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  • theaptPORTFOLIO

    theaptSHOWS

    October 13, 2009

    oped3.jpgi’m going to be 40.

    not today, not tomorrow but soon, in december. and as time passes, one cannot help but attempt to set out some time to reflect on years past in order to fashion the ones to come in a more learned, dare i say informed, manner. and that time, lucky you, is not today. in fact, in a totally unrelated matter, i wanted to wax a bit poetic about mediocrity. why? well, because i saw jane campion’s bright star this weekend and it so filled me with emptiness that i felt like sharing. not emptiness in the sense of a void within, powerful enough to make me feel like i have nothing to lose, grab my grandma’s hand grinder, hook up a leather neck strap, fasten it to my mouth and start cranking my way to a delightful, if probably unsalted, mashed potato death. not that kind of emptiness no…

    more the kind that i am forever reminded of most often identify with. which is the one perfectly expressed by herr salieri, in peter schaffer’s amadeus, when he finally tells the priest that “i speak for all mediocrities in the world. i am their champion. i am their patron saint.” it is the mediocrity you discover upon the the realization that, in today’s slang, you’re not all that. if you’re doing things right, this feeling should happen to you at least once a week as you meander in the filthy recesses of your particular context, inching ever-so dangerously towards the unknown. as you close in on our own personal final resolutions on a daily basis, may it be in your chosen profession or what you call a personal life, you are bound, once in a while, to draw outside of the lines, whether it is by design or by accident; and in those moments, you sometimes stumble upon extraordinary people, ideas or things that are not so far from your own conceptions but different enough that you can recognize, if you’re lucky, genius and if you’re egocentric, how unsubtly mediocre you are in comparison…

    and i do want to make a distinction between feeling like a fraud and feeling like a mediocrity. mediocrity is not achieved without talent. it is just that this talent, for one reason or another, is not exploited and tasked by default to pull you into various directions that are as obvious as they are useless. it has come to my worthless attention that talent needs to be pushed to get anywhere as it, unexpectedly, bears no propulsion system of its own. yet, most of us, i include myself in this sad, sad group, imagine that our parents were wrong about all their when-i-was-your-age stories, and that the B+ we got in mrs. judy’s art class actually presaged a more meaningful existence than lil’ tommy who couldn’t draw a half-man/half-pig character if his dad’s physics nobel prize trophy sitting in his superbly 5-coat stained mahogany case depended on it. so we go through life expecting that these little talents will save us from ourselves, will always be there when we need them, even help us build a healthy local reputation with the neighborhood’s straight people, you know, those who didn’t choose but were made to. what do we do then? we coast. (i’m not talking about myself of course.) we coast until that day…

    until the day i saw citizen kane. precise. thoughtful. it is unique. it is original. it is detailed. it is ambitious. it is speaking of the human condition. it is speaking of behavior. it does so with incredible bravado and skill. it is inspiring. it was the wrong thing to do and ended up absolutely right. it was based on an inimitable ego that cared for no dissension. it is ultimately basic. at once simple and complicated, like the men and women who made it. it is the result of freshness. it is the result of cockiness. it is the result of pride. it is a prayer that things can be both perfect and imperfect at once. it is the ultimate moving image tribute to the duality of man. it is a game predicated on human frailty, and that is why we can see bits of ourselves in it, in charles foster kane, and in the rest of the characters. it plays with our ambitions. it plays with our wishes. and it both disappoints and excels. and it arrived at a time when films were not being made that way. it signals a hinge in time, much in the way in which mozart wrote music and shakespeare wrote plays, that defined a moment in which an art form was no longer what it was yesterday, because a man or a woman took it upon him or herself not to listen, but simply to do, with the help of a few believers, which is a remarkable trait. there are few, very few people in our lifetime who do what they must, orson welles was one of them. and the principal architect of my mediocrity.

    who is your orson welles? what and when was your moment?… and what what do you do then, once you have been humbled?

    well, often, you come to recognize those people, ideas and things, after a college fund’s worth of therapy, as worthy of, at least admiration and at most idolatry. and idols are pretty important in our society. idols have been worshipped since the beginning of time, it didn’t start with brangelina, it started with the golden calf. it started any time something spiritual was made into something physical. you took a feeling, put a face it, gave it a name and then gave it stories. but what if idolization, deification of other human beings, was not actually a form of fanaticism as most people think. you know, you are called a fan, short for fanatic. i actually don’t think that’s the case or even fair. what if when you found yourself in admiration of somebody’s personality or craft, what you are actually doing is recognizing in yourself that level of craft, or something in the person’s behavior that reminds you of you? what if idolatry was an act of recognition and not an act of fanaticism? when you love a certain musician, you love a certain filmmaker or actor, there is something in their craft that you see yourself as capable of doing. or there is something in the behavior that you recognize in yourself. is it then possible to think that the impetus needed to transform, sublimate that feeling of mediocrity into an act of creation is the simple realization that what we saw in them, we hold within?

    that would certainly be nice, wouldn’t it? and that’s pretty much how i am able to resist food-induced suicide on a daily basis. but sometimes, just sometimes, i hear someone speak, sing, play; i go see a movie, like i did this weekend, that is neither a must-see nor a masterpiece, that’s not the point. it just contained moments that left me in awe because the process that i imagine it took bring such result up on the screen before me and a tear to my eye, is something that i feel, at that moment, is simply beyond me, beyond my ability. remember the retort, harshly spoken by joe mantegna to his son’s school teacher in searching for bobby fisher after she had nonchalantly called josh’s game playing “this chess thing?” let me refresh your memory…

    he’s better at this than I’ve ever been at anything in my life. he’s better at this than you’ll ever be, at anything.

    and that’s what hangs in the balance, isn’t it? will you or i ever be as good at anything as the people we hold high are at what they do?… i shiver at the thought that i am not. i shiver at the thought that i am not and moreover cannot be. i shiver at the thought that my brain might have access to the understanding of the remarkable but that my hands may never fulfill it. i shiver, full stop.

    so why worry about it? why even pause or think or write over-prosed op-eds on it? well, because it feels good to hear oneself talk sometimes, especially talk oneself out of pessimism, defeatism and more importantly out of the idea that is easily believed that the unachievable goal is the problem when, in fact, it is the way there that proves us worthy. a cliché found in any train station-grade self-help book for sure, but nonetheless a principle that cannot be ignored in these days of discomfort… i hope that you, and we, have a fantastic week!