Thursday, May 19, 2005


Nobody ever told me how tough life is. Nobody ever pushed me down onto a slightly-ratty but still-plush beanbag and handed me a Flintstones glass of ice-cold lemonade and said: "Life is actually pretty tough, kid, so you better get a grip."

I'm not blaming anyone. That's what you get for having great parents, a comfortable life, four walls and three square. You are provided with a foundation. Most people don't even have that. It's just that the foundation often has cracks or holes that can't be filled. Then you have to dig deep and grib the beanbag and hang on. (You ever try gripping a beanbag? It ain't easy.)

Have you seen Spartan, with Val Kilmer? (I don't mean 'with' Val Kilmer, meaning sitting beside him. I mean, he's in the movie. Though if you did see it sitting beside him, that would be cool, too.) It's a thriller written by David Mamet, which will mean everything to some of you and nothing to most of you.

Mamet is a playwright, screenwriter, director. He creates his own language and his own world in which that language operates. Kilmer plays a Secret Service agent whose job it is to protect the President's daughter. She is kidnapped. His job, quite simply, is simple: Get the girl. Find the girl. At one point, when 'all is lost', as they say, he acquiesces. He abandons his mission. A woman close to the daughter implores him to continue. When he excuses himself by saying that it's not his job anymore, it's 'their' responsibility, she cuts him short: "There is no 'they'," she says. He had a mission -- to find the girl. He hasn't accomplished it. End of story.

It's a smart and witty and brilliant film. At its core lies what is at the core of most of us -- our sense of self, of what we must do, and the inevitable obstacles that lie in wait to thwart our plans.

The truth is, there are a lot of 'theys', and none at all. In the end, there is you. There is what you are putting out into the world. 'They' will not help you. All we can do is accept responsibility, as hard as that is, as fruitless as that is, and move on. Move forward. When you find yourself blaming 'they', 'them', 'the boss', 'the wife', the battle has been lost. You have forgot your mission. You have acquiesced. For even if by some stroke of Satan there is a 'they', it is irrelevant.

Only you can live through your life, and only you can change it.

(And I sometimes hate getting advice given to me, so take all of the above with a grain of salt. But sometimes it's nice to know that it's not just you -- everybody else thinks life is really, really tough, too, so remember that. Remember that the cool guy in Starbucks tapping away on his laptop who seems to have it all together is just as scared shitless as you are. He is. I swear.)

In that spirit:

Seek, above all, for a game worth playing. Such is the advice of the oracle to modern man. Having found the game play it with intensity -- play as if your life and sanity depended on it. (They do depend on it.) Follow the example of the French existentialists and flourish a banner bearing the word 'engagement.' Though nothing means anything and all roads are marked 'no exit', yet move as if your movements had some purpose. If life does not seem to offer a game worth playing, then invent one. For it must be clear, even to the most clouded intelligence, that any game is better than no game.

-- Robert S. DeRopp
The Master Game

If an unusual necessity forces us onward, a surprising thing occurs. The fatigue gets worse up to a certain point, when, gradually or suddenly, it passes away and we are fresher than before! We have evidently tapped a new level of energy. There may be layer after layer of this experience, a third and fourth 'wind'. We find amounts of ease and power that we never dreamed ourselves to own, sources of strength habitually not taxed, because habitually we never push through the obstruction of fatigue.

-- William James

Why should we be in such a desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

-- Henry David Thoreau

If you don't change the direction you're going, you're likely to end up where you're headed.

-- Chinese proverb

Man is not the sum of what he has but the totality of what he does not yet have, of what he might have.

-- Sartre

If you come to fork in the road, take it.

-- Yogi Berra

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