To say that I’m not competitive is untrue. I don’t compete much with other people, but I am forever in competition with myself. Even when I play games, I tend to be unconcerned with whether I win or lose, much more interested in if I’ve beaten my own best score, or my highest word score (Scrabble addicts unite!). When I write, aside from the endless typos that are the bane of my life and which seem to fall out of my fingers like rain on a spring day, I’m always trying to write that perfect sentence, to clarify a thought, to come up with a new way of approaching an old subject.
Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes not. Even though I try, I do fail. Not everything achieves a level that I consider acceptable. I don’t believe “trying your best” is enough. Where I come from, trying is assumed, expected, and automatic. Of course you try: it’s succeeding that counts. I know I’m not alone in this. This is an attitude that crosses class, religious, and ethnic borders. If you come from that kind of family, nothing less than your best effort is acceptable. No one gives you pats on the back for doing what’s expected. Even success is measured by degrees. Passing is nothing to be proud of (except, for me, in anything involving numbers where I was grateful for a D).
I didn’t get a lot of applause for my efforts in school, probably because I didn’t try hard. School — aside from math — was easy. I could get Bs or As on almost anything with very little effort and I could bullshit my way out of most of my classes, making a tiny bit of knowledge sound like a lot more. Until the day I met one special professor who saw through me and changed everything. For the first time, my excellent writing was unable to mask my underlying ignorance. He gave me the only double grade I ever received: D/A+ … the D for content, the A+ for style. I loved him. He saw me — all of me — and no one else had ever done that, not family, friends, or teachers.
He forced me to dig in and do the research, to not graze across the top, but delve into important underlying concepts. When I had an epiphany and handed in a final paper that consisted of 30 pages of free verse, I got an A on that because, he said, I obviously had “got it.” It was education turned upside down for me and those lessons changed my world.
I have never since been satisfied by glossing over the surface without looking underneath. I turn over rocks to see what crawls out because if you just look at the rocks, you never see the snakes and scorpions. If you look at the covers and don’t read the books, you don’t really know anything and sometimes, even that’s not enough. Sometimes nothing is enough, but at the very least, I understand that I have to make that effort to see the whole thing, top and bottom.
This is one of those non news days. I’m disinclined to talk about my personal woes. It’s easier to deal with concepts and abstractions, with ideas than all the stuff that accompanies getting older without necessarily becoming wiser. As someone said long ago, “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.”
So I’ll keep on keeping on, hoping to find things to talk about that are interesting to me and hopefully, to you. I don’t have a single focus. I can’t just do photography or movies or politics. I’ve always been interested in too many things. It’s a curse and a gift to see the world as a tapestry, connected by strands running every which way. Pull on one and others unravel, and you never know till you give it a tug, what will unravel. Beware of pulling loose strings. One tug and your sweater is just yarn.
The arts and science and politics and history and everything else are all one thing, all part of this big picture. Everything and everyone is connected, somehow. If only we could find those connections, perhaps we could start to fix things.
Have a great week!