Sunday, March 18, 2018

Own the sin

     All of life, never mind human existence, is a patchwork fuzz on a single rock twirling through a cosmos of such cold immensity that we can't even conceive of it. 
     Nor do we really want to. Just the opposite. Each individual tends to puff himself up as much as possible, to the limits of plausibility and beyond. We are living in the Golden Age of Grandiosity, with a rich, famous president who obviously isn't satisfied by what he has attained, preferring—no, compelled—to live in eternal yearning, fantasizing ever greater accolades for himself. 
     While Donald Trump is an extreme, we all imagine ourselves more splendid than we actually are, or ever could be. I know I do. And I hope I'm not alone. Though I believe I've gotten better in my later years. Less self-absorbed. I think giving up drinking helped. You get in the habit of seeing things clearly, or trying to.
     Yet sometimes the two systems, the old grandeur and the new realism, do clash. Such as a couple weeks ago. I popped into Target for some Skull Candy earbuds. I had lost mine—a lapse that once would have bothered me more than it does now. I'm not perfect, I'm allowed to lose stuff. 
     Trucking through the aisles, I noticed this dog food—the same dog food we haul to Petsmart on Skokie Boulevard to buy for $11.49, here for $8.99.
     My heart swelled. Wow, what a bargain! I grabbed the bag thinking, What a coup! This really makes my day!
     Then some part of me stood back, aghast, arms folded, shaking his head. Really? Finding cheaper dog food. That's your gold standard of excitement nowadays? 
     Deflating, I tossed the bag in my giant red plastic cart and pushed it guiltily away. Immediately thinking: okay, what's the point of that? Both being a petty, small change kind of guy, excited to save a couple bucks on a bag of puppy chow and being so pompous that I can't even enjoy the pleasure of doing so? Stuck between two worlds.
     Yup, that sounds about right. Own the sin, as the colonial moralists used to say. And to be honest, the reproach faded, and I was left with satisfaction, and a new place to shop for dog food. 


  1. I’m sort of with you on this grandiosity issue, but I tend to congratulate myself in recognizing some petty behavior on my part. I’m no better than the rest of the yahoos, but at least I’m aware of it.


  2. I love this. Where is the ego and self-aggrandizing? Like almost all of my favorite writers, it's there. It's just that it is actualized and realized and shared.
    Being able too see one's own frailties and shortcomings makes your writing relatable.
    Yes, you're not only smarter and and well educated than the uneducated failure that I am, you write about historical and philosophical and simple human moments that I feel as if I learn more about myself and the complications of existence by just paying attention to the expressions of philosophical questioning about the emotional response of buying a bag of dog food.
    Like Drunkard and Complete and Utter Failure, I can glean insight and knowledge into this complicated life from another human being who is brave enough to share his own foibles, seemingly devoid of ego.
    Wow. Sorry. That could easily be condensed into "I sincerely appreciate and enjoy these expressions of the mundane as much as your other writing."
    Thank you

    1. In writing about "The Modern Essay," Virginia Woolf gave the highest accolades to authors who can successfully make literature out of their own frailties and little triumphs and in this respect awarded the palm to Max Beerbohm, who wrote in a voice that "charmed readers because it seemed to belong to a man no larger than themselves."

      Ms. Woolf considered the making of literature from oneself one of the higher arts, a test of fine writing, and Neil is good at it.


  3. if this is the new less self absorbed Neil.... I don't know what to say. I think stopping drinking made me more self absorbed . I never thought that was possible. I swing endlessly between excited and pompous. like a gate with a broken latch

  4. Oh, just buy the goddamned dog food. If you're really suffering from Significance Disease, throw the $1.50 you saved into your next charitable contribution. Voila.

  5. Sounds like mid-life stuff. A bargain excites me, too. It's a coup. A win. A notch in my belt. Oh, wait, I see what you mean. Sad!
    But take the small victories as they present themselves. Accept that your not going to battle a howler monkey over your cellphone every day.


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