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Walter Crane: King Midas with his daughter,
Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1893 edition of
A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys

"The absence of its opposite …"

Midas stands as the archetypal embodiment of a specific sort of Success none of us hope to achieve. To at least try to be honest, his error seems innocent enough. He had not thought his greed to or through its logical extents. He overreached. Each of us has just as innocently stepped over some similarly unseen edge, if only when gorging at a holiday table. We celebrate our great Success, only to render ourselves miserable as a result. Too much of some good things seem worse than the worst of all possible outcomes. Midas sought a magic touch such that everything he touched might turn to gold. Granted that short-sighted wish, he found himself unable to eat or drink and, when he touched his beloved daughter, Abjectly Successful.

I suspect that each of us holds this capacity.
Our appetites sometimes exceed the space in our bellies. We can wish for more than we reasonably need, and the Gods, ever watchful for a teaching moment, provide precisely what we'd hoped for. Regardless of how often we're cautioned to be careful what we wish for, we still sometimes wish grandiosely. Worse, perhaps, we can steadfastly refuse to accept good enough as good enough, pushing beyond reasonable limits, rubbing in another's defeat at our hands, and/or continuing pursuit long after we've already achieved a reasonable resolution. I can become arrogant and insistent as if I've somehow grown far above a gas station rotary hot dog for lunch, especially when there's nothing available except that rotary hot dog. I've starved myself rather than accept some mildly humbling fate, just as if humility was the same as humiliation. This has been how I've humiliated myself, insisting upon such unnecessary AbjectSuccesses. I can sometimes get a little bigger than myself or my britches.

I try to remain watchful so my head won't get too awfully much bigger than myself. I aspire to retire with just enough, without much excess, having earned no more than my fair share, and satisfied with that. I secretly rebuke those who seem to require excess to survive, the more egregious and conspicuous consumers, those who seem to have dedicated their lives to collecting the most toys. I see their Successes as simply wasteful, evidence of an absence of self-control rather than as evidence of some excess of talent or skill. I suspect that some Success gets wasted on the wrong people, those who've lost the ability to appreciate what they receive, those incapable of ever feeling satisfied with anything, and those unable to distinguish between want and need.

I think of myself as a sort of Success puritan. I believe that Success seems best portioned in small servings rather than slathered over the top of every experience. Variety provides more than spice; it also brings respite from the sometimes unrelenting responsibilities Success seems to bring. Not every meal need be a feast. Not every book a best seller. Not every movie a blockbuster. Not even every kiss, one for the ages. I must space my Successes some reasonable distance apart from others and give them elbow room to manifest their full reward. I need some breathing room in-between my Successes. Between return visits to Go and collecting my two hundred dollars, I need adventures, some of which should rightfully go to shit. Not every move should make me richer. Not every purchase turns into hotels on Broadway and Park Place. There's much more to any life than Success. The absence of its opposite can lead to AbjectSuccess, and nobody ever really needs this.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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