Why?

I didn’t know how to listen to the cursed radio music of life.

I didn’t know how to reverence the spirit behind it.

And most importantly, I didn’t know how to laugh at its distortions.

This is my third year in college and besides the facade of learning. The most profound impact has been my newfound awareness and understanding of the darker aspects of college life, from drinking and hookup culture to drugs and everything else that happens in a college town.

I have made earnest attempts to challenge and improve the culture around me, encouraging others to strive for a higher level of consciousness and meaning. Or even seeking to detach and isolate oneself from it, as some philosophers and thinkers have done in the past such as going to live in a mountain like Nietzsche or going to live in the “woods” like Henry David Thoreau.

After reading the Steppenwolf, I realized I didn’t know how to revere the spirit behind it and didn’t know how to laugh.

Is the answer to go and live a life full of pleasure? Or is the answer to becoming a Steppenwolf who is too smart to engage but also too dumb to reverence and thus suffer a great deal and want to die, which is what happens to Harry?

A similar approach to the latter is to whine, write essays as I did, complain, and not laugh about it. Not laughing, or even better, the lack of laughing, is the root of all diseases. I must learn to find humor and levity in even the darkest of situations.

So let’s learn how to laugh. What am I waiting for?

How can I learn to laugh and even reverence those spirits?

I must learn to listen to the cursed radio music of life. I must not judge but listen carefully. To pay attention and to notice. To find out that which I don’t know about yet. I will put aside my impulse to immediately come up with solutions, and instead, I will take the time to truly listen, understand and appreciate the complexity of the issues at hand. I will make a conscious effort to tune into the oftentimes chaotic and discordant rhythms of life, not with judgment but with an open heart, a desire to understand and appreciate the beauty within them.

I must learn to reason less and find out more. I am determined to adopt a more open-minded approach, listening more and reasoning less, and seeking deeper understanding rather than quick solutions. As I continue to grow and learn, I will make it a lifelong endeavor to maintain an open mind, actively listen and strive for greater understanding in all aspects of my life. while understanding and reverencing the spirit behind that which annoys me or that I don’t quite understand, so I can laugh about it but laugh at myself.

After learning to listen, the next step is to reverence the spirit behind it. Respect, understand, and do not negate or deny in whatever way because whatever you deny submits you, and whatever submits you is your master. It’s similar to the banning of books. Once the book is banned, attention is brought to it. Just leave the damn book alone. It doesn’t mean to bring the book to your house but just let it be.

Let it be, my friends. Let more people be, and once you see that. The third and final step comes in. Laughter! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahah. That could seem like a maniac laugh, but it’s the laughter after a deep understanding and sincere respect for whatever spirit it’s coming from. This same laughter is the same that lets you see the mirror of yourself in front of yourself so you can laugh and laugh over and over again, wildly laughing at yourself.

Just laugh. “It’s not that deep,” said the average Gen Z. It’s true nothing is that deep, not even infinity.

Laugh about how everything is and learn to live with it, to live happily and have a great life laughing about it. Laughter is the cure for the future.

Don’t get so tense. You don’t need to become a part of it, but you can pay attention, understand, and laugh.

Listen to this, “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”

You probably think it’s the laughter of a crazy person, but you are not quite right, my friend, because, in a world of crazy people, the sane ones are “crazy.”

And yeah, they learn how to laugh like crazy people.

 


If you’re into interesting ideas (like the one you just read), join my Weekly Memos, and I’ll send you new essays right when they come out.