Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The Measure of a Man
Any man worth his salt must evaluate his place in the world from time to time, taking stock of his established titles, skills, achievements, and goals not yet attained. I can't say I'm fully satisfied by where I am at in life, but I can say that the things I have seen, accomplishments under my belt, and stories I can tell from first hand accounts are all things I am pretty proud of. Though day to day our lives seem fairly straightforward and mundane, sometimes its necessary to total up our bill, make a tally of the high points, give ourselves a personal, final grade.
Like every one, I have been described by many differing names and adjectives, from hard-worker and talented artist to lazy, contrived asshole. Some have called me the best person they have ever met, others have dubbed me a cold, unfeeling bastard. I've been labeled a dear friend, a good son, an honest leader, a healthy eater, and most recently a racist "Jive Turkey". I have easily performed shows in front of thousands, sung my heart out in front of hundreds, stumbled drunkenly in front of dozens, and been loved by several.
To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, 'I don't care what's written about me so long as it isn't true.' Maybe it says something more about my personality than I'm aware, but I've never put much weight in anything people have said about me, whether positive or negative, because I have rarely agreed with any of it. To my constant surprise, countless people have congratulated me on my strong character and ability to "not care what others think" of me. To this I always strongly disagree.
More so than anyone I know, I care deeply about how I am viewed by others, it just depends on who is doing the viewing. I can stand up in front of just about anyone in the world, make a complete ass of myself, and continue on with my life without giving it a second thought. However, in many unseen moments known only to me, my opportunities and actions are undertaken with extreme forethought and caution. I'm all too aware that what I do in my private life and the ramifications of those actions will be seen at some point by those lucky few whose opinions of me I love and respect more than anything else. It is in those instances, more often than not, I decide to err on the side of temperance and restraint. This is not easy to do, especially repeatedly over most of the years of my life, and even more so in the last few years of almost constant temptation, but I silently do so.
To be fair, I haven't suffered a whole lot in this life. Grew up middle class, good education, loving family, doting parents, supportive infrastructure, responsible role models, strong work ethic, etc. I wouldn't change a thing. It seems to me though that growing up in this way almost makes one feel guilty for having it so good. I think this is why so often those are the types of kids who want to wear black, listen to Nine Inch Nails, get drunk and high, and hate their parents while searching for something to rebel against. I wasn't one of those kids.
Instead, I was artsy, sat alone in my room reading comic books, drawing, listening to R.E.M. and trying to figure out the meaning of life. Perhaps I have been looking, in a vain attempt, for a way to help those who haven't been as lucky as I. After almost thirty years of lonely nights longing for useless things and unnecessary people, all the searching led me to one final theory on how to live life, or at least a theory that works best for me:
"Work hard, do your best, enjoy what you can, as much as you can, and shut the fuck up."
Truly, it sounds simple, but oh, Lordy how it is not. Its taken a few special friends who have led by example to show me how to live happily day to day, and for this I owe them more than they can know. Yes, no one is perfect and we all have our tough times, but handling bad times with calm, grace, and a little bit of patience is pretty much all it takes to get to a level of peace and harmony in the universe.
So, what's my own self-imposed grade? I'm not sure. If this were a pass/fail course, I think I'd be squarely getting ready for the next step of prerequisites on my path to success, but frankly I don't think life is that easy. There is no black or white, only those constant, unfortunate shades of grey. I think I'll delay my grade pending further data.