Affirmations and Aspirations
Quoting from James Fallows’ Dick Cheney’s Heart:
“We all know the cliche about people who switch from youthful idealism to mid-life flinty-mindedness. One version goes, If you’re not a socialist in your twenties, you have no heart; if you’re not a capitalist in your forties, you have no mind. I think there’s an important addition: If you’re not a humanist in your seventies, you have no soul.
“It doesn’t always happen, but we celebrate the examples when it does. The elderly warriors who become peacemakers. The tycoons who become philanthropists. The schemers and narcissists who become conciliators and mentors. If the twenties-to-forties shift reflects a growing awareness of life’s hard realities, the later shift reflects an understanding of life’s tragedies and unfairnesses and humanity’s shared risks and hopes. Think of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s last-minute conversion in A Christmas Carol.”
If there’s a phrase from this passage that feels like it hits a little too close to home, it’s “schemer and narcissist”. It’s an occupational hazard for anyone trying to establish themselves as an artist. The job demands relentless self-promotion on an order that I’m sure most people would find distasteful to the point of being untenable. Probably this is also true for bloggers, or journalists, or anyone else for whom being in the public eye is part of the currency of the profession.
As I’ve written about earlier in this space, my writing in this space in the first place comes as a result of a chain of events that were set in motion when in 2008 I decided that my professional/creative/social online world was too parochial and too intellectually homogeneous, and I began to take definitive steps to expand my horizons. Part of the reason for this was pure professional and creative ambition.
I had apprehended that the internet and society as a whole was changing in ways that made the “Comstock Project” less and less tenable. Quoting from Sex, Law and Cinema in the Digital Age (1989-2010):
“By 2008 the trend is becoming clear. Paul Little, aka Max Hardcore notorious producer of videos featuring urination, vomiting and women dressed as children is convicted on 20 obscenity counts. Over at Salon.com, Tracy Clark Flory chronicles the implosion of the market for over-sharing with her post “Sex writing goes limp” detailing lay-offs and cancelations at Wired, Playboy, The Village Voice, Gawker and elsewhere. Tartan Films and ThinkFilm, the distributors of 9 Songs and Shortbus respectively, go out of business. And in December the social networking platform Ning announces they will “no longer support adult social networks”.”
I had also identified TheAtlantic.com as a rising nexus in the new digital order, and began a dogged campaign to bring myself and my ideas to the attention of its writers and readers both. My efforts did not go unnoticed:
“The themes about which Tony is currently blogging have cropped up in threads throughout the site over the past few years – even, I might add, when the connection was apparent only to Tony. And I’ll admit that, after a while, I started to skim past many of Tony’s posts. And I rolled my eyes when I saw that Fallows had lent him his soapbox.”
I don’t imagine that anyone enjoys reading something like this about them self, even working under a pseudonym. I certainly don’t. But like the scheming and the narcissism, it’s an occupational hazard. Omelet/eggs. Big dogs/porch. Heat/kitchen. No one held a gun to my head.
Late in 2010 I experienced a growing awareness of a void in my life.
The relentless pursuit of my ambition for myself/my films had devoured most of my avocational and recreational life; that I already knew. But what I began to realize was that outside of my role as a parent, I spent virtually no time in service to others; no coaching youth soccer, no tutoring, none of the things that used to come and go in life with no special effort on my part.
And because of my experience producing films for faith-based NGOs, I had the thought that I might walk down the block to the local church and find out what sort of service work was going on.
Except that the other thing I remember from my NGO days is that as passionately as I felt about doing the work, being there as an irreligious person I sometimes had a feeling of being there under false pretences.
Then one day in December, while coming back from a trip up island to get my TWIC card, and in the exact same spot where I had my Sputnik Moment in 2002, I thought, “Wait a minute. If I built the right boat, I could take students and teachers out on science field trips. And since this would be during the school year it wouldn’t be during my busy time. That would be good for the kids, good for the boat, and good for me.”
And about a month later, in what can accurately be described as my farewell to Tony Comstock, I wrote that in undertaking the Mon Tiki build and the sailing classroom concept we hope will be an integral part of our business was “my attempt to skip as much of that ‘flinty middle stage’ of life as possible and get on with the giving back part of my life while my heart still beats strong and true.”
Part of that was, of course, an allusion to Dick Cheney’s crippled heart; but it was also a nod to a caution given to me repeatedly by my friend and mentor Bob Wise; that there were too many good deals on boats to be had because their master had delayed and delayed and delayed, only to drop dead of a heart attack on the eve of their dreamed of voyage; their widows left to sell off the unrealized dream at a deep discount.
In the close of his Political Predictions for 2012, Karl Rove writes:
Predicting the future is always dangerous but conservatives believe in accountability, so let’s see how well I do a year from now
I believe in accountability too, but instead of predictions, I’m going to offer some aspirations:
- By the end of January we hope to have the lower hulls skinned, faired, and turned.
- By the end of February we hope to have the interior joinery completed, and the upper topsides fitted and fair.
- By the end of March we hope to have the hulls decked.
- By the end of April we hope to have the cross beams fabricated, deck-pod finished and deck installed.
- This will leave us May to paint, rig, and launch.
Like predictions, aspirations are dangerous (if one counts being shown to be a fool as a hazard). Yet despite this hazard, sometimes you just have to step out on a limb, don’t you?
Happy New Year!