Saturday, December 19, 2009

Internet rock star

Here is a link to a wonderful thing on the internet:  Tim Minchin - White Wine in the Sun.

Tim Minchin is an artist/comedian who has all kinds of wonderful things posted on the web.  His style of thinking and his pointed criticisms are things I find tremendously familiar as they are usually things I have thought of myself or heartily agree with when I do hear them.  Wendy and I first saw his work last night and we sat together and just watched his performances on youtube for a good hour absolutely entranced.  You might think that someone putting on a variety of performances espousing views I generally completely agree with would make me happy, and yet I found it mostly made me sad.  I sat for awhile and thought about why this would be, and what exactly was going on in my head.

The thing is, Tim Minchin is successful.  He is an Internet rock star, the sort of person who is widely viewed on youtube, downloaded and linked all over the place and puts on huge live performances.  He has won many awards for his work.  Certainly he is not universally loved as his performances are absolutely not safe for work and have very distinct political and religious points that will certainly alienate a good chunk of the population.  That said, this is an example of someone I could be.  He is of a similar age to me and seems to have many compatible viewpoints and yet by most standards he is successful and I am not.  The things Tim Minchin wants to do are things you can get famous for doing, and he obviously has the drive to do those things in front of huge crowds and pump them for a lot of money.

So why exactly does this make me sad?  There are many, many people far more famous and rich than this man and they have no impact on me.  There are many reasons I expect, but for sure the similarity in age and viewpoints would be one as I can more easily identify with him.  The other main point would be that he is doing something he obviously cares about and is pushing the limits of his talents.  It is certainly true that people are happier when they are working on things that they are excellent at and less so when they are struggling with things they are poor at.  I think seeing someone who is in some ways superficially like myself who is able to find a way in his life to throw himself so thoroughly into his dreams is what really makes my jealous side rear its ugly head.

I *really* want that.  I have the hunger to be the best, to push my limits and to know that I can stand with anyone in the world and know I am their equal.  There are times in the past when I have been in that zone, where I knew that there was absolutely no one who could match me at the task I was performing and the feeling is tremendous and quite unmatched.  The thrill of unrivalled excellence is one many people search for, but I don't particularly envy star quarterbacks or company presidents.  It is the geeks who have a firm belief in science and rationality, those who see the world the way I do and turn that with their desire to grandstand for the masses into something wonderful that make me see what I could be.

If I wanted to I could be that person.  There are so many things I could do if I wanted to, and yet I do not.  I am quite certain I could be a force at poker if I set my mind to it.  The three things I do are understand people's minds, do mathematics and play games.  I am quite sure that I could be devastating at poker, and yet I am not.  I could write books, I could create articles and make literary works of beauty, and yet I do not.  I have the facility for music, and if I practiced for half a dozen years I am sure I could master an instrument.  The thing is, I do not do these things and I don't want to do these things.

I don't want to be a musician on tour as I think I would be miserable.  I could be a professional poker player if I really really tried, but the life of a poker professional is not one I want.  I could write books but the task of sitting down and creating such a large document does not appeal to me;  I instead wish to leap back and forth from topic to topic, hitting just the points that appeal to me and seem powerful.

I know this.  I know that these other lives I could live are not what I want and that if I did want them I should reach out and take them.  This is true and yet I still have these pangs of regret, this sorrow that I cannot share these successes that others enjoy.  In some kind of ideal world I would be able to truly internalize my understanding of my preferences and look upon other people's successes with pride and joy, untainted by any jealousy.  In the version of my mind I strive to achieve I would be able to set aside all these things as goals I am not invested in and take complete satisfaction in the life I live.  That, I think, is by far what makes these things sad for me:  The knowledge that I have not managed to mould myself into the being I wish to be.  For even if there is a small tinge of regret then I have failed, for had I been stronger, better, perfect that regret would not be there.

The mind I want to have can take happiness in my own choices and understand without regret that there are prices I have paid and options I have weighed.  The fact that that mind is almost certainly unachieveable is no barrier, I am quite happy to set standards for myself that are beyond what any human can accomplish.  I really don't know where this burning desire to achieve beyond any rational human standard comes from.  In most of my life I am quite happy with doing it well, and making it good enough.  When it comes to my mind though nothing is ever 'good enough'.

You might suggest that being sad because I have not lived up to standards that are impossible (by my own admission, as well as everyone else) is a failure in rationality.  Setting standards that are unreachable and make me unhappy on occasion seems like a poor choice.  And yet I must quote Rounders here, from the scene where the main character asks his judge mentor "Do you ever regret your choice?" and the answer is

"What choice?"

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