The Pentagong Show

The Pentagong Show
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Trying to Become a Man of Importance

Even now I can't recall ever having let go of the buried desire to become a man of importance; it's as though  I was born with the wish. Admittedly it is true that such a desire may arise from or be contrived as a sign of vanity or stupidity, but I like to think that nevertheless, it is also a very fine and proper desire, without which there would probably be no one of importance, unless, of course, one were to subscribe to the notion that everyone of  importance is thrust into that position by either circumstances or the machinations of others.

The only problem was that I knew neither how to go about it, nor even what exactly a man of importance really was. But being a product of both my time and country, it seemed it had to be somehow associated with being either college-educated, the son of an upperclass twit, (or married to the daughter of an upperclass twit), or a dynamic man of business. But since none of these applied to me, it seemed that the only avenue even remotely feasible was to become a writer, since the other careers associated with the arts were performed in front of audiences and I was debilitatingly shy outside the circle of family and friends who encouraged my singing and comedic endeavors. And maybe also because, it seemed to me, that to be a writer was to escape the problems of blood and class.

To this pursuit was then dedicated all the extra time I had. First, to read as much as possible of the work of famous writers, and second, to work on learning how to type. The problem with the first idea, was that it seemed everything I wanted to say had already been said by those whose writing I was left breathless by, as though watching Richard Burton perform Hamlet could have any other effect than to cause one to surrender any hope of ever being the world's foremost Shakespearean actor, whereas the problem with the second, was that, although I became relatively conversant with the qwerty keyboard and touch-typing, I was, am, hopelessly dyslexic when it comes to any work on a keyboard.

So the idea of becoming a man of any importance was eventually shelved as really the only thing of importance was quickly becoming the manner in which I was supposed to support myself, something heretofore given minimal consideration, consequently my energies turned to that instead.

That's when I learned that life forms a surface that pretends things have to be the way they appear to be, but under its skin, things are thrusting and jostling. For example Love, a religious and dangerous experience, can lift you right out of the arms of reason and set you afloat with literally no ground under your feet.  But even without that, the daily grind of trying to balance earning a living with having a social life while still broadening your intellectual horizons via college and your social contacts via alcohol, cigarette-smoking - de rigueur for any bon-vivant in those days - and other, what were politely termed, recreational, drugs, it was nigh impossible to merely keep a journal, never mind concentrate on anything more edifiying and structured.

So, being at the age when one still attaches great importance to everything connected with tailors and barbers and enjoys looking in the mirror, or, that is to say, when one is still superficial, one often imagines oneself in a place where one would like to spend one's life, or at least a part of it, where it would be smart to stay, even if you didn't feel any special affinity for that particular place otherwise. A kind of American super-city where everyone rushes about, carrying briefcases, glancing anxiously at watches and snatching hellos from acquaintances before scurrying off to keep appointments that are creatively juggled to fill every hour of the day.

Air and earth form an ant-hill veined by channels of traffic and the office buildings rise story after story until they disappear into the clouds, while overhead trains, underground trains, and overground trains carry overly-ground-down passengers to underground assignments to pay overhead expenses, while pneumatic-wheeled conveyances rush consignments of humans to their disparate destinies and chains of motor-cars all race along horizontally. and express lifts elevate vertically, pumping crowds from ground level to a less sound level escalating humanity in boxes amid effortless flights of stares.

At various junctions you leap from one means of transit to another, are instantly sucked in and snatched away by the rhythm of it all which engenders a syncope, a sensation not unlike the unpleasant but heady rush often associated with standing up too fast, a pause, a little gasp of intoxication for fifteen seconds between two roaring outbursts of speed, and, during these intervals in the general rhythm, one hastily exchanges glances with others similarly drugged by techno-speed and synaptic-like multi-nodal transfers.

Of course, you eat while in motion and glean your amusements from boxes that tilt and whirr and bleep and flash before rushing back in to the mix to get back to the refuge you're paying too much of what your making to ever hope to not be scurrying along the same laughtrack decades later, when the amusement's frazzled down, first to bemusement and finally to chronic fatigue, spawned by a kind of landlubber's seasickness from never quite having the ground not speeding away under your feet, despite never quite going anywhere.

So, far from becoming a man of importance, the realization dawns that you are in a community whose energies constantly dissipate your own, taking its avatars to their respective goals, ones that have been preordained as good, and you accept that, as long as you don't spend too much time hesitating and thinking it over. We seem to need no more to achieve happiness; for what one achieves is what molds the spirit, whereas what one wants, without fulfillment, warps it. Consequently, since your happiness can never be reliably based on what you want, you should naturally focus instead on what you can get.

That is what brings about the soul-searing realization that, not only does the desire to be man of importance separate you from your peers, but the very criteria with which a man is deemed of importance are, for you, completely at odds with the qualities that your society seeks to elevate one to a place of importance.

It is, perhaps, by no means certain that things must turn out this way, but such imaginings are among the future-perfect-fantasis that mirror our awareness of the unresting motion in which we are borne along. Luckily, these uneasy realizations can be mercifully short. One never knows how things will really turn out, but still, it seems we are in the hands of it, we travel in it day and night, and do everything in it too: shaving, eating, making love, reading a book, careening while careering, as though the four walls were standing still; but the uncanny thing is that the walls are traveling without our even noticing it, reeling out in time-space, groping their way ahead via invisible arched lines of gravity and magnetism, propelling the future into the present and rushing the present into the past, with no idea or care as to where it's all going. Yet how can we not conceive of ourselves as taking part in the forces that control events?

But that is a very vague role we play, so it oftentimes happens that you look out the window after a longish interval and realize that the scene has changed. What is flying past is doing so because it cannot be otherwise, but even as we resign ourselves to that, we can't quite shake the unpleasant feeling that we may have overshot our destination or have gotten onto the wrong line, so that one day you suddenly have the wild idea to jump out! Get clear!,  indulging the nostalgic yearning to be brought to a standstill, to cease evolving, to get stuck, to turn back to a point that lies before that wrong fork. But as Thomas Wolfe so astutely observed, "You Can't go Home Again", and even if you could "Look Homeward, Angel", it wouldn't be recognizable.

This leads, or has somewhat, in my own case, to the condition where one acts - sometimes via extreme levels of passion and its consequences - differently from the way one thinks, or thinks differently from the way one acts. Uninformed observers have mistaken this for charm, or less kindly, for weakness. But that would be wrong. Because everyone has, like a cat, nine lives: a professional one, national one, civic one, a personal one, a geographical one, a sex one, a conscious, and even un- or subconscious one, a public and a private one. It is the dominance or submissiveness, of one over the other depending on the circumstance or where one has alighted, that decides which is given sway and which are left on automatic pilot, abandoned by the imagination.

So that where our lives take us becomes less of a result of personal effort, and seems instead more characterized by the phrase, "it just sort of happened". And time slipped away, or through one's fingers as you headed over the hill. Yet having been through it all, having returned back to the beginning even though not reaching an end, there was perhaps still time to become a Man of Importance, or more likely, to have again ruined any chance of it. But there is, after all, still the future, and as Scarlet so sagely observed, even if no one else gives a damn, "Tomorrow is another day".

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