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December 19th, 2006

living in cinema

Sometimes I think that prefaces to novels can be more fun to read than a goodish number of the novels themselves. It's a bit like bonsai trees--a good book of bonsai photos absolves one of the arduous need to keep one, just as one's birding days filter toward the infinitesimal when one owns the Audobon book on bird photography.

I rather like that fellow in Brideshead Revisted who always lives as if he were outside looking in, as if life were a great cinema show and he is somehow relegated to a lesser part. So often, I think, it's tempting to see the things we achieve and live as kinds of consolation prizes. "I coulda been a contender", the old TV play goes, and we all contend inside with our own inner things-which-which-we-contend.

A master's degree no longer becomes a complex thing denied to all but a few, but instead is the thing the fellow who kept blowing up his chem lab sees as a "booby prize". Each victory at trial causes one to wonder if the case was not easy from the get-go. One achieves, I imagine, the coveted master's rating, only to realize that despite a world of work one will never be a grandmaster.

I am all for striving and success and ambition. Although humility and grace under pressure matter a lot, I believe that a sense of "right work" can include a sense of striving to get something done. Yet it all transmogrifies--twelve angry jurors of mental guilts within can, if given the case by appropriate submission, serve as relentless judges of one's own conduct and shortcomings.

I think lately about how fortunate my life has been--and how important it is to live the life at hand--and not merely judge myself for not living a different life. I don't really think that absolves me from striving for kindness and a sense of purpose. I think, instead, it frees me to seek both.