Rendered Fat Content


Paul Cezanne:
Standing Bather, Seen from the Back (1879-82)

"Nothing better captures both the peril and reward …"

Contrary to popular notions, we humans perhaps most often BackInto our futures. I know, the mythology insists that we're upstanding and forward marching, but we're more often cowering and feeling overwhelmed by our next challenge. We can't quite face what's coming, so we quite naturally BackInto the face of it. This tendency need not be embarrassing. Once admitted, it might become a point of considerable pride in the same way that any natural human tendency sheds shame once acknowledged as such. As a species, we've always wrestled with the differences between what we believe we should be and what we actually turn out to be, for we were led to believe that we were special, perhaps even sacred, but continually discover that we're "just" flesh and bone. Of course, we're more than merely flesh and bone; we are never transcendently more, only slightly and never overwhelmingly better.

I imagine myself to be many magnificent things.
I imagine myself both rough and ready, able to initiate whatever needs doing when, in actuality, I'm often hesitant to engage. Spring surprises me however quickly or slowly it arrives, and one day, I hope to be better able to accept that it comes in its own time. I'd intended to prune the Sacred Apricot tree a month ago, on President's Day, but I came down with a cold and begged off my responsibility, a definite sin. One cannot go begging off on a responsibility and hope to maintain self-esteem. And then it came to pass that The Muse and I left that weekend for what would become a two-week absence. Three weeks past my original obligation when I returned, I didn't just jump in to fulfill what I'd clearly shirked. I had other work pressing and so continued messing with my fate as well as my reputation. Another week slinked by.

This week, though, now an entire month past my original President's Day target, I have been blessed with a tardy Spring. The Sacred Apricot has not yet started budding, let alone blooming, so I have not yet managed to completely screw up this sacred obligation. I might still squeak by with few the wiser if I can finish my hesitant BackingInto procedure over the next few days. I expect fresh along with the usual distractions to tempt me, but I might this year manage to redeem myself just before I become eternally damned.

I am just a man, I explain to myself, trying to not be all that whiney about it, for whineyness hardly becomes a manly presence. A man is different from how he's been described. He's likely to disappoint expectations. He is a mythical creature who comes to believe his own myths, one whose self-esteem depends upon him believing he's something he never was. After some fashion, he manages to navigate his way around the world, but never in the way he was ever supposed to navigate his way around the world. Do not envy him either his possessions or habits for a second, for they're all illusions. He possesses nothing but occasional bouts of gumption, which visit him more than he deploys, and certain untrue notions about himself and his innate capabilities. A man isn't ever as he believes himself to be but something different.

I will stand beneath that Sacred Apricot, carefully pruning limbs that, if left, will produce fruit I will not be able to reach. I will bring down the canopy so I will be able to reach, and this act should prolong my favorite tree's life. It might well also lengthen mine, for a man lives by what he prunes. The myths insist that he thrives by what he grows, but what do myths know? They refuse to acknowledge that our future lies behind us because we can only face the past. We might try to peek over our shoulders but just catch glimpses of futures distorted from lack of perspective. I am BackingInto and secretly proud of this fact. Nothing better captures the peril and reward of trying to accomplish something than the simple acknowledgment that the accomplishment was not made face-on but by BackingInto it with luck, grit, and a fair measure of embarrassment.

©2024 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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