What Do You Need?

May 13, 2020
Stoic Stoicism Philosophy Epictetus

Emotion and Desire

As an architect/illustrator/artist, or whatever opinion I have about myself, I enjoy using fountain pens. The way the ink flows and the line variation you can achieve with a single pen is fantastic. Over the years, my collection of cheap fountain pens has grown quite a bit. I haven’t spent over $60 on any single pen, though, I’m sure I’ve spent a few hundred on a lot of cheap pens. My thought was, I wouldn’t be upset if I lost one. Which has generally been the case. I have always wondered if the more expensive fountain pens with gold nibs etc., where really worth it, but I’ve never wanted to actually spend the money to find out.

A rare opportunity occurred last night. A vintage fountain pen with a gold nib appeared on an auction site for a decent price. I assume maybe just not enough people were noticing. So for the last two hours of the auction I was frantically refreshing the page, checking to see if I was still the high bidder. I’m not sure if it was the competitive nature of the auction or if I really was interested in the pen. But I was obsessively refreshing the page. 10 minutes to go…5 mins to go…2 mins… 1 min…and then.

I refreshed with 4 seconds left. I was no longer the high bidder. What!?! I quickly tried to submit another bid, but I knew there was no way I was going to get it in with that little time left. I lost the auction. I lost the pen. I lost 2 hours of my life refreshing a page. I was angry. I felt my face flush. It was an automatic response. It was emotional. It was uncontrolled. I was upset. Way more upset than I thought I’d be about a pen.

There are things which are in my control and things which are not…I am only in control of my judgement, my impulse, my desire and aversion and my mental faculties. - Epictetus

Was I really upset about a pen? A pen that I didn’t own. A pen that I initially felt was stolen from me. I was angry at a person that I didn’t even know for stealing something from me that I didn’t even own. Sounds silly right? It was, it is. I let something I don’t have control over, control me. I can’t control how this other person bids. I can only control those things within my power. I let my desire for a pen control me. I should be thanking this person for reminding me what I truly own and what I don’t.

Then, it passed. After a brief moment of being upset, it was gone. I shouldn’t get upset about so silly a thing. I let my desire rule my reason. I had already assumed the pen was mine. I was thinking of all the ways I could use it. That I would do beautiful drawings with a beautiful pen. That I would write better with a better pen. That does sound silly when you say it out loud. The pen wasn’t mine, so how can something I don’t own be stolen from me? There are things which can’t be stolen from a person. Those are the things that need to be remembered. No one can steal my judgement, my impulse, my desire and aversion and my mental faculties. Those are really the only things I can control and therefore these are the only things I actually own. Everything else I either borrow, or is not mine.

“Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?” And if it’s not one of the things that you control, be ready with the reaction, “Then it is none of my concern.” - Epictetus

Written with a cheap fountain pen in a cheap notepad.

- Zach Downey

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