I think that if there are seven vices and seven virtues, there ought also to be seven blessings and seven banes. One of my banes, I am sure, would be a certain essence of pack-rat. I believe that one of my blessings is that I am rarely, if ever, bored. In fact, I am so rarely bored that I usually use the word "bored" in a sentence only to express a certain, fleeting ennui about life's absurdities. I am "bored", for instance, with needless vilification of competing candidates in primary races, particularly when either candidate of my party would be a massive improvement on the current incumbent.
Yet I'd rather not write about politics, if for no other reason that than every political comment I see in a weblog lately is accompanied by a fervent set of paragraphs penned by a supporter of Ron Paul. I'd rather talk about Poetry Idol.
Tonight I watched that popular talent show, American Idol. I like the Idol for the same reasons I used to like Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, a long-ago talent show of such precisely-defined antiquity and awkwardness that its closest analog would be found in Simpsons' episodes. Yet Amateur Hour had the same clumsy verve as American Idol, but frequently featured the refreshing repast of spirited accordion play. It's all clumsy in a good and somewhat pre-geek way.
I am entitled to speak with a knowing air about clumsiness, as I hold in my hand the most posh invitation I have received in months--an invitation to a Physics Reunion Banquet at my alma mater, with a special RSVP card which inquires whether I am merely chicken or, in fact, bravely vegetarian.
I like talent shows best when people demonstrate that they do, or do not, have actual talent. I like them least when they feature undue amounts of "back story", and in particular when they feature emotive displays not connected to songs by the Everly Brothers. I can assure my dear readers that if I were (a) under 28; (b) gifted with a good singing voice; (c) measurably more handsome than I am; and (d) auditioning for a television talent show, then I would sing "Little Red Corvette" and abstain from discussing my inner feelings or the medical conditions of any of my family back home.
I think that the Bravo channel should have a show which airs just after Project Runway, to be aired in place of the show in which the models all seem like parodies from the Ben Stiller movie (although it's hard to give any aspiring model his/her due, frankly, after a runway hour with the charmingly offbeat Heidi Klum). I would call this show Poetry Idol. In this show, contestants would be scattered in small liberal arts institutions, libraries and bed and breakfast housekeeping staffs across the country. The coveted goal would not be a multi-milllion dollar contract after an audition in which someone named Clive professes to have a secret desire to hear one sing "Born to Run" as a country swing minuet. Instead, the prize would be publication in an established small literary journal,, circulation 1,550, paid circulation 223, sposnored by a midwestern university and widely considered to publish a "stepping stone" to poetic recognition--the type of place that is one small set of printed lines from chapbook status.
In Poetry Idol, each contestant would send in a submission of five to seven poems. Hundreds would get form rejections done on an old mimeograph machine, with the text accompanied by a picture of a cyclist riding uphill. Twelve would get scribbled notes from the editor saying "try again". Twenty four would get little two-line hand-typed rejections, four of which would say an especially kind word, before issuing the rejection. Four would get actual acceptances, to be published in an issue to come out in print in two years, along with some twenty five other poems chosen by nepotism and reciprocal arrangements made "under the table" but known by all to exist, by which poets who are friends or proteges' of friends easily reach print.
The Poetry Idol rejects would hold up their rejectino slips and cry and say that now they had to go back to their lives as Starbucks baristas and fledgling parents.
Two would get the courage to apply to an MFA program. Four would say out loud "if only I'd gotten a fair reading". Two would strike their best Ferlinghetti pose and then recede gently into the good night.
You see, if there are seven vices and seven virtues and seven blessings and seven banes, then there must also be seven absurdities. As one of the current American absurdities
is comprised of politicians and think-tankers and even Supreme Court justices who offer spirited defenses of torture, not to mention immunity to violators of constitutional rights, then American Idol offers us the absurdity of people who profess their lives to be shattered by a failure to win a further level of audition in a karaoke contest. Even more absurd, in my view, is people who get passed to the next round despite breathtakingly awful performances, because their personalities make them "characters to watch". That way lies Sanjaya, where but for the grace of Cowell we all may be ultimately bound.
I sat in an Applebee's tonight, eating steak and portobello mushrooms, reading a very amusing comic novel about a poet and an investment banker and an improbable home in rural Pennsylvania. I bought the book for a dollar at dollar tree. A fellow from Nova Scotia no doubt spent eighteen months sweating blood and printer's ink to give me these deep chuckles. I like to think that he would never cry on American Idol because his book got remaindered.
I think that what I learned tonight is a reaffirmation of something 23 years of law practice already taught me. We all have a lot of back story. We're filled with scads of it, and self-justifications and reasons why we can't and reasons why we mustn't and reasons why we failed. The stories are a warm buzz, like the whirr of hummingbird wings.
Yet there is a time to set the back story aside, and go and do and not live in regret or what might have beeen. Everyone has a reason, and a story, and an excuse. The key, though, is to play the cards one holds, and move on to the next hand.