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Hare, Fruit and Parrot, Jan Fyt (Fijt), Flanders, 1647

"The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." -Lewis Carroll

Our society behaves like a still life painting aspiring to become a Walt Disney movie. Directed to stand down, we commence to running around as if simply sitting still might kill us. We had formerly proven ourselves to be an impatient lot with hungry eyes, sprinting into our future, prone to act first and think later, if ever, so I should not feel in the least bit surprised at our latest antics. Certainly some seem fully capable of simply sitting with themselves, alone with their existence, but generations cultured as Mall Rats seem more than hesitant to abandon their once reliable ship. Days off were often seen as excuses to get out and do something, and any urge to stay at home, evidence of some underlying social malady. We became public beings without apparent private life, sharing what would have once been seen as personal secrets with loosely organized audiences composed of more or less equally imperfect strangers, bound by our compulsions.

How, the pundits wonder, did the You Ess of A become the centerpiece in this latest piece of performance art?
The answer seems quite obvious to me. We mortgaged identity for public display, and absent that stage, felt ourselves withering. Under these identity-threatening conditions, we simply had to get out, about, and dangerous. Few of us felt little choice in this matter, for our compulsions seemed complete. Our outings defined us. Where we shopped mattered, but that we shopped mattered even more. Where we ate mattered, but that we ate out mattered perhaps most of all, for how could any society deeply rooted in the ideology of conspicuous consumption perform their right and proper role in private? Ostentation fears isolation most.

Should this little essay turn into just an other self-hating, approval-baiting rant, I would strongly recommend that you just stop reading here, for you've read those tired lines before. I could be trying to induce contriteness in you, in a sincere but deeply misguided effort to save you from yourself and your deeper inner urges. How about I avoid that route? We know full well who we are, even though we seem to insist, like a school kid who just swiped an apple, on our complete and utter innocence. We know we're guilty as charged, or, at least, I know that I most certainly am. I take too much pride in showing well, in keeping my deeper and darker sides well-hidden, of my grooming and my comportment. I might well spend half of every day reading and dozing, but I present myself as a man of decisive action. I have always been a largely passive player. Maybe you have been, too.

My public and private selves seem to be constantly conflicting, with the judge and a majority of the jury preferring my more public self. The challenge to shelter in place upsets a surprisingly delicate balance. If I cannot simply roam free, what might that say about me in that ever-critical court of public opinion? Am I a man of action or no? I think the proper answer to that gnawing question might be a decisive maybe. I carry a long history of disrupted trajectories. Poised on the cusp of some monumental success and some terrorists fly a plane into an iconic building and my world turns inside out. I've grown to sincerely doubt likelihoods, the closer they come to realization, the more I seem to distrust their manifestation. Some would insist that my very doubts chased away those outcomes, but who's to say? I live day to day to day, not milestone to milestone, my anticipations muddled from every outset. Forced isolation seems like just another realization of a lifelong pattern of hopefulness prefacing despair. That's just the way it seems to be here.

I feel once again challenged to question my limitations, for each setback seems more a dedication test than a deciding factor. How about now? Still interested in pursuing now that the once obvious path no longer exists? Am I clever enough to find some way through anyway? What, in the history of this world so far, ever appeared as bidden? Who am I to say what's not hidden within each apparent setback? My great urge to ignore the complications and remain steadfastly focused upon an end no longer likely to appear should probably leave me more terrified than should losing any objective. My world's changed. I can no longer roam around at will. The frustrations I feel might inform me without defining me. I remain free, albeit within fresh constraints, but I never was a stranger to constraints. My compulsions, however apparently necessary, seem more likely to harm than reward me. I make achingly slow progress, and might need to utterly redefine progress to even catch the barest glimpse of it, but I know in the deepest reaches of my soul, that the hurrier I go, the behinder I get. Does this mean that the behinder I feel, the more progress I've made?

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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