February 2nd, 2003

abstract butterfly

after the gold rush

"She had found out the wonderful difference between anticipation and reality; and that life, even to a happy woman married after long patience to the man of her choice, was not the smooth road it looked, but a rough path enough cut into dangerous ruts, through which generations of men and women folllowed each other without ever being able to mend the way. She was not so sure as she used to be of a great many important matters of which it was a wonderful consolation to be certain of--but notwithstanding, had to go on as if she had no doubts, though the clouds of defeat,
in which, certainly, no honour, though a good deal of the prestige of inexperience, had been lost, were still looming behind".
--Margaret Oliphaunt, from "The Perpetual Curate"

I discovered long ago that the reality of my life didn't match the daydreams I had when I was a kid, and in particular the daydreams of the college portion of my childhood days. I meet others who discovered it, also. Sometimes even when I've achieved my dreams, I've discovered that much of the appeal of my dream was based on inexperience. For example, when I first got out of law school, I was certain that the only way to practice law was to be in a one or two attorney shop. Instead, I took a rather generous offer to work for a rather larger law firm, because the offer involved high pay and fascinating work. For years, my daydream was to own my own little shop, and I said "if only" more than once. Now, for some few years, I've been part of a little two man shop. We get great cases, make an acceptable if not particularly lavish living, and have none of the office politics which made working for larger law firms very difficult. But it's impossible, even after I got what I wanted, to refrain from looking across the fence back to the roads not chosen. In this case, I'm very glad my dream came true, but the fulfillment of dreams does not entirely simplify the reality of living with them. My career takes a lot of work to keep it going. Other daydreams I've had--my college daydream to be an English professor, my law school and beyond daydream to teach law school, my childhood daydream that I would follow my father's footsteps and be a doctor--all remained unfulfilled. But I do take some consolation in knowing that each of those roads not taken would involve its own challenges and its own frustrations. Of course, even though I'm suitably employed and happily involved with a significant other, the reality of living is much more difficult and myth-shattering than the fluffy candyclouds of daydreams.

For me, it's hard not to judge my choices harshly. I could have worked harder and made more money. I could have worked better and helped more people. I could have been and could be a better husband. I could have been and could be a better child, a better sibling, a better friend. I could have been a saint. I could have been a contender.

I need daydreams and goals. I think a lot of people are concerned about having them, as if wanting something and working to get it is a bad thing. But for me, they are important to have and pursue, otherwise the sense of purposelessness overwhelms. But it's so easy to get into the habit of comparing oneself to others, for good or ill--it's certainly a sin I've sinned. I look at my career and think of how I could have gone into poverty law, and helped the poor, or alternatively gone into a large law firm and made much more money than I have. I look at my marriage and think how much kinder I could have been. I look at my academic record and think of goals I could have achieved, if I had been willing to work instead of cruising through so much of it.

I see other folks who seem to me to be cooler than I am, smarter than I am, much wealthier than I am, more attractive than I am, better at the arts than I am, thinner than I am, and better with people than I am. I think these comparisons can be pure poison in overdose. But I sure make them internally from time to time. Still, the odd thing is that my strong guess is that everyone else makes those same inner assessments, and reaches similar results.

But it's a tightrope. I want to accept myself. I definitely want to accept everyone around me. I want to live without that perpetual acid of comparison and false pride. But I personally never want to accept that this is all I can be. I never want to accept that this is how society must be. I never want to accept that people must behave in the ways they behave. I don't even want to accept that a nobody like me is powerless to help. I know it's a flaw of hubris, but I believe that we are all forces for potential good, not just people who must sit back and accept. I know that this is one more daydream, but I'll dream it anyway. My life has lots of problems and imperfections. I don't imagine that other people are problem-free, or that problems can be solved by confidence alone. But I decline to resign from trying to solve my own problems, or from trying to help in general. I just want to be more effective in doing both. I know that I am a nobody, but I don't think that means I should stop trying. It only means that I should set simple goals, and meet them. I think that what I can accomplish is limited indeed. But maybe I should stop daydreaming, and do what very little I can.
  • Current Music
    "I have confidence", Rodgers and Hammerstein
abstract butterfly

red bean cake

Today when we awoke, we finished the videotape of The Barbershop. The movie spoke to us both--the importance of building something real in one's own community, rather than just trying to get rich quickly. I like "small" movies that take on a straightforward task, and do it well.

Today was extremely warm, with very blue skies. We headed over to Spring Creek Trail, in Richardson. Spring Creek Trail is very nice, because the walking trail runs right through a woodland along a creek. We stopped to talk to a young boxer dog and his owner, a blonde woman who was taking him skating (actually, she was skating, he was walking) for the first time. I love the way that Valley Girl is an international language. Most of the time,though, we were able to walk alone along the trails. We saw three butterflies. I love that here even in the dead of winter, two straight warm days causes all Nature to declare Spring. Robins sing, butterflies fly, and little violet-type flowers sprout.

Richardson has a sector of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, all located in two shopping centers. We drove to Caravelle, which serves Chinese and Vietnamese food. Today they had a vegetarian special for the New Year, which my wife ordered. The spice was really intriguing, and the tofu was really good. I had a simple rice plate of charbroiled chicken. The spring rolls were soft, and the vegetables fresh. When we finished lunch, we explored the other stores in the strip mall. The ABC tropical fish store featured exotic discus, cichlids and goldfish, well kept specimens at rather material but not unreasonable prices. As my aquarium ambitions run more to 12 feeder guppies for a dollar (sadly, Texas seems much more oriented to feeder goldfish), I was not interested in making a purchase. But I like to see a hobbyist store run with healthy fish. It gives me faith that quality pet stores, like barber shops, are still possible in this crazy world.

We went to an Asian market, because my wife wanted to get some red bean pastries for dessert, and the bakery had sold out. A man had a huge griddle, with little round holes cut into it. He placed some dough into the bottom half of a round hole, let it bake, then added a filling and put dough on the bottom half. The result was that he could make "to order" little cakes with a filling. My wife ordered seven red bean cakes, which we were promised within ten minutes. We wandered the store, looking at vegetables and fruits we don't buy that often, and a fish market with fresh pomfret, mackerel, squid and butter fish. I resolved to get some squid for the next time I go fishing, but we limited our additional purchases to a package of small rice cakes. After fifteen minutes, the red bean cakes were finished, and the man loaded them into a little sack, still warm. The entire afternoon could have been a Los Angeles January afternoon, except that in Los Angeles, there would be fewer pick up trucks on the freeway.