Monday, May 02, 2011


Like other people have said, I still can't get over this dress. It just takes your breath away. It's like something out of King Arthur. I'll never get tired of looking at it.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me,
‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is sort of like this dress: short, simple, perfect, deadly, unforgettable. It's a book you can finish in a few hours and no matter how many times you read it you never get tired of it.
The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless and with her chin raised a little as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it—indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in. The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise—she leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression—

then she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed too and came forward into the room.

‘I’m p-paralyzed with happiness.’

She laughed again, as if she said something very witty, and held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face, promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see. That was a way she had. She hinted in a murmur that the surname of the balancing girl was Baker. (I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.)

At any rate Miss Baker’s lips fluttered, she nodded at me almost imperceptibly and then quickly tipped her head back again—the object she was balancing had obviously tottered a little and given her something of a fright. Again a sort of


apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of complete self sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me. I looked back at my cousin who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth—but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen,’ a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.

It's passages like this you read that make you want to be a writer.

One of my most vivid memories is of coming back west from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o’clock of a December evening with a few Chicago friends already caught up into their own holiday gayeties to bid them a hasty goodbye. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This or That’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances and the matchings of invitations: ‘Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?’ and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate. When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

My friend reminds me from time to time, in an indirect way, that one of my biggest problems is the inability to accept that perfection doesn't exist in this life. There's no perfect solution to any problem, no perfect computer code you can write. No perfect situation, no perfect people, no perfect friends, no perfect relationship. The only thing that's going to happen to me if I don't drop this obsession with perfection is that I'm going to smash myself into bits and have nothing to show for it. Which is true to a large extent - and has happened to a large extent. A lot of times I wonder just how much the components of my pathological personality - avoidant, borderline, narcissistic, obsessive, self-destructive - are just manifestations of my inability to accept that myself and other people and the whole of life can't be perfect . Like I start a dozen things and abruptly leave them 1/3 finished because I can't bear to not get them absolutely right. I see people in very black-and-white terms - I either like them and go all out for them, or I don't even acknowledge their existence. In anything I create I can't stop myself from searching out the tiniest imperfection and then throwing the whole thing out and starting over.

But it's cool.  Because the first act of creation - that act of giving birth - is always painful as hell. I am all these things and I am trying to do better, but I'm prepared to accept that these things will always be part of me. And whatever I go through, to me it's not really that important. Because I might not be a good person, but I'm not an evil person either. I know this for a fact because evil - envy,  selfishness, deceit, malice, hatred, hypocrisy - is purely about destruction. Regardless of what I've done in this life there isn't anybody on this planet that can say that I partook of these things. Every day I try my best to avoid these things, to do what is right, to do no harm to anyone. I don't always succeed and a lot of times I end up doing the exact opposite of what I intend to do, but I do try. Because I have knowledge - that wisdom that was given to humans to know the difference between good and evil - to understand the difference between creation and life, and destruction and death. I try my best, every day, not to hurt people. A lot of times I don't succeed but whenever I hurt people,  the vast majority of the time it's just an indirect way of hurting myself.

I'm pretty sure that Sarah Burton and F. Scott Fitzgerald got called a b---- and an a-- frequently and had people who hated them, who felt they were too arrogant, too sure in their own ability, too obssessed with getting it right all the time, too impatient with other people. But I'm pretty sure they had that knowledge and wisdom to understand the difference between good and evil. And the fact is that the people who pretend not to know the difference, who pretend that they never received that wisdom, who say in their heart that this world is, was, and will always be the same so let me get everything I can regardless of what I have to do to get it - those people are the absolutely worthless ones in life. They are born, live, die and are forgotten. They care not about making something new, something that will be remembered, something that will last when every stupid thing their small minds crave has passed away. This planet needs new things, new creations, new solutions. There's billions of people in this life who go to bed every night wishing somebody, somewhere would find something new to help them - maybe some new technology to help them get enough to eat from their land, or some new cheap hardware and software they could use to organize their villages into a potent enough group to fight the politicians who oppress them. Or even just some book or essay or op-ed, written by someone somewhere letting the world know that not everybody fights on the side of darkness, not everyone is blind and doesn't care. Some new, small thing to help them and give them hope.

So maybe I will just end up as debris, victim of a massive implosion caused by a fruitless lifelong search for the things that are perfect and right. But if, just one time, I can ever create something perfect; something that takes your breath away; something people never get tired of looking at or reading or using or listening to; something that causes a spark inside someone, somewhere, that reminds them that perfection and wisdom and truth and knowledge and beauty and love do exist in this life; if I can ever create a moment like this for someone, then it would have been worth it.

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