The sorrow and the pity

There is a well-known maxim/quotation attributed to Calvin Coolidge titled “Press On” that a friend of mine used to carry, printed on a name card, in his wallet, and I always found it inspiring, hackneyed and cliched as it may be:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

I read it now and feel a particular poignancy. The world is full of educated derelicts. Sometimes I worry (make that dread) that I fall into that sad category. Experienced, well read, a couple of degrees and good marks, a labrynthine knowledge of Wagner and the World Wars and a few other topics, I still feel that I am adrift, anchorless and rudderless in a world that I have allowed to pass me by. When I was young, things seemed to just come to me, and I always thought that would continue. Surprise. Not that there haven’t been successes and extraordinary experiences, including my living and working right now in China. But I made the mistake of which Joseph Campbell warns us so eloquently — I never followed my bliss. I allowed myself to be talked out of pursuing a career in classical music, my life and my passion and my joy; I took the path of least resistance and dropped out of my advanced music theory course because the professor, Louise Thalmadge, terrified me. I allowed my close friend, who meant no harm, to talk me out of my dream, and in giving up that dream I gave up a very big part of myself. I can hardly look back to that moment without a flood of poignancy that goes straight to the heart, and my eyes fight back tears as I wonder how I could have been so stupid. There’s a passage in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, toward the end, where the hero looks back on how he had “simply given up the best years of his life,” to paraphrase. That heartache, that realization that our love and our dream and our passion have gone to waste, it hurts and haunts as does nothing else.

And so here we are in the present, decades after that fatal moment for which I must accept all responsibility, and I wonder if if there is still hope? Can that bliss, to be an artist of some sort, be it as a writer on music or even a publicist for an opera house, can that bliss still be followed without financial and personal destruction (not to mention certain failure)? I have to face the fact now that despite the successes, I do not enjoy my work, especially not here in China, and I feel that all growth has been utterly stifled, as I live a life devoid of music, art, and the great people with whom I once spent my time in New York City back in my pre- and post-university days.

Despite my recent intention to make this site less of a psychological catharsis tool, I see that once I get going, the writng tends to take on a life of its own. My apologies. I must go to pay my heating bill, even though the heat I’m provided with is no match to the Beijing winter; last night I slept wearing a heavy bathrobe to reduce the shivering. “If winter comes….” But Shelley had never been to Beijing.

The Discussion: No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.