Essay: You Can’t Please Everybody
I care what people think of me, but I do not always care. A proverb might be attached: sings to the wind, sings to stillness. Something like that. A student put me in mind of this, asking me how I keep myself buoyant (my words) in a world of endless disappointments (my words) and I said that in my experience those who do not like you would never have liked you, and so what chance do you have? You simply make the music that is your life. I’m always making analogies, not only because that’s what writers do, but because for over a hundred years the thinking of our thinking classes has been infused with metaphor, whether you’re a poet or not. So religion is about ideas of god, science is about wish, far more than scientists will allow, and art is what you make of it. And that’s a fancy way of saying you can’t please everybody.
It is a sobering moment when you first realize that the educated in the US are afflicted by self-loathing and self-doubt to the same degree as your butcher. Talk subsumes surprise all too often, and a grey formalism mixed with gall settles in. You see it in university professors but also in bureaucrats and business people–a vague, unspoken sense that wisdom is not enough in a life. It’s as if the nervous self-awareness of adolescence has become permanent for millions of people; growth has stopped; and so the millions live in thrall to sad confirmations. You can ask why this should be the case and according to the province of theory you’re in, you will get different answers depending on whether you’re reading Osupensky or Marx or Alan Watts. What matters is that one is surrounded by idio-pathic zombies, which is of course why zombie games are so popular on mobile devices.
And so I don’t care what people think of me–I’m a person with an evident disability living in a civilization that sentimentalizes disabilities. The blind man who climbs a mountain can dine out forever giving talks about inspiration–talks that tell millions who live in thrall to sad confirmations that their lives could be bigger if only they dared live bigger. I have a general disdain for these sorts of talks, and in truth would rather have a colonoscopy without anesthetic than listen to the treacle that far too many celebrities with disabilities willingly toss at conferences and conventions. Inspirational speaking is always missing the point–that life is life, and lived with better ideas it’s a better business. Life is not cavalier emulation. It’s something else. It’s perhaps nothing more than a flaunted non-sophistication that finds honest satisfactions. And it’s about inviting your neighbors in, after you’ve swept the house. If you’re going to emulate someone, emulate the teacher who read a book all weekend.
Meantime, I don’t care if I’m not liked. Oh I grieve over it a bit. But what I want isn’t personal. I’m not indifferent to the peculiarities of the world, the one we’ve made. I’m angry that Lockheed Martin can advertise weapons of mass destruction on my television. I’m angry that young people are being told their votes don’t matter; that people of color in my country are being prevented from voting because they don’t have driver’s licenses; I’m wildly angry that my nation has killed a million citizens of Iraq for nothing more than a bullying neo-conservative idea that we could export democracy at gun point. I’m angry that the old damage of American imperialism is so poorly understood by my neighbors, many of whom honestly believe that muslims hate America because we’re Christian–failing to realize that our foreign policy has undermined the dignity of human life in a large part of the world for a generation and that human beings have a good grasp of what has been happening to them. I wake up angry. I go to bed angry. And in the meantime I walk about.
I live in the communion of words with my firm shoulder blades and half groomed head and I read as much as I can about liberty and I say what I must.
If you have a disability you see almost daily how many have learned the language of shoulder shrugging. If you work at a university you see professors who shrug–they’re my pet peeve–the ones who don’t want the students with disabilities in their classes. And the administrators who make it hard for faculty and staff with disabilities to do their jobs–I can’t stand their shrugging. The latter especially as it’s loaded with double talk.
So to that student who asked: I think of the static from the remorseless sun and keep shining.