Ask me how I am and I will probably tell you I’m fine. Or I’m doing pretty well.
If the skies are raining nuclear pellets and the toilets overflowing and a fever blister the size of a billboard has ballooned on my lower lip, I may answer, “Ask me next week” in a testy kind of voice while I roll my eyes toward the radioactive skies. But I won’t elaborate unless I can make it amusing.
This isn’t because I’m a good person, even though I like to think I am a pretty good person on my better days. It’s because one of my great fears is boring other people and becoming the kind of windbag loser everyone feels sorry for but desperately wants to avoid.
Which is the kind of permanent neurosis you develop if you spent the entire fall of 1968 in Lubbock, Texas (which, if you haven’t visited it, good for you), dancing and/or flailing without rhythm to the song, “Born to be Wild.” You were either wild — which was highly desirable — or you weren’t. Nobody, to my knowledge, ever wrote a rock song called “Born to be Quiet.”
(Parenthetical diversion, probably only of interest to women of a certain age and temperament, but male readers are always welcome, too: Is there anything you want more, when you’re a teenager, than to be the kind of wild thing, the sort of free and irresistible spirit and elusive beauty who inspires rockers to write yearning, aching songs about you? To be, in short, somebody like Pattie Boyd, who flitted from George Harrison to Eric Clapton, and inspired the angst and orgasmic chords of “Layla”? To be Ilsa in “Casablanca,” the kind of woman who will haunt a man’s dreams and hangovers and gin joints forever?
(OK, OK. Young men, I suppose, have their own impossible archetypes. I recently discussed LeBron James with our son, who said James was a dick, but maybe he deserved to be since he was so incredibly gifted as an athlete. Being the mother and voice of reason, I argued. What had LeBron James done, really? Scored a zillion baskets, yawn, big deal, wake me when the season’s over? “Has he saved anybody’s life? Cured cancer?” I persisted. “No? Well, then he shouldn’t be a dick.” Even if LeBron had cured cancer, I was thinking, he still shouldn’t be a dick; but that’s, you know, just me.)
Anyway, the point I am striving to make, even if I do get derailed on endless detours, is that maybe a desire not to be boring or a dick is not a bad aim in life. You won’t win a Nobel or an NBA championship with that kind of low-rent credo and you won’t inspire a rock classic of thwarted love and desire and heartache, but maybe you do okay and do some good in your own understated way.
I persist in believing in karma, even if I don’t believe in God, and I like to think you’re a better, more considerate person if you didn’t get everything you wanted early in life, if you’ve fallen short repeatedly or have nowhere to go but up or sideways. Maybe it’s not a bad thing to worry about boring other people, and maybe even Zelda Fitzgerald got a little boring after a while when all her jumping into the fountain while drunk and clothed failed to amuse as the decades passed.
Maybe so, maybe not. It is fascinating to me, though, how all those youthful visions of what we wanted to be never entirely die. Which is why, I suppose, I might be protesting a little too much and why, when I looked up Pattie Boyd on Wikipedia, I was so amused: Although Boyd claimed George Harrison wrote “Something” because of her, Harrison once said that when he wrote the song, he was really thinking about Ray Charles.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read about being Lot’s wife