Ducks on a Pond
I caught a glimpse of some very lovely lines behind the steering wheel of a Porsche one day in one year, and I thought, that auto created that form. I said then, form follows fiction. I said some more stuff, but then some more stuff happened.
There was a delightful little story I read another year about Russian families and the tribulations of grim surroundings amidst posh circumstance, and in there was an allegory. I’ll try and remember it.
An elderly gent rows his small boat into the harbor on a mercy mission, and he reaches up and grabs the mooring line of a large freighter, and he holds it throughout the evening and into the night. He is securing the ship, you see. Day by day he does this. Once when he is on duty, a storm blows in, swells pick up his small craft and set it down, and he loses his grip on the line fixing the large ship to the port.
"I’ve lost control of my ship!" the old one mourns.
Skip elsewhere in the book. Here is the great Napoleon, on a lark in that great land, on his way to Moscow. He pauses for another battle, this one at Borodino, and he sits outside his tent on a camp stool all the livelong day, sipping punch. He issues four orders for the battle, and none of them are followed, because conditions do not allow it. The results of the battle are a Pyrrhic stalemate which weakens him to the extent he must eventually sneak home alone, his army of four hundred fifty thousand shattered.
I watch Mulholland Dr one year more recently. I have a prism now, as we all must. I know what "tree" means, for instance, so I can recognize them in novel and song, even without a glossary. Here, I see what would otherwise be a carousel of similar events with characters changing roles, like during the daylong western skit at Knott’s Berry Farm. The brunette is in the back of the limo. No, she’s now the blonde, who goes into the bungalo through the window to find the body, which is eventually the blonde herself. All manner of creatures are mounted upon differing painted ponies as they go round and round and up and down.
Outliers tells the story of how heroics is not such a singular accomplishment after all. Hockey stars in Canada tend to have been born early in the year, in keeping with the premise that a kid who has been five for ten months can outperform one just arrived at that age. Wealthy moguls were born, to an unsuprising extent, in the mid-nineteenth century, just before the great insustrial surge which would carry them and their enterprises. And as another amazing coincidence, digital demigods were mostly born around 1955, which meant they were best poised for the computer frenzy of the seventies, and they were sired by wealthy parents who could afford expensive toys and happened to live near good schools.
Now, it should be perfectly manifest to everyone that reward does not follow merit, even most of the time. Some who have achieved prominence through chance, luck, or family connections, that is, most of them, take great effort to convince us, and themselves, that they are most deserving of whatever station they happen to inhabit. The rock divas and their outrageous and very petty demands, the soprano from the projects who rages all the weeks she infests the Met, the rap idols who create splash with their bling and their bang, what is all this but the hysterical need to exhibit worth as they know it? I don’t have to clean up my room! the drummer for Dependency Mode is proclaiming by burning his mattress at the Fairmont.
And now comes a column by one named Brooks who gently applauds Mr Gladwells’ book, but holds out for exemplary effort and initiative and the power of self control and perseverence and creativity and the generic conservative mythology about Rugged Individualism, which they all bleat like scared sheep when the howling of the wolf pack is heard in the night. We must believe, then, that a joke named Kristol really deserves his valuable real estate in the Op-Ed pages of the New york Times, although his columns are ridiculous and thus aptly ridiculed and would be trashed unread were they tossed anonymously over the transom. Kristol is the scion of a wealthy estate, and is the second in his family line of commentators. He is Making It On His Own, just like Nancy Sinatra.
But, as Oprah says, you really can improve your days and nights. Of course; you can maxamize your competence, but the range simply is not infinite. As the final kicker of meritocrazy in human affairs, Brooks trots out the old stalking hoss, Shakespeare. Is the immortal Bard a "mere product of social forces?"
Let me see. The Bard. I do remember the Bard, sho’ ’nuff. Wrote during the Dark Ages. No? The nineth century? No? Let me see, on pre-Columbian Trinidad, was it?
No. During the Renaisance, which raised all boats with a mighty surge. Marlowe and Kyd and Ben Jonson and Sir Philip Sydney and Francis Bacon and John Donne and Edmund Spenser and Beaumont and Fletcher and plenty of others. Now, isn’t it a remarkable coincidence that all these stellar Rugged Individuals should rise up in unity at approximately the same time?
Besides, Shakespeare was not universally celebrated from 1616 to today; he was not considered the prime Elizabethan or Jacoban neither at the time and did not become the Bard for two hundred years or so. Plus, there is some question about Authorship, with even those proclaiming for Holy Stradford agreeing he only did up a few lines in King John and Henry VIII, both of which have been assigned to the Canon.
The world’s greatest surfer, goes the legend, is just another duck on the pond when the sea’s a lake. Maybe Mildred said it best. She was the obsession of the protagonist in Of Human Bondage, who was most distressed she did not seem impressed that he was doing her the honor of escorting her to the dance. Mildred merely shrugged.
"If you don’t take me, someone else will."
Originally appearing in